After an impressive victory in the general election in 2014, followed with equally impressive performances in a string of state Assembly polls, it was expected of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to redeem, or at least start redeeming, his pledges in the next year. However, he failed to do that in the year 2015—almost on every count.
Unsurprisingly, throughout the year, the Opposition continued to taunt Modi about the tall promises that he and his cronies had made in 2014, while the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders talked evasively about the achhe din, the return of black money, punishment to big scamsters, etc. The impression started setting in that the BJP’s promises are observed in the breach. And it is not just impression or perception; for it is not that the government is doing a great deal but the good work is not visible.
Ministers and sympathetic commentators point out to the various measures taken by the government; according to them, these are real and significant, albeit not huge, steps that will stand the country in good stead. As Commerce & Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in an interview, “Put every small ticket, you get a big-ticket [reform].”
She is not completely wrong: the government has indeed taken several steps to improve investor sentiment. Foreign direct investment (FDI) into India rose 35 per cent in the first 17 months of the Modi government, whereas there was a global fall in FDI by 16 per cent. There is slight improvement in India’s ranking, 130 among 189 countries, an increase of four. The index of industrial production or IIP is picking up. A few social security schemes have been launched without costing the exchequer. There are pledges of investment, the bullet train, revival of stalled project, new impetus to road making, and so on.
But all this and plenty of Modi speeches do not mean reforms or achhe din; nothing perceptible has come out of government actions and assertions. Which is not surprising, for Modi refuses to discard the Nehruvian, statist worldview and mindset, notwithstanding his government’s anti-Nehru utterances and gestures. Hence ‘incrementalism.’
Apparently, Modi believes that dirigisme is all-right so long as the reasons of the state are sound; so, he replaces pinkish statism with its saffron version. What he doesn’t realize is that the real problem is with statism: at worst it leads to dystopias like Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia; at best it creates all kinds of atrophy, India being one of them.
In 2015, Modi’s vulnerabilities became evident because of his inability or unwillingness to embrace a political philosophy oriented around liberty; the natural corollary is that he cannot charter a new course of statecraft. It’s not that there is a want of sincerity and effort. The man does want to change India; he works hard, and makes others work hard, for the purpose. But, as Seneca famously said, if one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.
When 2015 began, Modi faced few headwinds: he was acknowledged—even by the Opposition, though not openly—as an invincible leader whose electoral juggernaut smothered all roadblocks; the world was still fascinated by the leader who, unlike his immediate predecessor, was full of energy and initiative; the investor community was waiting for the much-promised and awaited push to liberalization; the international crude prices were low—and remained low throughout the year. On the fronts of foreign policy and national security, Pakistan was thoroughly discredited in the international community and China was trying to be accommodative towards India.
However, Modi was not able to capitalize on favorable conditions. His government has made a lot of claims about economic growth, but neither a quantum jump nor big job generation is evident. As for foreign policy initiatives, only experts are impressed. Pakistan remains as recalcitrant as ever regarding terror; for instance, Modi’s recent unscheduled visit was followed by the Pathankot attack.
A big problem with Modi and his ministers is that they seem to suffer from what I call the God Syndrome: that is, when human beings believe that they have superhuman, divine powers, that they can get anything done just by wishing it. In an article I posted on February 12, 2015 (http://thehinduchronicle.com/article-details.aspx?id=84), I wrote: “the Narendra Modi dispensation forgot the fundamental difference between divine powers and human capabilities. God said, ‘Let there be light!’ So there was light (Bible, Genesis 1.3). Similarly, when Hindu gods bless a worshipper with a boon, they just have to say “Tathastu!” and the worshipper’s wish comes true. But, unlike gods, men and women cannot just make some wish, say a few words, and expect the favorable results. If we wish to have light, we must have a bulb and electricity connection, and we have to switch on the bulb.”
Modi’s bhaktas (worshippers) may believe that he is divine but, unfortunately for them, he is not; he is human; and, like all other men and women, he has to make proper efforts to succeed as Prime Minister. He failed to do that in 2015.