Modi Government At 3 Years Out-Scores Vajpayee's

It is perhaps for the first time in contemporary Indian history that a government that came to power three years ago with a huge popular mandate has not only retained its popularity, but perhaps also improved upon it. The last three years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi have had a transformational quality and, as his government steps into its fourth year, optimism remains undiminished. In fact, it is rising. This has never been the case with governments in the recent past, at least since 1977. Be it the Janata Party or VP Singh's Janata Dal government or Rajiv Gandhi's government which won the 1984 general election with 410 seats, or even the Vajpayee Ministry, each regime has floundered by the time they reached the half-way mark. Considering that Modi has more detractors than his predecessors, all eagerly waiting for him to slip up, this is a remarkable achievement.

Most importantly, Modi has ushered a sense of quiet confidence in the country's destiny; people believe India is not only safe in his hands, but also that it will rapidly ascend the ladder of development under his able leadership. Proof, if any were required, of this was provided by the results of the UP assembly elections. Half way into his government's term in Delhi, Modi led his party to a spectacular victory in India's largest state, winning three-fourths of its assembly seats. This is in addition to the BJP's earlier triumphs in Haryana, where it had never won in the past, and Maharashtra, where it rules today without the encumbrance of the Shiv Sena. Clearly, public faith in the Prime Minister has grown over time and he seems set to retain his grip on the nation for the foreseeable future.

Modi's critics, especially what remains of the Congress, have been vocal in claiming that he is great in hype and hoopla but wanting when it comes to concrete achievements. The naysayers point to the economy, alleging slow progress overall and jobless growth. But this charge overlooks two dramatic steps taken by this government. Demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes sent shock waves through the country and many claimed that such an "ill-considered and adventurist" decision would turn out to be his Waterloo. In the event, it reinforced his popularity and strengthened his position in the political firmament. It won over the lower middle class and large sections of the poor, who believed that by discomfiting the rich, Modi had tapped into their ill-gotten wealth and that would be used for the country's betterment. The Prime Minister's credibility as a friend of the poor got an unprecedented boost from this action.

This has now been followed up with the passage of the GST bills in parliament, which will unify tax rates across the nation and result in the lowering of prices of essential goods and services while enhancing taxes on luxury items when it comes into effect from July 1. GST was a long-awaited measure, as most developed countries adopted this system many years ago. The UPA government too had contemplated this. However, like several things planned by the UPA regime that never actualized, Modi showed the necessary boldness to execute them. These steps have enhanced his reputation as a 'doer' and added to his personal credibility as a determined leader.

Following these two steps - demonetisation and introduction of GST - the stage is set of rapid economic growth with rising investment in many sectors. Already, FDI inflows have reached record proportions on account of the political stability that Narendra Modi has ushered.

In the social sector, the new schemes introduced have brought huge benefits to the underprivileged. The Ujwala Scheme, aimed at providing free LPG connections to underprivileged families in rural India, is a runaway success. In fact, it was probably the game-changer in the UP elections. With the Jan Dhan Yojana, which led to opening zero balance bank accounts, almost 1 billion bank accounts are operational today. This has not only brought India's poor into the banking net, but has enabled the government to transfer social benefits such as pensions, scholarships and subsidies directly to beneficiaries, thereby eliminating middlemen and leakages down the line.

Ever since Indira Gandhi nationalized major banks in 1969 and Rajiv Gandhi introduced computerization of the banking system, various governments had the opportunity to expand the country's banking network to embrace the rural poor. But it was left to Modi to take up and successfully complete this gargantuan task.

Slowly but surely, India is being transformed. Modi's stress has not only been on physical parameters but also on mindsets. The Swachh Bharat Movement is not only for building toilets, but also for making Indians aware of the importance and virtues of cleanliness. With a massive infrastructure of toilets built across the country, open defecation will surely become a thing of the past. Arguably, there isn't water available in all newly -built toilets. But as awareness rises, municipalities and panchayat bodies will have to focus on their maintenance.

The issue of triple talaq involving Muslim women is currently in the judicial purview. But the fact that the Prime Minister has sparked a debate within Muslim society, forcing even its conservative elements to promise reforming this archaic, anti-woman provision, is a major step forward. This may or may not be the precursor to the enactment of a Uniform Civil Code. But that may not even be necessary if the primary objective of providing equality to women happens in actual practice through internal reform within Muslim society.

The Modi Government's critics have continually harped on the excesses committed by so-called gau rakshaks, assaulting people in the name of cow protection. But the Prime Minister has strongly condemned the excesses, and even the Yogi Adityanath Government in UP, where some incidents of this nature took place, has cracked down on the anti-social elements who believe they enjoy the patronage of BJP governments.

This article is not aimed at narrating the achievements of three years of Narendra Modi's government. This is an attempt to underline the transformational quality of his governance. It is evident that India is undergoing fundamental change, whether in terms of rural development, digital revolution or technological progress, along with necessary changes of mindset. If Modi has achieved this much in just three years, it can be imagined what he will accomplish in the foreseeable future, especially if returned to power in 2019, which seems almost inevitable as of today.

(Dr. Chandan Mitra is a journalist, currently Editor of The Pioneer Group of Publications. He is also former BJP MP, Rajya Sabha.)

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