It’s time the Modi government learns from its mistakes

There’s an element of truth in prime minister Narendra Modi’s accusation that his government’s campaign against corruption in the last four years had driven the opposition parties into an unholy alliance. His charge assumes significance because Modi is, in some ways, still an outsider to the Delhi darbar — its other name is Lutyens politics. His supporters believe that in the four years that he has been prime minister, he has loosened the hold of a powerful group of people on national politics. Not being a part of the cosy Lutyens set has perhaps helped him avoid some of the usual potholes that come with being a typical Delhi politician.

Modi may have touched a raw nerve for the opposition with his charge of corruption against them. However, his party that came to power on an anti-corruption and development plank in 2014 has not made much headway in unearthing black money either. If one were to go by the prime minister’s figures, black money unearthed did not cross Rs 84,000 crore in the last four years even as it made claims of setting up the mechanism to throttle black money generation. What has been achieved does not match the promises in the run-up to the 2014 elections on bringing back illicit funds parked abroad.

On the economy in general, the Modi government’s performance has been a mixed bag. His conservative economics has helped boost the market and brought in liquidity. The total market cap of all BSE-listed companies has risen by over Rs 62 lakh crore in the last four years and the BSE market cap stands at over Rs 147 lakh crore at the weekend. Praise could also be due for rolling out indirect tax reform in the shape of the Goods and Services Tax regime – even though it hit many businesses – going forward on infrastructure development and, importantly, taking steps in the direction of NPA resolution. On the flip side, personal taxation has been a problem area against the backdrop of the long-term capital gains tax. Fuel pricing with petrol and diesel rates have touched new highs.

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the benefits from the demonetisation exercise, which had been aimed at black money, terror funding and such. The same is the case with digitisation, which suffers a trust deficit with users despite the incentives for online transactions on offer.

While the prime minister may have initiated an aggressive narrative against corruption and kept his government away from any significant taint on corruption, his party has come up short on at least one significant occasion. The efforts in Karnataka to help the BS Yeddyurappa government to win the vote of confidence set tongues wagging with allegations of reported offers of money and ministerial berths for those in the opposition camp.

Inexperience and competence issues in the cabinet can be identified as Modi’s major concerns. Besides, concentration of power and decision-making on a scale that are sometimes a reminder of Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership, when the PMO was a remote and feared institution, needs to change. Because, among other things, India has become bigger and more complex since those days and cannot be run in the highly centralised fashion that has come to be identified with Modi.

In the light of the exercise to highlight four years of the NDA, it would be worthwhile to note that hard selling modest achievements could boomerang on it, and there is no better instance of this than the ‘India Shining’ campaign of the Atal Bihar Vajpayee government.

In short, the performance of the Modi government is work in progress. It has taken important steps forward but mistakes have been made and much needs to be achieved. For that the government needs to heed its critics who say that in order to move forward, the government must first acknowledge that it has made mistakes.