By Utkarsh Singh
Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
According to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s supporters, his victory in India’s general elections was a sweeping repudiation of everything for which the previous government, led by the Sonia Gandhi, stood. Will Modi be able to deliver as per the large expectation?
Modi, it was claimed during the election campaign, would reverse the UPA’s “poor governance”, introducing a new approach, based on his corporatist “Gujarat development model” which was proved to be very successful. If he succeeds, he would transform India, releasing it from the UPA’s futile and ineffective policies and thus improve the lives of the countrymen. “The good days are coming” – his supporters declared upon his victory.
In particular, the Modi public-relations machine proclaimed an end to the sops and compromises that supposedly characterized the UPA coalition. Modi decided to remain tough and make strong decisions, weaning Indians from the statist culture of “doles” and subsidies, while pursuing bold policies aimed at speeding the economic growth and job creation. He averred that India today needs jobs not handouts.
It took just a few weeks for the hollowness of these claims to become apparent. A perfect example of the outgoing government’s alleged economic mismanagement was its sugar-price policy. The sugarcane cooperatives, which were mainly led by the UPA supporters, supposedly drove the government to fix high prices and write off sugar farmers’ bad debts, leading to mass production.
Instead of eliminating this system, as expected, Modi’s government has increased subsidies for sugar exports to support higher output, increased import duties on sugar to discourage foreign competition, and increased the percentage of ethanol containing sugar that must be blended with petrol. His motivation is not difficult to acknowledge: his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes that such concessions will help it to wrest control of Maharashtra which is India’s main sugar-producing state.
This goal explains another policy reversal as well. The UPA critics also said that unsustainably low, state-dictated passenger fares for rail services – which could not cover the cost of maintenance to ensure the safety of trains and tracks, much less enable expansion and service improvement , reflected the government’s inability to make tough decisions.
It is true that coalition politics prevented decisive action, with a railway minister being dismissed by his own party leader whom the UPA was politically unable to confront after attempting to raise fares. And then in the pre election interim budget, the UPA finally bit the bullet, proposing a 14.2% increase in rail fares and a 6.5% hike in freight rates.
Soon after taking office, the Modi government announced its intention to implement the price increases, though officials made sure to inform everyone that they were merely following through on an existing mandate. Then, facing the public resistance, they reduced the planned hikes a tad bit, particularly of the significantly discounted monthly pass currently available to suburban commuters, an important segment of the electorate in Mumbai.
Modi had previously derided the UPA’s populist railway ministers for distorted policies that punished businesses, and declared in his election campaign that Indian railways should run more like China’s, with increase in government investment, including what is required for bullet trains. Also, no sooner had he been sworn in, than he acquiesced in precisely the kind of political compromise to which he and the BJP which won a parliamentary majority, and thus did not have to depend on coalition partners for its government’s survival was supposed to be immune.
This hypocrisy has characterized virtually every policy decision that the BJP government has taken so far. Despite the BJP’s criticism of the United States- India civil nuclear operation deal, the UPA administration’s signature foreign-policy triumph, Modi’s government has just ratified an India-specific “additional protocol,” which granted the International Atomic Energy Agency access to India’s civilian nuclear sites.
Moreover, the BJP had opposed interaction with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, pending satisfactory progress on the punishment and prosecution of the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which took lives of 164 people and injured more than 300. Yet Sharif was invited at Modi’s inauguration.
The Modi government has also adopted the UPA-proposed Goods and Services Tax, which had been stalled by opposition from BJP-ruled states. And it will give strength to the national anti-terrorism effort, which Modi had denounced earlier as an assault on Indian federalism.
Many Modi supporters in the media have already begun to decry the series of policy abdications Modi has conducted since his campaign. Indian citizens who voted for change are beginning to wonder if the BJP has simply reprised the UPA government’s policies.
Utkarsh was born in Varanasi and brought up in different parts of the country and has developed great understanding about the culture and problems the country has been trapped in. Utkarsh believes in bringing change in every sphere possible by influencing the minds of the countrymen through his writing. A great debater, spokesperson and an intellectual writer, who is right now pursuing BTech in Computer Science love making sentences as sharp as Valyrian steel and can’t get enough of singing and running. He could be contacted at +91-8603520212 /[email protected]. Want to learn more about him? Just ask he in an open book ( which is another way of saying things have been moving too fast for him to keep his resume updated)