The corrupt, inefficient and dishonest Congress-led UPA government was replaced emphatically by the Narendra Modi and BJP-led NDA government at the center in the landmark 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Expectations were high and thus, close scrutiny was difficult to avoid. ‘100 days’ became the go-to phrase in the media for the government to browbeat its policy decisions or vision, whilst the opposition got a chance to level its criticism on each and every nook and cranny, which is rather unfair. My usage of the phrase was, however, just clickbait to get you to read this article 🙂
Overhauling a system is a hard, incremental and long-drawn affair. However, the first 100 days are indicative of the government’s policy direction, which have been anything but landmark and emphatic. However, things appear to be great, because we stepped out of 10 of the worst years of crony capitalism, policy paralysis and deficient and corrupt governance at the Center, which makes even the most rudimentary common-sense decisions to seem like brain waves emanating from a Nobel-prize winning physicist.
I’ll not do the cursory 100 day analysis or criticism. You’ve read many pieces that hail this “great” government, with even fierce criticism sounding like a shoddy apology. Do read this terrific article in India Today about the shortcomings in execution and personnel in the Modi government. There has definitely been an improvement in the image of the country, with a verbose and strong leader at the Centre. The swearing-in ceremony, Independence Day speech and the Japan trip were examples of terrific showmanship, excellent public relations management and brownie points earnt by posting high-definition photographs on Twitter. In this article, I shall analyze a few things flagged as imminent or high priority by the BJP manifesto or the Prime Minister himself, and how they have figured nowhere in the new government’s priority list.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s top priority was to bring back the black money as he reinforced in every speech and rally during the election campaign. The current Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that he would bring back the black money from foreign countries within 100 days. BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy said only 2 months were needed to bring back the Rs. 120 lakh crore back to the country, and even advocated abolishing the income tax for 40 years, since we’d have enough revenue not to need this tax. The talk was loud.
But the actions fall short and are insignificant compared to the promises. 100 days are up. Where is the black money? The government has only set up the cursory SIT on Black Money. Ram Jethmalani, one of SIT leads, says that there is a senior BJP minister who is stopping the work of the SIT. The government has taken no action to fulfill the huge number of vacancies in the Central Board of Direct Taxes, Excise and Customs, which would thoroughly investigate claims of corruption across the country. The government hasn’t restructured, repealed or even commented upon the double tax avoidance treaties or participatory notes, which are important in smuggling black money away from India. It hasn’t implemented any of the key recommendations of the White Paper on Black Money tabled in Parliament in 2012. This is the level of inaction of the government when it comes to tackling black money.
Achche din have arrived but only for those who want to keep their black money.
Another important electoral issue that the BJP and Narendra Modi raised was price rise and its effect on the Aam Aadmi. However, in the first 100 days of the BJP government, the prices of petrol, diesel, kerosene, milk, tomatoes, onions, potatoes and nearly every essential commodity went up by astronomical levels. And it’s not as if farmers benefited from this price rise, as they received lower real minimum support prices, adjusted for inflation. The Modi-government indulged in firefighting instead of offering structural administrative, bureaucratic and financial reform. The middleman gained. The hoarders benefited. The Khaas Aadmi rejoiced. The temporary lowering of the wholesale price inflation to below 4.5% doesn’t indicate any structural change, but rather indicates the cycle that inflation has followed in this country.
31% of India voted for him, but it is certain that 100% of India is suffering. However, the government’s excellent handling of the media has ensured that the public focuses only on the cosmetic and relatively minor positives, while ignoring the structural similarities of this government with the UPA.
The Union Budget: Arun Jaitley or P. Chidambaram
For those looking for patterns of similarity, the Union Budget was a clear example of how the Modi government represented cosmetic change and not something more fundamental. The Budget presented by Arun Jaitley had 29 100-crore programs thrown in as bells and whistles, while nearly every line item of expenditure for every Ministry remained the same as P. Chidambaram’s budget. General Sales Tax and Direct Tax Code received the customary piecemeal announcements without deadlines or progress updates. Spending on education and health remained exactly the same, and so did the expenditure on women, children and the socially disadvantaged. There were tax deduction announcements, disinvestment, FDI allotment increases, PPPs, calls for modernization, but somehow the Aam Aadmi remained under the radar for Shri Arun Jaitley. Read this for an in-depth discussion on this year’s Union Budget.
Criminalizing Parliament and Making India Corrupt
For all the talk of removing MPs with a criminal record from Parliament, there has been little talk to follow it up. 12 out of the 44 Ministers in the Modi government have serious criminal charges against them. Nihal Chand, a minister of the government is facing rape allegations against him in a 2011 case. Yet, their cases aren’t even close to being solved and have not been fast-tracked. Uttar Pradesh MP Yogi Adityanath continues to make polarizing statements to flare Hindu-Muslim tensions even as the PM issues a 10 year moratorium on communal hatred. This doublespeak doesn’t go unnoticed. At the same time, the government has shown excessive speed in removing honest officers who fight corruption like Sanjeev Chaturvedi at AIIMS and clipping the powers of institutions that fight corruption like the Delhi Anti-Corruption Bureau. The government may make tall claims about fighting corruption but it has worked only to promote this social and economic evil.
Destroying the Environment
The government has proposed to loosen the regulations and make as many as 19 amendments in the Land Acquisition Act in a bid to please industrialists without taking care of the environment, farmers and the rural poor. The height of the Narmada dam will be raised. Irrigation projects requiring 2,000-10,000 hectares are now exempt from the scrutiny of the Centre and can be cleared by state governments. Those requiring less than 2,000 hectares will require no green clearance at all. The new government has also diluted the Forest Rights Act that requires the consent of the local tribal population for diverting forestland. Instead of gram sabhas (village councils) certifying that their rights had been settled and that they had consented to projects, the district administrations have now been asked to do the same. The process of reviewing the National Green Tribunal Act to reduce the judicial tribunal to an administrative one has been initiated. Slowly and steadily, the government is paving the way for the real backers of the 2014 election, the corrupt businesses of Indian industry to dictate the rules of government and the usage of public goods.
Before labeling me as a greenpeace-jholawallah-anti-national-communist, read these articles on decisions and policy directions of the Modi government that are detrimental to the voiceless adivasis and silent flora and fauna.
Which brings us to the most important point. A government which holds private interests above public good will end up being the same, even if its declared motives are Nehruvian socialism or Hindu nationalism mixed with pro-market (read: pro-big-business) tendencies. The fear with Narendra Modi’s government isn’t that they will do something radically different and crazy, but rather that they will end up being the UPA government. And the first 100 days, an indicator of a government’s priorities and policy goals, exhibit that this government is selling the public old wine in a new bottle, albeit with new leaky holes.
Note: This was written as a short note sent to the spokespersons of the Aam Aadmi Party. It may or may not reflect the official party stand on the issue.