Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second government has just completed two years in office. Overall, he has now been in the Prime Minister’s office for seven years. It is a long enough time to take stock of the hits and misses of an incumbent head of government. So, how should we assess PM Modi’s tenure so far?
One obvious way is, of course, through the list of achievements, most of which are quantifiable. As an example, the numbers reached in flagship schemes are quite extraordinary. Banking the unbanked through the Jan Dhan Yojana — 42 crore bank accounts — and thus taking financial inclusion to every home in India. Funding the unfunded through Mudra Yojana — 29 crore loan sanctions and Rs 15 lakh crore disbursals — and thus seeding an entrepreneurial revolution. Digitising the undigitised through UPI — 25 billion real-time transactions in 2020 — and thus making India the largest digital payments ecosystem in the world.
However, beyond these remarkable numbers, there is one other way to assess the success or otherwise of Modi — the changes in our national character. What are some of these changes?
First, Modi has fundamentally altered the way central governments used to understand economic policy-making. Before Modi, they almost exclusively focused on macroeconomics and the glamour associated with it, while relegating microeconomics to the background or at best to state governments. That is why even after more than 66 years of Independence (in 2014, before Modi took over), the country was still struggling to electrify all its villages, leave alone homes, or ensure proper sanitation coverage in every village, or make healthcare affordable to all.
Modi has corrected this imbalance. So, ensuring that every house gets a tap water connection is now as much a priority as framing a policy framework for privatisation or creating a new paradigm for the agriculture sector with the new farm laws. To his credit, Modi has been able to make stellar progress in these domains.
Second, Modi has forever changed the mindset of only expecting “second best” delivery from central governments. The people of this country will no longer be satisfied with being laggards or followers. If the world develops an efficacious vaccine to combat Covid-19 in less than a year, then we now expect India to be leading that race with not just homegrown vaccines but also administering it at a pace that is amongst the fastest in the world.
Third, Modi has changed our acquired character of the last 70 years, which backed down when faced with a powerful adversary. China, used to having its way from the One Belt One Road initiative to the South China Sea, was stared down into retreating from Doklam and Pangong lake. From climate change negotiations, to free trade agreements, and from large multinational corporations used to bulldozing their way to global think tanks pretending to sway Indian discourse — everyone has realised that this India of 2021 is not the India they knew pre-2014.
Fourth, one of the most significant changes has been in our foreign policy. It is no longer about moral science lectures but is now driven purely through the prism of hard-core national interest. Realpolitik, divorced from grandstanding, is now part of the arsenal.
Fifth, respect for private enterprise and legitimate profit-seeking is no longer taboo. The defence that Modi himself mounted for entrepreneurs — terming them as nation builders — in Parliament is already getting translated into policy and in time may become his most significant economic contribution yet.
Sixth, the work done in empowering women and freeing them from clutches of societal constraints may, in time, become Modi’s most significant social contribution. From administering India’s most important union ministries to permanent commission in the armed forces and from establishing crores of small and micro enterprises to corporate boardrooms, and from freedom from the regressive instant Triple Talaq to legitimate rights in ancestral property — almost all the hidden glass ceilings have been broken.
Seventh, and perhaps the defining and the long-lasting contribution of Modi, would be the way he has managed to fuse our glorious civilisational heritage with our modern impulses. This nation now celebrates the construction of the Ram Temple as exuberantly as it rejoices in the success of the ASAT mission or awaits the launch of Gaganyaan.
The PM Modi-led government is the only government in decades to have been re-elected with a full majority. As the nation battles through the second Covid-19 wave, the appropriate way for the Modi government to mark its seventh anniversary would be to rededicate itself to the seva — service — of the people of this country. This would not just be in tune with the current national imperative but would also be a fitting tribute to the people who voted in this government. After all, would not permanently changing the role of governments — from ruling to seva — be the most stellar achievement of Modi?