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Mainstream, VOL LX No 3, New Delhi, January 8, 2022

Challenges to the Narendra Modi Government in 2022 | P S Jayaramu

Friday 7 January 2022

by P.S. Jayaramu (28th December 2021)

The year 2021 was a mixed bag for the Modi Government if one looks at it from a liberal angle. A mixed bag because the first half of the year saw the second wave of the covid-19 pandemic, leading to a heavy caseload and deaths. The government, obsessed as it was with the Bengal assembly elections paid little heed to the forecasts of the health experts about the severity of the covid pandemic. Government’s unpreparedness to deal with the crisis manifested itself in shortage of vaccines, hospital beds, oxygen supplies etc. It was only by the middle of 2021 that the Modi government realised its mistakes and initiated measures to deal with the pandemic. By the end of November, it managed to give the first dose of the vaccine to about 100 crores people. It claims that by now 126 crore people have received the first dose. Thanks to belated initiatives taken by the government, the health infrastructure too seems to have improved.

In any case, the covid-19 pandemic is far from being over, with the outbreak of the omicron variant manifesting itself in the country. Experts are warning of the third wave hitting the country around February 2022. With the virus known to be mutating in different forms, it is realistic to assume that the pandemic will remain one of the major challenges to the Modi regime in 2022. The government will have to gear itself to give the second dose of vaccination to the needy, vaccinate the children, place necessary orders with the vaccine manufacturers to supply the requisite vaccine to provide booster doses to the health warriors, the senior citizens and other groups during the year. As the omicron variant is known to spread faster than the delta variant, the government will have to make the requisite financial allocation in the Union Budget 2022-23. In all probability, dealing with the pandemic may remain one of the key concerns of the government during the year.

Managing the economy will be the second most important challenge to the Modi government during 2022. No doubt, the economy has improved after the devastating second wave of the Covid pandemic. But, the recovery has been, as many experts have pointed out, gradual. The GDP growth rate seems to have reached the pre-pandemic level, implying thereby that there has been no real growth since early 2020, compared to the average 6 percent growth per year before the Covid-19 pandemic. Though economic recovery is forecast, it may be marginal with predictions of the Covid pandemic spilling over to the middle of the calender year 2022, if not longer. Tourism and hotel industry are likely to be hit again. With our global overall export figures remaining low,(at around 1.8 percent) the recovery rate is predicted to be marginal. The IMF too has reduced its forecast to 8.5 percent for 2022, echoed by NSSCOM too. ( The Economic Times, 8th December, 2021)

Bringing down the retail inflation which stood, as per official sources, at 4.48 per cent in October 2021 to give relief to the poor and middle-income groups is an essential task to be performed by the Modi government during 2022. However, the Reserve Bank of India itself has projected the retail inflation during the April- June 2022-23 to be at 5.2 percent. (Money Control News, 12th November, 2021)

Handling unemployment is going to be another major challenge to the Modi Government. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) figures dated 6th December 2021, though the unemployment rate declined from 7.8 percent in October 2021 to 7 percent in November of the year, the actual employment rate shot up marginally from 37.28 percent to 37.34, meaning an increase in employment of 1.4 million, from 400.8 million in October to 402.1milloin in November. This is poor performance compared to the one crore jobs per year promised by the BJP in its election manifesto in 2014 and reiterated in 2019.

Internal security management is another serious challenge going to the Government. The killing of 14 innocent people by soldiers in Nagaland recently led to widespread anger and public protests in Kohima leading to the Nagaland Assembly passing a resolution calling for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. AFSPA gives sweeping powers to the soldiers to arrest without warrants and even shoot at them if need be. In view of the public anger, the issue has become sensitive. It needs to be handled by the Union Government empathetically. The State Government has asked the Centre to seek its opinion before notifying the State again as a “disturbed area”. Added to it, the worsening security situation in the Kashmir valley recently resulting in the killing of civilians and other security-related aspects will require careful handling by the Union Government involving the mainstream leaders of J & K adhering to the dialogue process to arrive at a consensus-based solution.

As regards implementing the New Education Policy 2020, the progress is slow as during better part of 2020 students had to continue will online learning thanks to the continuing Covid-19 pandemic. Though Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, both BJP ruled states, have officially initiated the implementation process, with slow progress in enhancing the infrastructural facilities, the digital divide between urban and rural students has not been bridged. Teacher shortage and poor to inadequate training to them has affected the quality of teaching in schools and colleges. The central government should go the extra mile in involving the state governments, especially the non-BJP ruled states, if a meaningful implementation of the NEP is to be ensured.

In the field of foreign policy, the Modi government will be up against the military-strategic hegemony of China. As foreign minister Dr. Jaishankar has himself admitted in several forums, managing the asymmetrical relationship with China and it’s intransigence on the border issue is a challenge to the government. It remains to be seen how useful will our involvement with the US-driven QUAD is going to be. Practice of strategic autonomy in managing India’s bilateral relations with China, Russia, Iran, rather than getting entangled in US-initiated moves in the Middle East and elsewhere should be a critical component of Indian diplomacy during 2022 and beyond. Equally significantly, the foreign policy managers should be concerned about a healthy and harmonious engagement with our smaller neighbours in South Asia, specially, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Dealing with Pakistan and the Taliban controlled regime in Afghanistan calls for an imaginative approach coupled with optimum caution.

While the issues mentioned above point to the need for undivided and optimum attention by the Narendra Modi government, political realism indicates that the prime ministers and his key ministerial colleagues, (barring perhaps foreign minister Dr. Jaishankar) will spend better part of their time and energy during the year on the assembly elections going to take place in UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa in February- March 2022 and in Gujarat and Himachal Oradesh in December, not to forget the biennial elections to 75 Rajya Sabha seats scheduled for April- July of the year. Fighting and winning elections, specially the high stakes one in UP, may become their priority concerns during 2022. It would be sad if governance takes a back seat in the race for retaining and capturing political power. It would be equally tragic and disappointing if communal flames are fanned during the electoral battle.

(Author: Dr. P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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