Eight Years Of Modi Government: A Story Of Transformation
Here's an evaluation of the Modi regime, factoring in the role of the government in enabling the rural population.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the National Democratic Alliance governed, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has completed eight years in power. Comparisons, therefore, are already underway with the government that was being run in the name of Dr Manmohan Singh, especially on the points of inflation, given the recent alarming uptick in trends due to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, and more recently, the Covid-induced lockdowns in China.
However, beyond the recent short-term shocks to the economy, a larger evaluation of the Modi regime must be made while factoring in the role of the government in enabling the rural population.
To begin with, a note must be made about the tectonic shift in thinking ushered by the Modi government. For the greater part of our independence, until 2014, the government was confused as the parental figure for an average Indian, and therefore, it was a natural expectation for the system to run telephone lines, airports, and several public sector undertakings including banks, airlines, and telecom companies, and most importantly, to push for helicopter money into the system each time there was a slowdown.
A teaser of it was visible post-2008 when at the cost of the stability of the banking system, credit was unleashed for the most notorious of borrowers, and before the elections of 2019, when the Congress proposed the Nyay scheme, promising Rs 72,000 annually for 20 per cent of the Indians, languishing at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
Amongst the voters, however, better sense prevailed, and the idea was firmly rejected in the polling booth, for the people, especially in rural India, wanted the government to be an enabler and not a parental figure anymore. Put simply, they wanted to learn how to catch a fish, and not queue up for it every five years.
Ideally, the role of the government should be to enable an atmosphere conducive for the entrepreneurs to exist, flourish, and consequently create employment, instead of promising jobs themselves. To think that the government can create a certain number of jobs out of thin air is flawed. Further, the government should not be in the business of running businesses. Regulate them, yes, but only as far as it ensures progress for all without shackling innovation and competition.
Even with respect to agriculture, the government must not look to save the farmer each year with credit waivers or overpriced procurements, but usher in legislations that facilitate fair business practices that benefit the farmers, entrepreneurs, and the 1.3 billion consumers.
Narendra Modi, even before being declared the Prime Ministerial candidate in late-2013, advocated these virtues under the slogan of ‘Minimum Government and Maximum Governance’, and his government has delivered on those principles.
Choosing to be an enabler, the government has gone for what the author terms as ‘BMW Socialism’, or bare-minimum-workable socialism that ensures the 800-million odd people in the country, concentrated in villages, should not struggle for basic necessities like housing, water, communication, banking, etc., and instead be directed towards wealth creation, even if it is only for self-sustainability.
What else explains the Jan Dhan Yojana, mocked by the Congress, with over 450 million beneficiaries, more than Rs 1.67 lakh crore in deposits, and over 310 million RuPay cards issued. This has been an enabler for digital payments. Ayushman Bharat, a healthcare cover for over , more recently, the that is now closing in on 200 crore doses, and soon, .
Go back to the first tenue and recall the , which focused on energy conservation through lighting. Over 36 crore LED bulbs have been distributed until today, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by close to 40 million tonnes annually. To put things into perspective, that figure is equivalent to the emissions from 5.8 million passenger vehicles driven for a year. More on those numbers .
Similar has been the story with the Ujjwala Yojana, promising gas cylinders for women in rural India. One of the testaments to the tectonic shift in thinking under the Modi regime was when people in urban areas began willingly giving up their LPG subsidies to support the poor. Until today, over 9 crore gas connections have been released under the scheme.
Another example is the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, operating in both rural and urban areas. Under PMAY(U), over 1.22 crore houses have been sanctioned, with over 1 crore being grounded, and close to 60 lakh houses being built already. For PMAY(G), against a total target of over 2.7 crore houses, more than 2.4 crores have been sanctioned, and 1.81 crores have been completed. Funds to the tune of over Rs 2.4 lakh crore have been to the eligible beneficiaries. In the grander scheme of things, the , one house at a time.
The list can go, for there are millions of new toilets, piped drinking water connections, and agricultural subsidies, and beyond the rural areas, there are schemes pertaining to other sectors, like the National Infrastructure Pipeline, the National Asset Monetisation, disinvestment from certain public sector undertakings or privatising them altogether, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, policies on women and child development, the national education policy.
There is also increased focus on upgrading the railways' infrastructure, pushing for privatising certain routes and projects like the Dedicated Freight Corridor, UDAN yojana, safeguarding the interests of the home buyers in urban areas through RERA (Real Estate Regulatory Authority) or coming to the rescue of many homebuyers through NBCC, revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, development of border roads infrastructure, defence indigenisation, many religious corridors beginning with that of Kashi, insurance for rural population through public sector banks at meagre premiums, collateral-free loans through MUDRA, driving investments worth Rs 2.34 lakh crore in more than a dozen sectors through production-linked incentive schemes and so on.
Many of the above-listed steps deserve a detailed study and elaboration and not mere fleeting mentions, but their acceptance and success amongst the public, even with their imperfections, is no secret, as evident from the electoral victories registered by the BJP.
However, the efforts of the Modi government toward the rural population must not be confused for freebie politics or helicopter money that has today become a hallmark of several political parties, including the Congress. Perhaps, it is better to give a rural family the opportunity to procure a loan to start a small business than Rs 72,000 annually, or to open up the markets of the world and formal credit for the farmers than merely reducing their existence to MSPs and credit waivers. The shift in thinking matters.
One of the most celebrated aspects of the Modi regime would be the digitisation of the economy. It began with Aadhar, which the Congress claims it introduced, but then fiercely stood against the application of post-2014. This was followed by the Jan Dhan Accounts, and finally, cheap internet connections for hundreds of millions of Indians.
The JAM trinity, today, has . Couple this with the adoption of UPI, the account aggregator framework to ease access to credit, and the upcoming ONDC (Open Network for Digital Commerce) model and one has a booming economy with prospects for every Indian, from the ones wanting to run a fruit juice corner to ones running startups. An elaborate thread marking the importance of the Jan Dhan-UPI-Account Aggregator framework-ONDC model can be found here.
The other key aspect is the formalisation of the economy, and more importantly, of over 63 million MSMEs in India. While a lot needs to be done to further bring these MSMEs into the formal fold, the push for digital payments, online banking, and most importantly, the Goods and Services Tax (GST). While the GST suffered from many tweaks in its first couple of years, it has only improved since then, forcing more companies to register themselves.
The need for MSMEs to be in the formal fold was visible during the pandemic when the government came up with the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme. Not only will it aid in the expansion of the tax base, but it will also enable ease of credit, employment generation, and other expansion opportunities for MSMEs across India.
Where are the misses, however?
A discussion on demonetisation is inevitable each time the misses of the Modi government are brought up, but was it really one?
The digital payments that we almost take for granted today received their biggest nudge during the earlier weeks post-demonetisation. A lot of money made its way back to the formal economy through sales of goods and expensive metals, even at exaggerated prices in November and December of 2016.
Farm laws, more recently, were the nucleus of Modi’s reform push, and while a majority of the farming in India today passes (almost 94 per cent of it) with most APMCs deregularised, a uniform set of laws across the country would certainly help. Perhaps, a fight for another day.
Lastly, there is a need for a land acquisition law that enables the completion of infrastructure projects on time and hinders cost overruns. As per a recent , 443 projects, each with an investment of Rs 150 crore or more, are going to cost the government Rs 4.45 lakh crore more than the originally estimated cost.
Separately, there are over 500 projects that have been delayed for several reasons, mainly land acquisition, with the average delay time close to four years. Modi’s government's irrefutable intent to build and built needs the backing of a strong law to ensure minimum delays and cost overruns.
The Modi government is far from done, however. The Gati Shakti programme is expected to make news in the years to come. As the Dedicated Freight Corridor becomes operational, the logistics trends across the country will change, becoming an enabler for the economy.
Recently, 5G trials were conducted in Chennai, further presenting opportunities for the digital economy, investment prospects are only getting better with the PLI schemes, and again, the list goes on and on.
For reasons good or bad, the only verifiable process for the success or failure of the schemes by any government is the elections. Not to say that the schemes are without their share of faults or room for improvements, but an election offers the widest perspective on how the impact has been.
For the ones looking to compare the UPA and NDA, the writing is pretty much on the wall, nationally, and across states. As of how things stand today, politically, it will not be an exaggeration to assume that we are only halfway across the Modi era.
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