As former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh faced in 2011, three years before the next general election, the Narendra Modi regime is confronted with a credibility gap over its handing of the COVID epidemic and waves of criticism come crashing on his door with the second wave of the disease. The invincibility cloak has also been blown, simultaneously, after the electoral defeat in West Bengal earlier this month. It’s the first real electoral drubbing the PM has faced since he began his journey in electoral politics in Gujarat in the year 2002. (Sure there have been defeats such as that in Delhi in 2015 and 2020, both at the hands of AAP, but the PM was not the face of the entire campaign as he was in Bengal, that’s also one of the country’s larger states.)
Now as we head towards the seventh anniversary of the Modi government on May 30, the day he was sworn in as PM for the first time, it’s worth taking stock of what has been achieved.
The PM has personally achieved a lot in terms of image enhancement. Here’s my list of 7 achievements from his point of view.
He won two terms in 2014 and 2019.
He managed to ensure an electoral win for his party in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 a few months after he had announced Demonetisation on November 8, 2016.
He created the cult of a Supreme Leader in the world’s largest democracy.
He had some outstanding events outside India, such as those titled Howdy Modi with former US president Donald Trump.
He hugged then US President Barack Obama during a 2015 visit to India while wearing a suit with his name embroidered all over it. (How many people have done that?)
He has done 76 episodes of his recorded radio programme titled ‘Mann Ki Baat’ that loosely translates into What’s on My Mind.
Soon after he came to power, he made the BJP the richest party in India’s history and ran the most expensive campaigns ever, according to audit reports filed with the Election Commission of India.
That is an amazing list of achievements for one individual. Now let’s look at hard facts and see what the country has achieved or not. This can be subjective as there may be some people who may see hate crimes as a positive while others could disagree. Let’s start our list of 7 years, 7 results.
Economy is in full-blown crisis. Multiple reasons have been offered from slowdown across the world to India’s 2016 demonetisation (that had terrible consequences on the informal sector), the Lockdown of 2020, to COVID and so on and so forth. Whatever the quibble over reasons, lets accept that India is no longer seen as the land of opportunities, there is a flight of capital outside the country, the banking sector is in a mess, jobs are diminishing not increasing and the future looks bleak for the young.
Hate crimes have increased. A tracker created by IndiaSpend that looked at data from 2009 to 2018 , found that 90 per cent of religious hate crimes have taken place after the BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014. One section of BJP voters may argue that what are called ‘hate crimes’ are essential acts to show minorities their place in the new India. But by the standards of what is considered acceptable in a civilised society and our own remarkable Indian Constitution, lynching, murders, public brutality are shameful.
Our Foreign Policy raises many questions. We always had a complicated relationship with Pakistan that we have not improved on. During the Modi reign our relationship with China has worsened and they are on our borders, if not inside. Add to that the fact that China, now a world power, has a strategic relationship with Pakistan: two of our enemies in the region are against us. Besides we invested so heavily in the Trump administration that the new Biden dispensation in the US is not going to treat us as special but just one of the nations in the world.
Our international reputation is in tatters. As our rankings on press freedom and democracy indices have been slipping, we are no longer an admired nation that was once seen as a moral power that gave the world a Gandhi. We are increasingly viewed as a backsliding democracy. Sure, we have responded that these indices are brought out in the West and do not take into account “Indic traditions” (whatever that means), but the simple fact is that the western media does determine international perceptions and reputations. And the most frequently done stories by their outlets are on persecution of minorities, Kashmir, riots, receding freedoms and use of laws such as Sedition against critics and civil society.
Hunger is increasing: In 2020 we were behind Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh in the Global hunger index. We were 94 among 107 countries. Poverty is increasing along with joblessness and in parts of the country there is a desperate hunger and it’s growing as both farm and manufacturing sector are in crisis.
Our COVID management is described as among the worst in the world. We have completely mismanaged the second wave. We patted ourselves on the back for having shown the world how to tackle the disease even as the Tsunami was coming towards us. We had super-spreader events even as we reduced our vaccine policy to an irrational mess with the Centre handing over procurement to states instead of the centralised manner in which India had gone about successful immunisation policies in the past. Our poor Oxygen supply lines created desperate conditions in hospitals and people died gasping for breath. Our lack of investment in public health (just 1.25 per cent of the GDP) is now exacting a price as it turns out we don’t have a system in place and just a bunch of private players that get overwhelmed. As bodies float down the Ganges, it’s the moment of the utter failure of the state and nation. Those that were hungry in the countryside to begin with, the unemployed millions and their families, don’t have a chance.
If there is one achievement that I have personal experience of it is the construction of many toilets in the Uttar Pradesh countryside under the Swachh Bharat mission. Been racking my brains and can’t think of another.
Of course there would be those who would say that becoming a Hindu first nation is an achievement in itself and having a Supreme Leader is the greatest thing that’s happened to India. I don’t agree but then it’s still a free country. Or did I spot a news report saying that there were 25 arrests in Delhi over posters that surfaced questioning the Prime Minister on the vaccination policy?
Saba Naqvi is a Consulting Editor with India Ahead News. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Saba Naqvi interviews Swapan Dasgupta