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Home > 2021 > Challenges to Modi Government in 2021 and beyond | P S Jayaramu

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 6, New Delhi, January 23, 2021

Challenges to Modi Government in 2021 and beyond | P S Jayaramu

Friday 22 January 2021

by P. S. Jayaramu

By all accounts, the year 2020 was a bad year for India and the Modi Government as it faced the twin challenges of the health and economic pandemic. The year that has gone by also led to a heightening of unemployment as a result of the virtual collapse of production in several sectors. The pandemic also disrupted the educational system with the closure of schools and colleges. The year 2020 also resulted in the Chinese armed attack on our soldiers in the Galway Valley, followed by the passage of the controversial Farm Laws resulting in farmers protests on the Delhi border since November 26th. An attempt is made here to briefly analyse each of the above mentioned challenges which have spilled over to 2021.

Firstly, let me take up the Covid 19 pandemic. The pandemic surfaced initially in Kerala as a result of the return of some Indian students from the Wuhan Province of China. Soon, the virus started enveloping the entire country with more returnees from different parts of the world. Modi Goverment’s initial response was its thoughtless and sudden decision to impose a nation wide lockdown to arrest the spread of the virus, which however, resulted in the heart rendering scenes of migrant labourers walking hundreds of miles, to their homes.

In order to demonstrate that he was doing something novel to raise resources, Modi came up with a new fund called the ‘PM Cares’, bypassing the already existing Prime Ministers National Relief Fund. Protests against the scheme went unneeded. The Government also quickly swung into action to encourage the vaccine manufacturing companies to speed up the the medical response to the pandemic. The medical fraternity, including the health workers, have toiled hard to treat the virus affected patients. The Centre and the States, along with private hospitals, coordinated in equal measure to create quarantine facilities for the Covid affected patients. Happily, the spread of the pandemic and the mortality rate have been contained. Effective carrying out of the vaccination drive, now under way, with no or minimum side effects will be a feather in the cap of the Government. Health lth experts, though have been warning that the pandemic may linger on till about October this year.

Secondly, management of the economic pandemic deserves attention. The economy which was already in a downward, with GDP growth slipping from 7 percent in 2017-18 to 6.1 percent in 2018-19 slid further to 4.2 percent in 2019-20.(The Economic Times, 29th September, 2020. NSO data reveals that productivity in the manufacturing sector dipped to 2 percent from the 6.9 percent in the previous year.

The Modi Government came up with stimulus packages which did not contribute significantly to the revival process. As the Nobel laureate Dr. Abhijit Banerjee states, the stimulus measures did not increase the consumption spending of lower income people as the Government was not putting adequate money in their hands/bank accounts.(Business Standard, 29th September, 2020)

However, Moody’s Projections for GDP growth for 2020-21 stands at 10.8 percent, ending March 2022.( The Hindu, 19th November, 2020). Projections apart, popular perception is that the economy is showing only a marginal upward trend following slow resumption of manufacturing activities with the migrant labourers gradually returning to work. Expert opinion still is that it will take at least another two years for the economy to be in positive territory. In a scenario like this, Modi’s goal of India reaching 5 trillion dollars economy by 2025 remains a pipe dream. The Prime Minister would do well to come out of his echo chamber, consult independent experts on finance and industry and accommodate their inputs to arrive at the right policy mix to find solutions to the pressing problems relating to the economy and industry, instead of depending on Niti Ayog experts and ‘Sarkari scholars’! At a wider level, the Government would do well to strengthen the Public sector in order to restore a balance in the economy and move in the direction of establishing the Essential State, an idea floated by Prof. Francis Fukuyama in the American context, (see Francis Fukuyama,The Essential State, American Purpose Weekly, 11th January, 2021) an idea which may not appeal to the Niti Ayog brand economists and the corporate media.

Thirdly, handling the unemployment situation is another major challenge facing the Modi Government. The unemployment figures reached a staggeringly high level following the pandemic by shooting upto 24 percent in May 2020. Modi’s promise of creating one crore jobs a year, made during his 2019 election campaign speeches has surely got into rough weather. With the gradual resumption of industrial and other related activities, as per CMIE data, unemployment stands at 7.9 percent, urban 8.1 and rural 7.8.( The Economic Times, 26th November, 2020) Sadly, the Government has not yet developed a clear road map for employment generation.

Fourthly, as regards the education sector, the Covid 19 pandemic posed a host of problems as a result of the closure of schools and colleges, causing disruption of the academic year 2019-20, which have spilled over to 2021. Though online classes are conducted to avoid loss of academic year, benefits of such classes have not reached the vast majority of students in rural areas, thanks to the digital divide and inadequate levels of technological preparedness among teachers. This is an area which calls for calibrated measures by the Government in consultation with the private providers of education.

At a larger level, the Government launched the New Education Policy( NEP 2020) to implement a plethora of changes in the school and higher education sectors, many of which are indeed path breaking. Though this is not the place to go into the details of the Policy, it needs to be emphasised that the NEP, as such, should have been drafted by involving representatives from the non BJP ruled States also as cooperation of the States is an imperative for the implementation of the recommendations, more so because education is in the Concurrent List of the Constitution. States like Tamilnadu and West Bengal have already expressed reservations on many aspects of the NEP. Hopefully, the Government would involve State Governments in drawing up the implementation strategies.

Fifthly, passage of the three Farm Laws by the Modi Government has snowballed into a major crisis following the continuing protest by farmers since 26th November, 2020. The Government took to the Ordinance route initially and later on passed the Bills in the Parliament using its majority disregarding the appeal of the Opposition Parties to refer the Bills to a Joint Committee of the Parliament. In the Rajya Sabha, the Bills were declared passed by the Deputy Chairman, ignoring the Opposition’s plea for putting it to vote, which speaks volumes about the Government’s intention to ram through the legislations. The rounds of talks that the Government is having now with the farmers should have preceded the passage of the Farm Laws! The Government grossly underestimated the scale and continuity of protests by the Punjab and Haryana farmers. As Abhijit Banerjee says ‘farmers are acting essentially out of suspicion of the government’s motive fearing something much worse may happen’( interview to Scroll,10th December, 2020) An indication of it came recently when the Reliance group bought food grains in Karnataka, though at a higher price than the MSP, which may not happen always. Hence, the demand of farmers for legal guarantees for MSP. With the trust deficit between the government and the farmers continuing, it should be clear that no Government can rule without enjoying the legitimate support of farmers who form the backbone of the country.

Sixthly, a few observations about the foreign policy challenges. Despite having a diplomat turned Foreign Minister incharge of foreign policy and a globally acclaimed Prime Minister, in my view, the Modi Government is faced with three major foreign policy challenges. China’s calculated adventure in the Galwan Valley in May last year, its occupichunks of our territory with continued presence of its troops in the region, is a source of major worry. Though our jawans fought the Chinese soldiers valiantly, establishing strategic equilibrium with China is going to be a tall order. The candid statement by the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently that talks with China about troops withdrawal have failed reiterates the seriousness of the challenges ahead. As for Pakistan, Balakot notwithstanding, dealing with its cross border attacks and continued support to terrorist outfits, though reduced in intensity, is going to be a hard task. As for the United States, engagement with the Biden Administration-with possible pinpricks regarding the way issues relating to human rights violations have manifested themselves under the Modi dispensation-calls for course correction and astute handling. The bigger challenge to the foreign policy establishment will be upscalling relations with the US and cooperating with it in containing China without getting sucked into a formal military alliance to serve our foreign policy interests.

Finally, but most importantly, the challenge to the Modi Government in 2021 and beyond lies in respecting and nurturing our democratic ethos and constitutional values which are so intertwined with the idea of India which has pervaded our thinking since independence. The Government should move away from its majoritarian approach to decision making and gravitate towards consensus based decision making. Respecting the democratic urges of those who may have lost the electoral battle is a necessity. Respect for Parliament as an institution and adherence to Parliamentary traditions and conventions should be the guiding principles of statecraft. Modi should introspect as to what kind of a legacy he would like to leave behind, that of a politician or a statesman, like Vajpayee. For the latter to happen, he will have to bring about a transformational change in his style and substance of Politics.

Prof. P. S Jayaramu is former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi.

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