Modi’s development agenda

K Raveendran

The data-driven slugfest over the performance of the Modi government in the first three years between its loyalists, led by Narendra Modi himself, and detractors, both in the ruling party and Opposition, saw an important piece of statistics that should have pricked India’s collective conscience pass off as a non-event, except for some noise created in the social media. The data related to the ranking of India in the latest Global Hunger Index, released by the Washington-based International Nutrition Research Institute, which said that the country’s position slipped some 45 points in the space of three years to an embarrassing 100th place, behind Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. To rub sat into the wound, the review period corresponded to the first three years of the Modi government.
Explanations have come, particularly in the online media, about the fall of a steep 45 points from the level of 2014 as a matter of methodology change, but the fact still remains that there has been a fall. Considering that the index is constituted by such important parameters as undernourishment, infant mortality and child stunting, the ‘honour’ is not at all flattering. One wonders whether in reeling out data in support and against the Modi government’s performance, the real story is lost in transit.
Modi came to power selling a dream to Indians. And he sounded true in that promise as well, which made people conjure up an imagery of everyone enjoying a better living standard, less corruption, more equality and opportunity to earn a lot more money to pursue one’s life’s ambitions. Fortunately or unfortunately, or because of both, the Indian public believed him totally and voted for him overwhelmingly. It was essentially a vote for Modi. They voted for BJP because the party represented him rather than the other way around. If the Indian system of democracy permitted Modi to contest all the seats by himself, he might still have won a majority. Such was the appeal of his promise.
But like most dreams, the one sold by Modi also turned sour within no time. The hope of bringing back all the money stashed by Indians in secret foreign accounts and redistributing it among all Indians proved to be a mirage. Within days of taking office the Modi dispensation realized that it was not as simple as it sounded and there were innumerable hurdles even to access information about black money.
That certainly was a big disappointment. Still people were ready to persist with Modi apparently because they were convinced about his intentions. He launched a number of good initiatives for cleanliness, sanitation, education of girl children etc, but all these touched only the periphery while the core issues remained outside their realm. For instance, for the Jharkhand girl who ended her life after she failed to get food grain ration, a decent life was a far cry when her right to life itself was challenged. A large section of people are now tending to believe that this is the crux of the dilemma of the Modi government’s development philosophy.
Modi has a penchant for acronyms, many of which became popular, although some like Make In India were poorly coined and had equally non-descript results. Some of his expansions such as good and simple tax for GST, First Develop India for FDI, Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile for JAM have stuck, but many other schemes with fanciful names have been forgotten as soon as they were announced.
All this brings up the issue of the sustainability of people’s patience, which is already appearing to wear thin. The rising clamour about the failure of the government to bring about any substantial improvement on the ground, including from within the ruling party, is symptomatic of the deepening trouble. Of the two major reform moves of Modi, demonetisation has completely gone awry while on the second -GST- the jury is still out, but the initial results are not at all encouraging.
Since the context of this discussion is India’s standing on a global list, a look at how some of the world’s poorest countries have fared in the last quarter century would be a rewarding exercise. Our social studies textbooks in the 1960s had a lesson about Koreas, which were described as a peninsula inhabited by poor farmers. In three decades, however, Korea has developed into a global leader in certain sectors, particularly technology and engineering.
This writer had the opportunity to visit the Samsung headquarters in Seoul in 2000, when the company had mileage only in the semiconductor industry and the prototypes of some of the products in which the company currently enjoys near total dominance were on show there. Koreans have a typical love-hate relationship with big brother Japan and naturally Samsung’s ambition was to be in the top-five band with Sony, easily the world leader in the product range that the Korean company was planning to enter, within the next five years. But incredible as it may seem, Samsung not only caught up with Sony, but overtook the Japanese company in its own product group, including television and display technologies, within the timeframe it set and became a runway leader in the newly-emerged mobile phone business.
Now India is a major market for Korean companies, including their auto manufacturing major Hyundai, but no company from India, whose text books had portrayed the Koreans in a condescending tone, is known to have established a foothold in that country. It’s time we did some deep introspection into our development philosophy. (IPA)

Saturday, 28 October, 2017