The honeymoon is truly over for prime minister Narendra Modi.
The assessment about his government’s performance in the first 74 days in office, even among those seen as his supporters, is bleak.
Over the last few weeks, a growing number of newspaper columns from well-known academics and public intellectuals have expressed disenchantment with the Narendra Modi government. Particularly notable are the ones penned by those who were seen as Modi’s most visible sympathisers during his election campaign.
They believe Modi is starting to be seen as politically weak and indecisive as the previous prime minister. Most of their criticism centres around the government’s lacklustre Budget in July, India’s present WTO stance and Modi’s silence on key issues. Some fear status quo-loving bureaucrats are hijacking the government’s growth agenda.
Such prominent Modi supporters as economist Arvind Panagariya and Firstpost.com editor R. Jagannathan have openly expressed their disappointment in the last month.
Following are some of the recent columns by erstwhile Modi enthusiasts:
Mehta is the president of Delhi-based thinktank Centre for Policy Research. In a recent column in the Indian Express newspaper, he argues that so far the current government’s performance has been ordinary and complacent.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi increasingly seems to be trapped in his own echo chamber. His government is fast confusing the trees for the forest and ignoring the sense of restlessness brewing outside its hallowed circles.”
Mehta says that Modi had promised a new discourse on secularism but has hardly lived up to his pledge. BJP ministers such as Sanjeev Baliyan and Amit Shah have contributed to polarisation in Uttar Pradesh, and the prime minister has done little to defuse the communal situation, he argued.
“But he [Modi] is acting like the Congress in two ways. He has failed to publicly draw clear red lines on what his party men can and cannot say, and inevitably, the worst in his party will shape the public narrative and induce fear … Former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s silences created the vacuum that anyone could fill. Can this prime minister name one action that sends a loud and clear message about what kind of conduct will not be tolerated? Has he used any incident to create a teachable moment?”
Debroy is a professor at Centre for Policy Research and is seen as a leading economist sympathetic to Modi and his work in Gujarat. In a column written for India Today magazine, he says that the NDA government already looks aged and jaded and is “nothing but same UPA regime with better implementation.”
He writes: “Here is a government that came in with a lot of hope, riding a tide of high expectations, promising change. Ennui has already set in.”
Debroy accuses the prime minister for alienating the public soon after his victory. This is puzzling, he says, because BJP election campaign was one of the more interactive ones that India has seen, especially on social media.
“Why has the Government and the PM stopped talking? Is it arrogance, complacency, or abode in an alternate reality? Honeymoons don’t last indefinitely.”
Bhalla is an economist and runs New Delhi-based asset management firm Oxus Investments. He was a vociferous critic of the Manmohan Singh government and a supporter of Modi’s policies. He has been disappointed with India’s decision to stall the trade facilitation pact at the WTO.
“India is making itself a laughing stock in the eyes of the world community (perhaps it does not matter) by violating agreements it made just six months earlier when it made the WTO accept its unreasonable demands … given that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is widely believed, and correctly so, to be his own man, then why, in the name of god and India, is Modi-BJP pursuing an illogical and regressive stance at the WTO?”
India has spurned the adoption of a treaty to standardise and streamline the rules for shipping goods across borders, having previously agreed to its terms at a conference in Bali last December. India has accused WTO of not understanding the concerns of the developing world and has demanded more freedom when it comes to food subsidies. WTO has already agreed to find a permanent solution to the issue by 2017 and has approved India’s demands for now. But Modi-led government wants a solution faster.
Panagriya is a professor of Indian political economy at Columbia University. He was widely rumoured to be a leading contender for the job of chief economic adviser in the Modi government. In a recent column he was rather uncharitable about Modi government’s budget. He was disappointed with the NDA’s ambiguous stand on retrospective taxation and finance minister Arun Jaitley’s hesitation in tackling “regressive” subsidies.
He wrote in the Times of India newspaper: “The presidential address to Parliament on June 9, 2014 had focussed nearly exclusively on projects and schemes, eschewing policy. Therefore, many had eagerly awaited the budget speech for a policy vision of the new government. Unfortunately, it too left observers guessing on whether the government would tackle tough reforms or rely principally on better implementation.”
The editor of news website Firstpost is an unflinching defender of Modi’s policies and actions, even going as far as to suggest that Modi’s silence is actually very good political strategy. Even he now believes that the prime minister has failed to project power and convey his stand on many issues.
“In his 70 days in office, despite some interesting moves on the foreign policy front with neighbours, Modi has projected political weakness rather than strength—the exact opposite of why this country elected him in the first place.”
Like the other columnists, Jagannathan also writes that the NDA is going the UPA way.
“If Modi does not take stock and deal with issues head on, he is going to face the same fate that UPA-2 did—of squandering a positive mandate with little to show for it at the end of five years.”
Now many are pinning hopes on the PM’s address to the nation on 15 August during Independence Day celebrations.