By S. Sivathasan –
“Like the iron image of an inevitable fate, going ahead to its predestined goal”. This was how Jawaharlal Nehru described the determined march of a western leader some eight decades ago. With more formidable constraints and restraints endemic to a democratic system, Modi has acquitted himself with remarkable resoluteness. In his governance, India saw unprecedented forward movement deriving from his leadership and commitment. The PM and the cabinet labored together for this remarkable achievement within a span of five years.
Reform and Expectation
What is the worst moment for a government? “When it begins to reform”. So said Lord Acton the eminent historian, very perceptively. Worse still we would say when growth moves in tandem with reform and a clean-up. To this challenge, another strenuous five years, Modi and his lieutenants have already braced up. A century ago, Ten Days in Russia Shook the World. Modi and his team have 100 days more for the Lok Sabha elections, to shake India and to astonish the world. This space is a very long time. Democratic means is the path of choice. No less than 620 million will cast their votes to decide on the winner, in this Indian sub-continental war.
In strategy and tactic the impending Lok Sabha election is no different from a war. It is fought to win, not for a display of peacetime ethics. The battle is already joined. At an advantage in any election in any part of the world, is the ruling party perched in the seat of governance. Bemoaning this unalterable fact of life is pointless. Equally irrational is to suggest that a ruling government should remain motionless in the last segment of its term. To this behest of the opposition, the governing party’s telling rebuttal was, it never got elected for 4 years and 8 months but was given a 5-year term. Its mandate is to govern till the last day. More challenging is a repeat of the mandate it is seeking.
The last segment has already begun to see an avalanche of political and electoral developments, very disquieting if not devastating to Congress and the Opposition. Little wonder they are still in a daze. Most stunning to the country, particularly to the generality of its citizens is the Interim Budget 2019/20, presented in parliament on February 1, 2019. A sea change is already seen. It came after 55 months of unremitting work. Modi’s commitment was that he labored selflessly for 18 hours a day, all 365 days of the year, without a day’s leave. In all foreign trips he travelled by night sleeping in the plane. Health and stamina that disciplined life and yoga regimen gave him, he placed at the service of the nation.
Ever Enlarging Budget
The budget is to the tune of Rs 27.842 trillion. It shows an increase of Rs 3.420 trillion over the previous year. More impressively, a massive Rs 10.210 trillion increase compared to the first Modi budget of 2014/15. An annual increase of around 17% said Arun Jaitley the Finance Minister. A whole corpus of reforms initiated and pursued with verve, consistency and continuity, account for the best part of the increase. In the perception of the world’s largest electorate, this exponential performance is the work of Modi, the Cabinet and the BJP. The Congress and the opposition are at their wits end to understand how the funds were mobilized.
This expansive flow into the coffers of the state over a near five-year term is to be attributed to several reform measures adopted by the Modi government. Many of them initiated by Modi and very capable Ministers, were pursued till their logical end. The entire term of 55 months so far, displayed policy vigour, in sharp contrast to the previous 60 months of paralytic somnolence that afflicted the Congress and its allies. Bane of corruption was getting banished together with mere talkin the previous dispensation. Finding no lapse in governance, the leader of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi whimsically invoked the Raphael fighter plane affair. He and his canards were sturdily demolished by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitaraman in Lok Sabha itself. When Rahul raised his head in February ’19, it was smashed again by Nirmala, invoking a rebuttal from the former Defence Secretary.
Technology has left no sphere of activity untouched. The initiative of the Congress government for installing the scheme was great and timely. It was launched on 28th January 2009. Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys placed it on a sound foundation. He was made Chairman of the institution carrying the status of a cabinet minister.
Aadhaar (Foundation in English) is assignment of a 12-digit unique number, to a citizen in India. Seeing its ever-expanding scope, Modi government gave it legislative backing in March 2016. The scheme is transforming the way in which citizens interact with the government in the digital age. It has now enveloped the whole country with a coverage of 99% of adults.
As of end May 2014, when Congress government ceased to be, Aadhaar authentication was for 88.2 million citizens in 64 months. Modi government has taken Aadhaar cards issued to 1,210 million. A range of functions of the government have now been liberated from the fleecing officialdom and the ever- conspicuous middlemen. Digital technology with its vast sweep has made governance close, proactive and democracy direct.
A quarter century of computer education, IT spread supported by infrastructure development and the assiduous efforts of the Modi government have brought these about. In their wake are a few molehills of disaffection, made a mountain of by a segment of malcontent media. The robust section has however braced up to the development side and to the delivery of the government.
Corruption Now at Bay
Not even with the firing squad has China been able to eliminate corruption. Modi Government is employing technology to reduce it. Aadhaar has helped strike off 130,000 bogus teachers from a cadre of 1.4 million staff in colleges and universities. Fake pensioners in lakhs have been eliminated from the list of made up beneficiaries. It is reported that 230,000 ‘Benami Companies’ – a ruse for tax evasive proxy formations – have had their registrations cancelled. Till March 2018, duplicate and bogus ration cards numbering 27.5 million were eliminated. They were meant to obtain highly subsidized food grains. Digitization of cards and linking it to Aadhaar helped Modi’s relentless anti-corruption drive. This single pursuit alone saved the government an annual Rs175 billion. The Minister of Finance estimates the savings in all, to government at Rs billions if not surpassing a trillion or more.
Two notorious middlemen implicated in aircraft purchases – alleged Boeing and Airbus – and turned fugitives roaming foreign countries, were bought back last week. A third Vijaya Mallya, a fugitive in UK is to be extradited soon. The Home Secretary has already granted approval. High profile accused, P.Chithambaram, his son Karthi and Priyanga Gandhi’s husband Vadra are under intense interrogation for financial crimes. The Police Commissioner W Bengal is now being grilled about the Rs multi-billion Saratha Chit Bond scam. The above are just a few to give an idea of the cleansing process of Modi.
Elimination of bogus personnel from the government’s benefit stream now brings massive support to the polity and the government. Inevitably these hounded out hordes have found a sanctuary in anti-national parties, swelling their vote banks. ‘Looters of India unite, you have nothing to lose but your loot. You have an election to win’, is their call. In the most recent speech in Lok Sabha, Modi in his vote of thanks to the President’s Address declared, “The Grand Alliance is brought about by compulsion. They want to save their skins from an individual (Modi), who wants to ensure that those who have looted the Motherland are brought to justice”.
Unprecedented statistics apart, are visible constructions and facilities for the people. High among them are: super expressways, highways and roads. Increased laning of which 12 lane Delhi Meerut greenfield expressway and Mumbai expressway are a tribute to modernism. Elevated expressways and viaducts are now a commonplace. Several Metros, both elevated and underground in several cities are reducing congestion in roads inevitable under accelerated development. High speed rail, Delhi – Ahmedabad, is under way with Japanese assistance. Port expansion with modernization and linkage to road and rail is another major effort at speedy connectivity. Air connectivity is proceeding apace. Investor facilitation is getting a commendable boost.
Surge in the economy had a comprehensive sweep. Many a fiscal measure brought in far greater revenue. Non-Resident Indians now remit the world’s largest amount of foreign exchange, displacing China from that position. Foreign Direct Investment has shown a steady increase annually. Of late, Ease of doing Business rose 44 places in just one year. Demonetization, the ramifications of which and the long-term windfalls effusing therefrom were intelligible but to a few, continues to destroy the eco-system of corruption in very significant ways.
GST is the next of the two earth shattering measures taken up by the government and seeing unflagging implementation. “One nation, one tax’’ is the credo. A body of 7 taxes is now unified. A pack of loopholes emasculating the tax system is now sealed. For January 2019, the GST brought in Rs 1 trillion plus revenue. The custom barriers prevalent among states are no more. Bothersome travails and enervating delays are eliminated. The economic lifeblood flows freely and unruffled through the nation’s arterial network. Federal India is now set on the highroad of more real unification. India’s GDP in April 2014 was $2.039 trillion. In October 2018 it reached $ 2.848 trillion. Indian economy is growing at a rate, highest in the world.
Economic and Social Progress
How much of economic progress has manifested in social improvement? The Budget 2018/19 announced a project, a stunner to the world. A free Health Insurance Scheme that would benefit 500 million citizens from the poorer sections. The beneficiaries are 100 million families, each looked after according to need, to a ceiling of Rs. 500,000/- per year. Faithful to the pledge, the scheme is under implementation from September last year.
Rural sanitation now has 98.7 % coverage. Every family in rural India has access to electricity. Local roads are now 91% complete. Railway accidents were 43.5% at level crossings. Now these are 100% eliminated.
Advances in high end education are receiving great attention with budgetary support to match. What are the needs? Robots, Artificial Intelligence, Institutes of Technology, Institutes of Management, Institutes of Medicine, to name a few.
Robots – The principal drivers of growth are; automotive and electronics. Worldwide, stock of Industrial Robots was 2.1 million in 2017, which is estimated to grow to 3.8 million by 2021. India well ahead in both drivers had about 3 thousand in 2018. India’s estimated stock in 2021 is 6,000. Industrial robots per 10,000 employees are 631 in South Korea and 488 in Singapore. Germany is third with 309 and next is Japan with 303. India with 3 units and at 44th place, has a vast stride to make. A repeat mandate for Modi will bridge the gap.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) – World market size was $ 7.35 billion in 2018. Estimated for 2025 is $ 89.84 billion. India in a push for AI has provided Rs 4 billion, an increase from Rs 1.29 billion, for the creation of 20 world class institutions. Niti Aayog (Govt. Think Tank) will steer the project through.
Substantially enhanced provision for IIts for technology, IIMs for management and AIIMSs for Medical Sciences proclaim the government’s well-placed drives.
The above account is but a fraction of a broad survey. The writer had to wade through a welter of information in the public domain, much of which is tendentiously presented. However, the picture that emerges is crystal clear. Emphasis is placed on five years of economic progress and corruption sequestration, to show convincingly how the change is financed. As noted earlier, budget size has very nearly doubled in five years. Material evidence is greatly visible. Ease of living is being experienced.
On October 7th2018, my first article for the Modi Election series appeared in Colombo Telegraph. In that article ‘What will the Voters’ Response to Modi’s … in 2019’ I said “An optimistic 300 + is an assessment for the moment. Picture will be clearer by February 2019”. Now I say 300 + is for certain. Three more months of electoral churning and Modi surge till May, will make it happen.