Modi govt's flagship schemes not old wine in new bottle, they set in motion held up development

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First Published 10, Jan 2019, 8:36 PM IST
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Modi govt flagship schemes not old wine new bottles execution pending affairs
Highlights

Ever since 2014 when he became Prime Minister, Modi’s government has implemented a host of stuck or neglected legislation, including the celebrated GST, got infrastructure projects going again as only the BJP can, and picked off many of the low-hanging fruits from the previous government’s leavings, deliberations and yojanas. This has left the Congress complaining that most of what Modi has done was mooted or even operational in the UPA era

The Modi kurta with the half sleeves up to his elbow is certainly a fashion statement. The no-sleeves gala bandh, except for the myriad of bright colours and even prints and motifs, is probably a Nehru jacket. But in Modi’s defence, it has been appropriated by all Indian netas, bureaucrats, and India-loving foreigners since the 60s – usually in dark grey, or dinner-jacket cream. 

The colours and the frequent costume changes are attuning to Modi’s style statement, with a passing nod at former Congress Union minister Shivraj Patil, for those who remember his sartorial splendour. 

The wristwatch, worn on the inside, is reminiscent of somebody else too, who, in turn, probably aped the British upper class on this affectation. 

The classicists say there are just seven original ideas. Every other since is just a permutation and a combination of the original seven. Though they have offered convoluted explanations on how they came by this intelligence, it is no skin off anybody’s teeth to accept it at face value, unless it is sophistry that is one’s life’s mission. 

Narendra Modi seems none too concerned about originality, appropriation, or reinventing the wheel. He took the Congress’s neglected stalwart Sardar Patel to his bosom, and thence to the Statue of Unity beside the Narmada. And of course, as a counterblast to the Nehru dynasty lionisation and hagiography. 

Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy, however, has been retained intact, with a picturesque ashram to showcase at Sabarmati. 

Ever since 2014 when he became Prime Minister, Modi’s government has implemented a host of stuck or neglected legislation, including the celebrated GST, got infrastructure projects going again as only the BJP can, and picked off many of the low-hanging fruits from the previous government’s leavings, deliberations and yojanas. 
This has left the Congress complaining that most of what Modi has done was mooted or even operational in the UPA era - sometimes under other names, sometimes tweaked into a new avatar by him. It was our idea, they whine. Ah, but have they heard of what the classicists have to say on ideas? 

But Modi, thick-skinned about claims, thinks that there is no copyright on a thing that never came into being, because of the Congress’s over-calculation or paralysis in governance. Or one on something that has been enhanced, improved, made more productive and accountable.  

There are some ideas in the Modi sarkar that came, not from the UPA, but in fact, from Mahatma Gandhi. One of them is the massive Swacch Bharat programme, replete with a pair of Gandhi spectacles as its widely publicised logo. It has been wildly successful, and spouts the statistics on toilet construction and the elimination of open defecation to illustrate as much. 

A few other initiatives have probably sprung from Modi’s poverty-stricken early years and genuine concern for the poor – one such is providing subsidised LPGs to thousands of rural households. The statistician says 90% of all households in India now use LPG. Electricity to every village has been accomplished and it is on its way to every household. The subsidised and free distribution of the LeD bulb programme to save on electricity bills and consumption is another hit.  Solar power is something of a Modi favourite. 

Can Make in India, Digital India, Skill India and other flagship schemes of the Modi government be seen as old wine in new bottles? No, most of it has never been mooted without cynicism and lip-service in the past. Modi, on the other hand, burns with a youthful zeal to take this country ahead, fast and furious. He has willingly faced the ridicule and the reality of the programmes falling short of targets. After all, not everything can go as well as the ISRO, but the man deserves more than jeers for trying and achieving unprecedented, even if modest success. 

The recent amendment to the Constitution to afford a 10% reservation for poorer sections of the upper castes was a masterful implementation of a law that has been languishing for 10 years. 

Even though it may not yield very many government jobs at present, it will steadily increase in numbers as the economy keeps growing. It is already moving at the fastest rate of any major economy in the world. A 7.2% growth in GDP projected for this fiscal, and more in future years - a fact that even government critic Amartya Sen can’t deny. 

India could become the second biggest economy in the world after China by 2030, according to a recent report.
Modi therefore probably sees merit in the steady implementation of pending issues as the most practical way forward. This, even as another statistic claims that the per capita income has doubled. Abject poverty, long a feature of the Indian image and reality, is about to disappear in the next few years.

The only danger to this not-very glamorous steadiness of purpose is political instability. And economic policies that are designed to put back the clock via rampant populism. Modi won’t do it if he is re-elected, and won’t do it now in the expectation that he will be. But the mahagathbandhan, hungry for power on any terms, may well embrace the most expedient course of action.

Modi probably needs an emotive rallying cry to galvanise the voter. While economic moves may come thick and fast between now and the last budget to be tabled in February 2019, the most obvious political gesture may still be to commence the building of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. The Supreme Court is unlikely to announce a verdict before the elections in April-May. It is therefore up to Modi to go the ordinance route or refuse to take this chance if he thinks the risk of a counter consolidation is too great.

The move to essentially not recognise the citizenship claims of millions of Muslim infiltrators and illegals who have come into the country mainly via Bangladesh, while accepting those of six other religions including Hinduism, is a departure from the past. It moves past even that of the National Citizenship Register under implementation. This is probably the first overtly Hindutva move made by the Modi government with potentially far-reaching consequences. It could, and probably will, result in the disenfranchisement of many illegal infiltrators from Bangladesh and Myanmar, if not their repatriation. This Bill has already been passed by the Lok Sabha but is causing upheavals in the Northeast while it awaits a Rajya Sabha nod. 

Native population in Assam and elsewhere in the Northeast want various other people, mostly from Bengal, who are threatening to swamp the local population, to also be gone.

There is some criticism that the secular fabric of the nation is being changed via this Citizenship Act, that it discriminates on the basis of religion. But the Modi government is apparently keen to get on with its push-back against infiltration. This is threatening the demographics in various parts of the country, raising law and order problems, and giving rise to threats of terrorism and sedition.

Will the Indian Constitution be amended in future again, particularly if Modi returns to power in 2019? It is necessary, most people have agreed, to tackle various legacy issues that have led to a number of vexing complications, for example in our relationship with Jammu and Kashmir.  

Let us also remember that most of the significant constitutional amendments were made either in Nehru’s time, when it was a near one-party rule, or that of Indira Gandhi, during the Emergency.

Modi, it is seen, prefers a more democratic approach as the latest, well-supported constitutional Amendment bill illustrates. There may be something new here after all. After years of dynastic and self-perpetuating rule dressed up as democracy, you have a Prime minister and government from the Hindu nationalist sphere, often vilified as dictatorial, who changes the Indian Constitution only by consensus. His government did it for GST, and now, once again, for the economically backward upper castes.

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