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Modi turns 70 next week, and clock is ticking for him to change his legacy for the better

Sub-optimal economic legacies are typical of strongman leaders. Modi can avoid that, but things are beginning to get stacked up against him.

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Narendra Modi turns 70 next week. He has been prime minister for the past six years and more, and chief minister for nearly 13 years before that. He did well by the Gujarat economy, raising its performance on many parameters — though perhaps not as much as claimed. He introduced novel solutions to old problems, and was full of focused energy and drive. The arrival of the Narmada waters and use of new cotton strains helped to rapidly raise agricultural production. But projects like the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City have made slow progress.

For all that, he has changed India more than he changed Gujarat, though he has been prime minister for only half the time that he was chief minister. The ethos of politics north and partly south of the Vindhyas has been transformed, with more or less unabashed majoritarianism. Breakthroughs in the Ram Janmabhoomi case (through a self-contradictory judgment) and Jammu and Kashmir (through the clever technical use of constitutional provisions) enjoy popular sanction in the heartland. So the opposition’s very points of criticism are achievements for Modi’s support base. However, the long-term subjugation of the state and autonomous institutions to sub-serve party purposes, while not a BJP patent, places the original document of the republic on the list of endangered species.

The economic legacy is still being written. Modi’s initiatives can be broken down by category. Spending programmes for Ease of Living, infrastructure investment, and renewable energy have been quite successful though patchy. Policy initiatives less so; Indradhanush for banks, UDAY for electricity, and goods and services tax (GST). Programme-specific targeting has done quite well: Jan Dhan, renewable energy, Swachh Bharat, Ujjwala, etc. But broader targeting has been poor: Doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022 and increasing the share of manufacturing from 15 per cent to 25 per cent of GDP by the same year.

This good-to-poor mix of outcomes can be explained through the relative complexity of the tasks attempted: Building a highway or a toilet is easier than reforming a sector, which is easier than changing the structure of the economy. Chief ministers deal with the simpler tasks, whereas even politically successful prime ministers can fail when confronted with the interplay of complicated levers that steer economic activity.


Also read: Why Modi remains world’s most popular populist while Trump, Putin, Johnson struggle


 

As it happens, Modi did well in his initial three years, but the economy benefited from a collapse of oil prices from more than $100 per barrel in 2011-14 to an average of less than $60 subsequently — a boost equivalent to over 2 per cent of GDP annually. The surge in growth from 6.4 per cent in Manmohan Singh’s final year to 8.3 per cent in Modi’s best year (2016-17) owes it to oil prices. The next three years have ended with a halving of the growth rate. The worst mistakes have been the attempts at silver-bullet solutions: Demonetisation for one, and the March-April lockdown, which led to reverse labour migration on an epic scale.

The outcome now is shrunken employment, while the future is clouded by widespread business distress and stricken banks. Meanwhile, reforms like the bankruptcy law and defined monetary goals are being set aside, while GST is a mess. Self-reliance as the new goal awaits proof of outcome. Somewhere in all this, there is the question of competence. “Hard work” by itself is not enough when the tasks get more complex.

Sub-optimal economic legacies are typical of strongman leaders. The Russian economy under Vladimir Putin is smaller now than in 2008. Erdogan’s Turkey has a currency that has lost 60 per cent of its value in five years. Hugo Chavez, Lula da Silva, and Peron were populist leaders who scored initial successes in Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina, but their legacies have little to commend them. Modi can still avoid being in that company, but the macro-economic ratios and systemic blocks are now stacked up against him. He has time on his side. The last three prime ministers who served full terms started out in their early 70s. Modi is younger and fitter than all of them. But he needs to find it in him to change course if he is to beat the odds.

By Special Arrangement with Business Standard.


Also read: Not more of Nirmala Sitharaman, Modi’s economy needs lateral entry. Like Jaishankar


 

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35 COMMENTS

  1. The economy is tanking because Modi is a Socialist. He is not a Capitalist and he does not believe in the Free Market. He believes in government control, the public sector and purely welfare economics. And, completely unsurprisingly, he has taken India right back to Indira Gandhi and the Socialist Rate of Growth we had then. Modi does not understand economics and, the writer is right, this will destroy his legacy. He will be thought of just as Indira Gandhi was. He seems to think, just like she did, that the government or the people being disciplined and trying hard will create economic growth. That is not how it works anywhere. You need the Free Market. You need to dismantle the Socialist nonsense that has poisoned so many generations in India. I am not optimistic. He is living in a bubble. What saves him is that all his opponents are also all Socialists. When you compare with them, he is better because at least he holds firm on other national interests. So he will keep getting re-elected until he dies, probably.

    • Very nice summary of political governance model in India.

      Indira or Modi they just want to retain power. They and their bureaucrats do not want to empower the people in the correct way. Socialist schemes are necessary only to show that government cares for the poor while at same time asking bribes for getting any government service done like water connection, building license, vehicle and house registration etc. All state governments are also fully in this corruption. Corruption is another kind of tax for politicians to make money and run their parties. They will also keep the justice system tardy so that justice is forever delayed.

      In a free market bureaucrats lose their grip and power to harass businessmen for money. People will realise that they cannot stay in villages any longer and survive on agriculture and government subsidies. They will be forced to migrate to cities for work. Free market will result in massive industrialization that employs people. There are too many shocks for people and politicians to withstand if we make the move to a free market. Total insecurity.

    • Arguably the best comment I’ve read in recent memory on any media page (including but not limited to WSJ, NYT and The Guardian). You’ve hit the nail right on the head – great observation. Although it’s sad that we had so much expected from him, but he is just Indira Gandhi with a beard.

  2. An average communist leader, having one or maximum of two states rule have leader sitting in CM chair at 90+. For them age has no barrier. For Modi at 70, he should retire immediately. Great logic. Selective amnesia.

  3. Well said Samarth. These Leles are basically pillers of RSS thought process. They are out to destroy the basic constitutional framework of the country to mould it so that their age old supremacy continues

  4. Using tax payer money for social welfare schemes cannot sustain in a large diverse nation like India. My view. Yes it brought in the votes for Modi. The toilet scheme had publicity but when many people have lack of access to piped water, how are they going to maintain their toilets? Same with the rural electrification, Jan Dhan and health insurance schemes. Electric supply is not even available continuously in these villages and moreover people there do not even have the money there to buy devices like TV, fridge, geysers etc that use electricity. Money transferred via Jan Dhan is simply not enough to take care of a poor man’s expenses for even a month.

    For Modi to create a legacy as a nation builder he has to focus on create more opportunity for wealth creation for it’s citizens and earning a good livelihood. People will then have enough disposable income and increase their own standards of living – building their own houses with toilets, piped water connection, buying electric/electronic devices etc . The increased spending will lead to more taxes being collected and the government will be able to build the infrastructure that really matters for transportation, manufacturing, supply chains, hospitals, educational institutes, airports, railways etc that support a civilised nd modern urban life. Needless to say in all this he has to encourage innovators and facilitate the making of thousands of millionaires who translate ideas into companies, products and services that employ people.

    If Modi does not manage to empower his people to become self-sufficient economically even in his next term, history will judge him as a shrewd politician who fooled the public to remain in power and the nation will still dream of superpower status when Modi is no longer there.

    • You are obviously well meaning and not a bhakth.

      However, you are being too gentlemanly and giving Modi the benefit of the doubt : ‘For Modi to create a legacy as a nation builder he has to focus on create more opportunity for wealth creation for it’s citizens and earning a good livelihood. ‘ and ‘ If Modi does not manage to empower his people to become self-sufficient economically even in his next term, history will judge him as a shrewd politician who fooled the public to remain in power and the nation will still dream of superpower status when Modi is no longer there.’

      You should know Modi rose to power by murdering 2000 Muslims in a Hindu-Muslim riot. He has grown up in the RSS, and hate has been drummed into him since childhood. Very rarely can such a person change.

      Most of his Hindu supporters are happy with his ‘hate Muslim’ signalling, and that is sufficient for him. There are some like you who look at western governance and talk about disposable income and living standards, and empowerment of people, and hope he may be able to deliver on that. But in western governance, you cannot murder 2000 citizens and run for election – they will prosecute you.

      My message : don’t entertain delusions about mass murderers. It is like hoping after Hitler came to power, he will soften and change for the better. Churchill read Hitler correctly and saw the monster he would become.

  5. TnNinan,shekar,pranoyroy, rajdeep crossed their prime and premium to be opinion makers to sham Modi..The dig at Ramjanmabhoomi verdict ahows anti hindu feelings..The country will certainly see progress under Modi as he a god fearing, devout hindu and sincere in his approach ..dont write obituries

    • Those might be good things, but if he does not reform and embrace the free market, his rule will ultimately be remembered as a failure. No one will remember clowns like Rahul. But they will not think kindly about Modi either. The writer is biased but the fact that Modi has been useless when it comes to the economy is plain as daylight. Modi is a Socialist, and Socialism is a philosophy that creates poverty and social division.

  6. Our honourable PM Modi is getting older and his best days are behind him.
    To leave a lasting legacy, I feel he must focus on changing the character makeup of Indians. Nation cannot become strong unless the people have a proper character like honesty, sincerity, perseverance, sense of duty etc. Far too much energy is wasted in India by it’s people competing with each other, trying to get rich fast and pulling each other down. Nation can become strong when rule of law is followed by all – citizens, government employees and those in positions of power.
    Corruption has not decreased. It has made no difference whether BJP or Congress is in power. For the common man, at city and state level departments one still needs to bribe government agencies to get a water connection, sewage connection, electricity meters, building plan sanction, ration card etc.
    Speed of Justice – is same as it was in Congress time. Public still waits for years in court cases. Police system – Well connected people get away with abuse of power and disregard of rule of law.
    Public discipline has not increased – people violate traffic rules, spit and litter everywhere.
    The BJP supporters should know that Modi is not going to live forever. Modi also knows his time is running out. If he wants to be remembered, he should forget about building a strong political party and a strong government – this in my view cannot make a strong nation. It is a false belief that we need a strong and powerful leader to make this nation strong.
    Remove corruption from the minds of people of this land. The nation will then take care of itself and become strong gradually one day.

  7. For many Hindus, Modi is the first Hindu ruler in 1000 years, who has put down Muslims. For them, that is enough. Whether economy goes down, or China takes land, that does not trouble them. Thus, by Modi and his followers criterion, he is a great success. For Modi having power is a success, and for his followers, feeling Hindus are powerful, is success.

  8. The irony is those with some preconceived ideas (especially parochial Media) believe that the idea of India is only about politics. My experience in living (not visiting) in many parts of India over decades is that over 85% percent of Indians are, thankfully, NOT interested in the brand of “politics” played out in the media. For instance, the i million subscribers (including me) form only .7693 % of the Indian population.
    Extend this liberally to all such media…..you will get the perspective.
    Also, for once, in this situation, the numbers whether it is in regard to COVID or the economy are no indication of reality and should not be relied upon for possible corrective actions in these areas. The answers are not available in text books (the usually employed methods have failed all over the world) but in novel thinking and ingenuity.
    Disclaimer : I am for Media and a fan of The Print.

    • Very artful cover up for incompetence and wish for non-accountablity.

      ‘Also, for once, in this situation, the numbers whether it is in regard to COVID or the economy are no indication of reality and should not be relied upon for possible corrective actions in these areas. The answers are not available in text books (the usually employed methods have failed all over the world) but in novel thinking and ingenuity.’

      So Covid numbers and economic indicators are no indication of reality. Are you one of these Hindus says India runs according to an alternative reality, the Hindu dharma ?

      ‘ The answers are not available in text books (the usually employed methods have failed all over the world) but in novel thinking and ingenuity.’

      Modi has novel thinking and ingenuity. Can you cite examples ? Lighting diyas, chanting om, sending out cosmic vibrations to shatter the virus, Covid Papad and gomutra ? That is the sum of Hindu ingenuity. Is that better than the rest of the world ?

      It seems to me you are a Hindu who has opted for Hindutva, however now you know it is not working, but you do not want to admit this. You want everyone to agree it is working or there is no alternative. Many Hindus are in this fix. They want to believe in an alternative reality.

  9. If building a toilet or road were so easy why was Congress so bad at it for 70 years. Same with Electricity and water access. All these things have improved under Modi. Maybe elites haven’t gotten what they wanted but common man has gained under Modi even with bad economy.

    • 500,000 villages were already electrified over 70 years. The remaining villages were done by Modi government maybe about 18-20,000. 97% of villages were already electrified by early 2015.

      As a citizen I will sincerely appreciate what Modi worked to finish but that does not mean diminishing past central governments and the work they did.

      Remember much of whatever are the institutions, governance and infrastructure in India today was already set in place by past Congress and BJP governments of 70 years. Successive central governments after 2014 will obviously build upon schemes and funds in place from previous governments.

      Request BJP supporters to talk with data. You guys are posting stuff everywhere and no doubt have immense reach to the public especially in the Hindi heartland. However readers of the Print are not to be treated as gullible fools.

      • An excellent observation Mr Vikram D.

        The Modi government does not flinch from unfairly taking credit for the progressive policies that previous governments have put in place. But then according to Hindutva bhakths, nothing happened in the country for the last 70 years and India was in one deep Rip van Winkle type sleep. And the Gujarati pracharak with a pogrom under his belt is the one who is taking the country forward. Minus of course, the territory lost to the Chinese, thanks to its own follies …

    • Common man needs jobs. Common man needs low petrol prices. Common man cannot even pay for the electricity and water delivered via social schemes if he does not have a job or a profitable means of earning a livelihood. How will he even pay his rent and school fees of his children?

    • Nonsense Mr J Kent !

      You forget something called as Campbell’s law:

      “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor”

      The colossal fiasco called Swachch Bharath did not measure the elimination of the evils of open defaecation such as stunting, assaults on women, reduction in fly and insect borne diseases and so on, but the number of toilets built. Sarkari babus went about counting the number of toilets built – whilst also pocketing a great deal of the funds allocated for them – not the real health and safety benefits of toilets. In addition to the rampant corruption in the scheme, many of these toilets are of so poor designa nd so water-intensive in functioning that they are used for other purposes. And perhaps mots importantly, this foolish scheme did not take into account the fact that in much of rural India, defaecation is culturally carried out as far away from the main dwellings as possible. The BJP government made no efforts to tackle this aspect of the problem and the result is taht open defaecation still continues

      Campbell’s law applies, counting toilets built is bound to be the sole aim of the exercise, not the measuring of the reduction of the adverse consequences of open defaecation.

      Meanwhile, bhakths like you swallow the Pracharak’s propaganda lock, stock and barrel.

      • A simpler definition or explanation of Campbell’s law:

        “When we focus on a simple measurement to guide a complex goal, that measurement becomes the goal, and the measurement starts to work against the real goal”

        • They lined up some villagers and gave them some awards for swach bharat implementation. Afterwards when the media asked the winners what the award was about, they said they did not know, they were selected and told to come on stage for which they would get cash afterwards.

          The organisers then get major benefits for goal achievement.

  10. For the sake of Indians, lets hope Modi gets his priorities right now.

    Hindutva has won now, no point in beating the dead donkey called Secularism.

    • Modi has no priority other than Hindutva.

      Hindutva and the Hindu sense of worth defines itself as permanent enmity to Muslims. The economy, Covid and China are no concern.

  11. The last three prime ministers who served full terms started out in their early 70s. Modi is younger and fitter than all of them.

    That may be true but it is seen that all successful human lives are marked by a 20 year span (Shukra dasha) where they do the best work of their life. After that public success is modest at best and in most cases legacy gets tarnished if any further attempt is made to push the issue. I fear that the 20 best years of Modi are behind him and he would be wise to quit now rather than be in the chair while the economy utterly collapses and chaos reigns. He can be an elderly statesman of sorts and protect his legacy and his party from the blowback if he vacates the driver seat and moves back post-haste. He can even play it up as “balidaan” and “tyaag” and milk it for the gen-next of the BJP/RSS. Otherwise even if this generation is kind to him, the next generation (which will feel the sting of economic loss keenly) is sure to hold him wholly responsible for their woes – look at poor Nehru’s legacy being eroded 50 years after his death.

    • And yours is usual pontification from know-nothing-and-not-interested-in-knowing-anything kind of IT cell junior associate.

      • Well said Samarth. These Leles are basically pillers of RSS thought process. They are out to destroy the basic constitutional framework of the country to mould it so that their age old supremacy continues

    • Any counter-arguments Mr Prasad Lele ? All that you do is attach a label to the author because clearly, he has hit quite a few nails on their respective heads. And proved that Prophet Modi is nothing but headlines, hoopla and hype. And a lot of poverty, foreign policy failures, a pogrom and social discord as his legacy. But the blinkered, blink bhakth in you is still not ready to concede that Prophet Modi has taken you for a ride !

      Your pathetic, puerile post and knee-jerk refusal to read the writing on the wall reminds me of a quote from the French writer and historian François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), better known as Voltaire :

      “It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere”

      • Well said Kili. Just one correction. It’s not that Lele doesn’t understand. He very well knows that bull work ( modi called it hard work!) is no replacement for Harvard. But Lele will continue to pretend to be loyal to Modi because at the moment he is useful for RSS. The day he is not required he will be sent to Magadarshak Mandal

        • Thanks for the response Mr/Ms Pakku !

          Well, Monsieur Prasad Lele is perhaps best described as a “useful idiot” to the Hindutva cause and the Modi brigade. I live in Europe and how I wish I could have taken the likes of Monsieur Lele to the financial districts of Zürich, London, Frankfurt where he could have seen firsthand bagmen – many actually Gujarati bagmen – quietly ditching the Pracharak.

          Sadly, Monsieur Lele’s ilk does not understand the limits of the Pracharak’s “Godhranomics” !!

  12. Well framed article that calibrated both success and failures of government. I liked phrase ” there is the question of competence. “Hard work” by itself is not enough “. As a professional I extaly understand what Ninan is saying for me this one line summaries exactly what is need for country now.

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