IF the first 50-odd days of rule by Prime Minister Narendra Modi are any guide, it is the rightist government which has taken over India. The Nehruvian ideology which tilts towards left has been jettisoned. Once again, free enterprise and unencumbered trade will motivate people.
This is a turnaround from the policies that have guided the nation so far. The public sector will shrink and the rich will expand their area of influence and operation. This is a logical consequence of a free economy. How far Modi will go to remove limitations on unplanned enterprise is difficult to say, but there is no doubting of governance by the rich and powerful. It is bound to drive the weak to the wall because the capitalist system knows no other way to grow. Yet Modi should be prepared to face stiff opposition from the beneficiaries of the system which is leftist in content.
However, there is nothing dynamic about the programmes and policies which Modi has unfolded. His election campaign promised so much and aroused the aspirations of people to such an extent that his budget is considered inadequate to bring about the changes which are necessary to go forward.
Modi's rule so far has been tepid and devoid of any spectacular step to pull India out from the mire of non-development in which it is stuck. The absence of push becomes all the more glaring when there is no lessening of poverty. Former RBI governor Rangarajan's report released a few days ago finds 3 out of 10 Indians below the poverty line. This is more than what we inherited when the British left in August 1947.
It is disappointing to see the Modi government not taking concrete and immediate steps towards bringing down inflation. After having experienced a long spell of non-governance under the Congress rule, I thought that the BJP government would spell out legal and other measures to set the strangled economy free to grow. The budget has not told us how and when.
Instead, the government looks too timid to take steps which would be considered risky. When the BJP on its own has a majority in the Lok Sabha, it is difficult to make out the reason for its halting approach. During the election campaign Modi had promised to cut red tape to ensure a rapid growth. When it comes to action there is hesitation, if not lethargy, on the part of the government.
The BJP should understand that development can mitigate the party's parochial image. In an atmosphere where the growth is slow people miss the pluralistic society all the more. The only redeeming factor is that the BJP government has not underlined its communal agenda. Yet who knows whether the Modi government will go back to the policy of dividing people after making them complacent.
In fact, it looks as if Modi is going out of the way to give the impression that after becoming prime minister he has changed his stance of promoting Hindu nationalism. His party, the BJP, talks about secularism all the time as if there is no contradiction between a Hindu state and a pluralistic society.
True, this is the line of the RSS which believes that all those born in India are Hindus irrespective of whatever faith they may be pursuing. Yet the BJP has kept a distance from the RSS because it is seen as an advocate of hard line. In fact, the RSS men are joining the BJP to get advantage of the comparatively better image it has.
Modi remained within limits when he went to Srinagar a few days ago. He did not say that the state was an integral part of India as he did earlier. He merely remarked that he would pursue former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's line of humanism. Even the hartal in Srinagar on the day of his visit did not provoke him to react differently. Perhaps, he thought that he had already sent a message across by visiting the state of Jammu and Kashmir within days of his taking over.
The problem with Modi is his image. He is considered anti-Muslim in a country which has roughly 18 million Muslims. They, indeed, feel insecure. They still recall his complicity in anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002. Although a special investigation team (SIT) under the supervision of state high court has given him a clean chit, the tag of partisanship still pursues him. As prime minister, he should go out of the way to win the confidence of the minorities. His accommodative approach towards the Saarc countries -- three of them are Muslim -- is a step in the right direction. Yet he has to do more to win their trust as Vajpayee did.
I do not see yet any glaring false step in the governance. Elections are such a torrid experience that even the largest political party or a popular leader takes time to get adjusted to the cold reality of failure. This is what has happened to the Congress and its leader, Sonia Gandhi. Both have not yet recovered from the loss on the parliamentary election after ruling the country for a decade. The Congress has been reduced to a rump of 44 in a 543-member Lok Sabha. It is time for the party to analyse what went wrong. But the statements by the Congress leaders reflect complacency.
The insistence by the Congress leaders to be recognised as the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) makes little sense. When the party does not have the mandatory one-tenth of members, that is 55, in the Lok Sabha it should have accepted the defeat and faced the facts. Telugu Desam Party, despite being the single largest outfit, did not get the LoP status some years ago. I can understand the Congress's predicament. But the party should not make it a big issue and instead leave it at that.
The voters who have returned the BJP want to see the implementation of promises made by Modi. But then these are early days in his governance. We should wait for another 50-odd days to see before assessing his performance since that is the target he has set for himself and his ministers.
The writer is an eminent Indian columnist.