- Three years after PM Modi came to power, he has only become more powerful and popular
- Economic growth and an appeal among the poor, considered impossible to achieve simultaneously, have actually happened.
If Narendra Modi was a batsman, his innings so far could be termed as blistering. This, on a difficult pitch, with the wrong ones bowled at him at almost every turn.
An alien in the gilded world of privilege and corruption that is Lutyens Delhi - his landslide victory propelled a decisive leadership and a robust nationalistic agenda centre stage. It also undercut elite which much like fish are flapping about in an increasingly helpless manner as their privileged ponds shrink.
Four achievements stand out.
Economic growth and an appeal among the poor, considered impossible to achieve simultaneously, have actually happened.
India's economic growth of over 7.4% per year underpins this government's success. Look around, and you will see that only one country in the world has this growth rate. Investors in the stock markets have gained an incredible 50 Lakh crore as the markets soar to all-time highs from the day Modi became PM.
Remarkably, the participation of retail Indian investors in mutual funds has never been higher, ever.
The second interesting and largely unnoticed element has been the BJP’s connect with the poor. A party of traders is being replaced by a party that reaches out to the poor. By converting welfare schemes to direct payment, opening millions of bank accounts to the unbanked and building roads and other infrastructure – PM Modi has established a policy outreach broadening the acceptance of the BJP.
That the underprivileged see the benefit in it was demonstrated in the resounding electoral win in Uttar Pradesh. Billed as a referendum midway through the PM's term, the BJP won 312 of 403 seats. Apna Dal, a BJP ally, won 9 seats. The Congress won only 7. All that media attention on Rahul Gandhi seemed sinister - or if you want to be charitable, silly.
The fact is that the poor trust Modi. In politics, nothing matters more than popular legitimacy. Modi has deepened his with the massive victory midway through his term.
Modi's third major achievement is that he is perceived as the man who takes the big decision, a man who will get things done. The passing of the GST bill that will allow Indian business a single tax regime is perhaps his single biggest achievement.
The fourth was the demonetization of currency which contrary to the motley crew of critiques neither slowed economic growth nor hit the poor. Aside from widening the tax net and checking illegal wealth it also narrowed terror financing. Demonetization demonstrated that if need be Modi can invest political capital in massively unpredictable decisions for the good of the country. Unpredictability is excellent when big problems have to be solved as it cuts through the Gordian knot. Expect more of the unexpected as this term progresses.
The surgical strikes set a template that Modi gets the low-intensity war format. They signalled that under him hitting back at Pakistan will be the norm and thus will negate any advantage Pakistan may see in using terror as state policy.
Looking ahead, Modi has the rare privilege of accumulated political capital; He is unlikely to lose the 2019 elections. He can plan for 2024 and beyond. Doubling agricultural income and bringing Dalit politics to the mainstream along with creating new entrepreneurs and jobs are the challenges internally.
Externally he must spend more on defence. The prospect of a short, swift war with China is all too real. China may want to cut Modi to size as it did with Nehru in 1962.
It is important that the pragmatic Chinese perceive India as hard to beat in battle. For that India will need to beef up her defence much more than it has at present. Spending at least 3 per cent on defence must be a priority.
In sum, the Indian republic has much more of an opportunity than challenges under Modi's regime. The old cricket saying comes to mind for PM Modi as he settles into the next phase of his tenure, "stick around, this could be fun."
Last Updated 31, Mar 2018, 6:39 PM IST