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MODI IN THE FIFTH GEAR

As Narendra Modi steps into the homestretch of his first term as prime minister, it is essential to look at his performance. He came to office with a lot of bluster and rancor, unseen in India’s long history. But to the credit of the man it must be said that he hit the road running.

DEMONETISATION

It was India’s biggest cash swap, sucking 85 per cent of the money in a predominantly cash economy. Purists like the rock-star governor of the Reserve Bank, Raghuram Rajan and the highly respected economist Manmohan Singh were apparently against it, but the view from the ground, mine included, was that cleaning the toxic was needed. Where the government messed was in execution. Initially, it claimed Rs 3 lakh crore will not come back and to that extent, we would have a cleaner economy. Alas! Almost the entire money came back. In fact, more had come back, except the RBI stopped counting. It was also said that equivalent money will not be pumped in, and so we would move to a cashless economy. Nothing like that happened. Incidentally, money supply today is above the pre-demonetisation level. A third claim was the government knows whose money is where. Fair point.

GST

The rolling out of the Goods and Services Tax is a big plus to the Modi administration. It is another matter that as chief minister he was virulently against this legislation. The ability to bulldoze some and buy in support of others, through incentives and revenue protection is the hallmark of a go-getter. Modi proved he was a go-getter. The teething trouble in implementation that continues till date even as we celebrate one year of the biggest piece of tax reform in India is of course worrying. We may argue till eternity that some of the provisions in GST are draconian, others are foolish and a third set is selfish concerning the government. But the point is overall this law is good for Indian business.

AADHAAR

Aadhaar will be the legacy of Dr. Singh. It came perilously close to being thrown into the trashcan when Modi came to power. Thanks to a short meeting where Nandan Nilekani briefed the new prime minister of its enormous potential and thanks to Modi’s ability to think through it in a trice, Aadhaar is now ubiquitous. Those who raged against it when the UPA was on it, have now called it a masterpiece. Modi needs to be credited for accepting that the
Aadhaar was not the anti-national scheme that he once thought it to be.
While most of the other schemes were renaming of the past, let’s congratulate Modi on his government’s communication skills. Today, the general impression is that the bureaucracy works because it has at its head a no-nonsense village schoolmaster.

YET THERE ARE ISSUES…

Yet there are issues. For starters, Modi is divisive and even his staunchest fans agree. He is the sole deciding authority in his government. No one knows who holds what position in the cabinet. Thanks to him, the judiciary is under a cloud. The Lok Pal has still not happened. His twitter handle follows people who spawn hatred. Once the fringe elements were in the Congress, today they have occupied the BJP.
The prime minister has never allowed Kejriwal to work; the 67-3 pasting still rankles. It is another matter that Arvind did not have the gravitas to reach out. Modi has done the exact same things that he had earlier opposed. Like, jacking oil prices. He has encouraged faceless, nameless, trolls. He has encouraged jingoism as opposed to patriotism.
India has never been as divided before as it is today. And a large part of the blame should go to N D Modi. As a citizen of India who lived on both sides of the liberalisation divide, who has seen the modernity of our country and loves its secular fabric, I will like to see Modi take people along. If he can rectify these in his final year of office, he would earn the unstinted admiration of everyone.

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