Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defended demonetization. Photo: Reuters
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's strategy mystifies economists on both the left and the right. Photo: Reuters

Promising a good life for India’s 1.25 billion people, Narendra Modi won the national election and took over as prime minister in May 2014. Unfortunately, after just three and a half years in office, Modi is quickly losing his popularity because of his failures on several fronts. Many now think Manmohan Singh, Modi’s predecessor, was a better prime minister.

Singh was a proponent of inclusive growth, whose economic ideology of combining development with social equity was key to his achievements as prime minister.

From making India part of the international community to increasing per capita income by three times during his 2004-14 tenure, Singh’s work helped bring about a sharp reduction in poverty and a rapid increase in rural consumption, while enhancing citizens’ rights and improving transparency through the Right to Information Act (RTI), job security through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), improved food security, large investments in the social sector and a quantum leap in infrastructure investments.

The NREGA guaranteed a member of every poor rural household 100 days’ employment in local infrastructure development projects. The National Rural Health Mission helped to reduce maternity and infant mortality rates drastically. RTI put power into the hands of the general public to know what the government was doing.

The lower house of Parliament also passed the Lokpal Bill, considered a major step toward making the political system free of corruption. Unfortunately, the present Modi government, citing vague reasons, is trying to delay its implementation.

The Manmohan Singh government also started eight new Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), seven new Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), 16 new central universities and 10 new National Institutes of Technology (NITs). It also constructed 200,000 kilometers of new roads, 37,000km of new highways, and 40 modern airports.

When comparing these and other achievements of the previous government and to the present administration under Narendra Modi, the latter is fast losing its credibility. Whether it is the “make in India” campaign, demonetization or the implementation of a new tax system, there is a feeling among people in the country that the Modi government is good at speaking, advertising, and winning elections, but when it comes to actual governance, there is hardly anything to report.

Modi promised 10 million jobs a year, but hardly 1 million jobs have been generated in the last three years. India’s economic growth has slid to a three-year low, as year-on-year growth in gross domestic product  dipped sharply to 5.7% in the first quarter of the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The demonetization drive by Modi has proved to be huge failure. While corrupt officials and businesspeople, as well as criminals, said to have hoarded their illicit wealth in cash have managed to preserve their fortunes, middle-income groups are feeling hit by soaring fuel prices. The Modi government has increased the central excise duty 11 times in past three and a half years. While the international price of crude oil has come down by more than 52% since Modi took over, the price of gasoline in India is at a three-year high.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, there has been a 26% rise in farmers’ suicides under the Modi government – 12,360 farmers committed suicide in 2014-15 and 12,602 in 2015-16. This shows that there is a grave agrarian crisis in the country.

While just about every other week there is news of a train accident, a  derailment or a security-related incident, Modi is busy building bullet trains at an estimated cost of US$17 billion. Many analysts feel that it is a misplaced priority and that this money could have gone first to improve the basic safety and services of the railway system.

Many people feel that Modi is always in election-campaign mode without putting much emphasis on governance. He has made 775 speeches in the last 41 months, so he has delivered 19 speeches every month since he became PM on May 26, 2014. This translates to about two public speeches every three days. He has also given 166 speeches abroad (he has already made close to 60 foreign visits as prime minister in just three and a half years).

With so many speeches without much to report on what his government has really achieved, there are tough questions in the circles of power on how Modi compares with his predecessor Manmohan Singh.

Sachi Satapathy

Sachi Satapathy is an international development practitioner who has worked on large-scale projects. His interests are in public policy, poverty alleviation and public-private partnerships for development in middle-income and developing countries.

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