Maximum promise, minimum delivery
The is an excerpt from the just-released book ‘A Quantum Leap in the Wrong Direction’, edited by Rohit Azad, Shouvik Chakraborty, Srinivasan Ramani and Dipa Sinha. (Published by Orient BlackSwan)
When the Narendra Modi led government came to power in 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party attained an absolute majority in terms of seats even though they fell short of a popular majority in vote share terms. This reversed a trend in Indian politics for more than two decades – the need for post-electoral coalitions to retain a majority in the Indian Parliament. This was made possible by BJP’s domination of the western and northern States in seat terms.
The party used the persona of its former Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to promise decisive leadership and a change from the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in its second term. The latter, many in the electorate perceived as wracked with corruption, in cohesion and indecision while inflicting high inflation on them even as the economic growth faltered in its second term between 2009 and 2014. Since 2014, the BJP governed in the image of Mr. Modi – every programme launched (or relaunched with a different name), every initiative, every campaign for votes in Assembly elections was headlined by the Prime Minister and his visage.
Before the elections in 2014, two supposedly contrasting images of Mr. Modi were projected by the media: Modi, “the man of development” and Modi, the Hindutva crusader. Analyses post elections said that the BJP managed to sell the former image to people who were not traditional adherents of the party, while the BJP’s core support base was happy to endorse the Hindutva crusader. The ‘Gujarat model of development’ was projected as a huge success that brought growth and prosperity to the state and similar experience was promised for the entire country. The election campaign highlighted the plank of vikas (development) to be delivered along with weeding out corruption and improving governance. The key slogans, therefore, were “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas” and ‘Maximum Governance, Minimum Government’. So did the Modi government deliver on its promise of development? Or did India, take a “quantum leap backward”, as Nobel -laureate Prof. Amartya Sen had recently asserted? This is the question that this book seeks to address.
“Leaping forward” or a “quantum leap backward”?
A fair evaluation of this government requires the outcomes to be compared against the promises it made in the run-up to the elections. BJP’s 2014 manifesto had poll promises which ran into 42 pages! It will, of course, be unfair to hold them accountable for all of those 42 pages but one could still choose certain basic promises they made and critically evaluate them.
The 2014 BJP manifesto is divided under subsections such as “issues of imminence”, “strengthening the policy framework”, “reforming the political system”, “widening the platform” and most importantly “leaping forward”. In this book, we analyse the performance of the government along three broad themes that emerge from the BJP’s election manifesto.
Firstly, on the issue of the economy, BJP promised to revive a fledgling economy, while focussing on agriculture and employment generation (100 crore jobs were to be generated). Secondly, on the issue of social welfare, it promised sabka vikas (development for all) through access to quality healthcare, inclusive education, environmentally sustainable development, social as well as economic justice with political empowerment for the socially disadvantaged as well as the women in the society. Thirdly, on the issues of governance, it swore by ‘minimum government with maximum governance’, thereby, moving away from the State’s role as a provider to a regulator.
Beginning of the End?
The BJP has become the central pole of Indian politics, and by the time the government at the centre completed four years, it was enjoying power in more than two-thirds of the Indian States while growing in new areas such as the North-East. But perhaps something has changed in the last year. The BJP steadily lost seats in parliamentary by-elections which brought it below the absolute majority even as they alienated their coalition partners. In late 2018, the BJP lost to the otherwise down-and-out Congress in places where it had been in power for long – in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh. Just as the government was completing its full five-year term, the ruling party’s electoral fortunes are no longer as certain.
What explains this slow downturn in the BJP’s fortunes? Was it a galvanised opposition posing an unusual electoral challenge? Or is it the case that the government’s failure to deliver on its promise of development for all is beginning to dampen public support for it? The recent spate of protests, especially by farmers, highlighting issues of rural distress and the increasing concern about the unemployment situation in the country, has made a dent on the pro-development image of this government.
This edited book, with articles by academicians and journalists, attempts to look at the Modi government’s performance on multiple fronts with each article focusing on one issue in detail. The book will also talk about where the current government stands in terms of its priorities, performance, and philosophy and whether the advances madebyindependentIndiaonvariousparameters –economic, democratic and governance – have progressed, stalled or regressed.
Public debate, lately, has been hijacked by partisans of the government and the opposition throwing “facts” at each other. It’s when partisan ideology trumps objectivity that propaganda is rolled out and Indians clearly deserve better to evaluate their own government and to arrive at an informed decision while registering their mandate. The book seeks to let the facts speak for themselves, helped by substantiation through data.
The rise of BJP and Modi
Unlike much of the developed as well as the developing world, the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 did not affect India that much. After an impressive economic growth between 2003 and 2011, there has been a decline in its growth, though nowhere close to a recession still. What is, however, remarkable about its growth is that it was premised on exclusion. A popular term used in India for this phase is ‘jobless growth’ - which is in its very definition inequality enhancing because a large part of the population is left untouched by this growth. This is what probably lies at the heart of the disenchantment with the UPA and the rise of the BJP.
During the United Progressive Alliance-I’s (UPA-I) tenure, largely because of the political pressures from different social movements as well as the Left parties that were giving the government outside support, this inequality was responded to through attempts towards redistributive measures. The most popular, and perhaps the only of its kind in the world, was a guarantee of jobs for 100 days in rural India, which came to be known as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Other significant legislations such as the Forest Rights Act, the Right to Education Act and the Right to Information Act were also passed during the tenure of UPA I. These left-of-the-centre social and economic policies contributed to bring the UPA back to power in 2009. However, UPA-II charted a trajectory different from its previous avatar by jettisoning this politics. Added to that were two parallel developments – growing inflation and the exposure of big-ticket corruption cases, a heady combination as they are among the top issues that determine voter choice.
Voters had a sense that while the working people and the poor were trying to make their ends meet, corruption had enriched the rich and the politically powerful. Large scale corruption was seen as a way to transfer resources that were meant for the poor and the working people to the rich and the connected. The civil society movements for a Lokpal that blamed the UPA for rampant corruption gave voice to this growing frustration among the electorate. The UPA-II was also beginning to appear as a lame-duck government that was unable to make any economic decisions, seeming less committed to its welfare policies and finding it difficult to keep its coalition partners together. All of this led to the decline of the Congress and the ascend of BJP led by Modi being projected as the clean and refreshing alternative.
In a vast, democratic and a parliamentary system of representative government such as India, it is indeed problematic to reduce governance into a machine led by one individual. But that is precisely what the BJP made its electoral pitch for, during the 2014 elections, and managed to reduce its regime into since then. Mr Modi was projected as an outsider to the entrenched power centres in Delhi, as the leader of a “strong and efficient” government in Gujarat that was not beholden to special interests as the UPA was and therefore “incorruptible”.
State as a “Broker” of Big Capital
While the UPA, particularly in its second avatar, and the Modi government both stood for a State which had ‘no business to be in the business’, there has still been a paradigmatic shift in the nature of the State during the present government’s rule.
Under UPA-I in particular, the philosophy of social welfare was premised on public provisioning, reflected in measures such as the MGNREGA, the ICDS etc.; and on developing a regime of rights –these policies were implemented unevenly and there were failures and successes, but the intent was clear. From a rights-based and the ‘State as a provider’ approach of the UPA-I, there was a shift in approach to the state playing a more transactional role during UPA-II with emphasis on the PPP model of delivery where the state primarily plays the role of a regulator.
Under the BJP, however, as seen in the chapters in this volume, the nature of the State has changed fundamentally where its primary agenda across sectors seems to be to create avenues for the expansion of profits for big business through privatisation and commercialisation, while withdrawing from public provisioning or its ‘social’ role. In this sense, the State is increasingly becoming a “broker” for big business.
Moving away from its role as a regulator of the excesses of the private corporate sector, it has become a conduit through which public resources are getting transferred to finance the profligacies of big business houses in this country. Writing-off bad assets, bidding non-performing assets at a pittance to wealthy corporates with low recovery for the public sector banks are some examples of such brokerage.
In the social sector as well, the State is moving away from a model of direct provisioning of services towards insurance-based schemes, health care services or compensation for crop failures. The role of the State is now limited to just making a partial payment towards the insurance premium, with the rest being paid by the recipients themselves, to the private insurance companies.