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Mr. Modi, now it is time to impose communal harmony

Modi’s biggest, but least debated, economic achievement was slashing inflation to just 3.5%.

May 23, 2019, 11.42 PM IST
Mr. Modi, now it is time to impose communal harmony
Balakot and surgical strikes helped Narendra Modi portray himself as India’s protector.
Game, set and match to Narendra Modi. BJP’s landslide is a victory for Prime Minister Modi rather than his party. BJP lost state elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh just five months ago. Yet, it made almost a clean sweep of all three states this time.

The issue this time around was not who should become chief minister of a state but who should become prime minister of the country. Congress president Rahul Gandhi was routed in his home constituency of Amethi, Uttar Pradesh. The hope that his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra would revolutionise party prospects in Uttar Pradesh simply proved a triumph of sycophancy over strategy.

Trying to beat BJP’s ‘hard Hindutva’ with Congress’ ‘soft Hindutva’ flopped — and quite deservedly. The caste arithmetic of the mahagathbandhan — the ‘grand alliance’ between Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) — in UP was defeated by Modi’s chemistry with voters.

Rahul Gandhi’s slogan of ‘chowkidar chor hai’ — the guard is a thief — failed because his own family’s scam history made voters feel ‘chor machaye shor’ — the thief is creating a ruckus.

Hindu nationalism overcame economic hiccups. The economy slowed recently. Some surveys showed record unemployment. Yet, India remains the fastest-growing major economy in the world, and (despite statistical disputes) the job situation has been good enough for Prime Minister Modi to win most state elections and the 17th Lok Sabha elections. When he came to power at the Centre in 2014, many expected him to be a radical reformer like US president Ronald Reagan. In practice, Modi often resembled Bernie Sanders in welfarism.

Modi’s biggest successes were welfarist: PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi (Rs 6,000 for small and medium farmers), Swachh Bharat (toilets for all), Jan Dhan Yojana (bank accounts for all), and Ujjwala (rural cooking gas).

His flops included Make in India, Smart Cities, Digital India and high, unimplementable minimum support prices (MSPs) for crops.

The goods and services tax (GST) and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) were good reforms, but with no electoral oomph.

Modi’s biggest, but least debated, economic achievement was slashing inflation to just 3.5%. His incrementalism in economic reforms worked, and so may remain policy for the next five years too.

But he has won the political capital for radical change, and needs to use it. The police, judiciary and educational institutions require reform no less than the economy.

Balakot and surgical strikes helped Modi portray himself as India’s protector against Pakistan and terrorism. He also benefited from a sorry surge of communalism.

He criticised some communal attacks after long pauses. But nominating Pragya Singh Thakur, facing charges of terrorism, for the Bhopal seat was deplorable. Worse, she won, despite the prime minister criticising her pro-Nathuram Godse utterances.

Economic success, in the long run, requires communal harmony, not social feuding. This is an important part of the unfinished agenda.
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Copyright © 2019 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service