The Asian Voice

Will 2021 be the year of solutions for Modi?: Statesman columnist

The writer says Modi's second term has so far been challenging both in the health sector and the economy.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a gathering in Ahmedabad, India, on March 12, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (THE STATESMAN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government will complete two years of its second term in office on May 30. He will be entering his eighth year as Prime Minister. What does his report card say? The year 2021 was a mix of hits and misses. Modi himself said that the year 2020 was a year of challenge and 2021 will be the year of solutions. Modi's second term has so far been challenging both in the health sector and the economy.

It is only right that the party and the government are preparing for a muted anniversary celebration. However, while the government would propagate the achievements of the Modi government, the BJP would focus on the "Covid-19 sewa" and success stories of how the government has fulfilled its campaign promises. They include the scrapping of article 370, the building of the Ram temple, and legislations such as the Triple Talaq in 2019, which have been on the party's core agenda.

Modi focused on the economy as the government entered the second term. New and broad-based reforms in agriculture, banking sector, and the public sector indicated his commitment to boldness. However, for the last two years the country has been going through a health sector crisis facing an unprecedented pandemic. As a consequence, there are job losses and other problems.

Modi's first term focused on articulating a global role for India. But the pandemic is his biggest challenge and economic and political challenges also are there. His critics say that Modi was too quick to declare victory over the pandemic in March. He also prioritised politics over public health by holding huge rallies for state elections as the second wave hit the country unawares.

Allowing the Kumbh Mela in Hardwar was another super spreader. All these after Modi won laurels for his leadership in handling the crisis in 2020. Last year, on the first anniversary of the second term, the Modi government focused on the successful lockdown, the Rs 20 lakh crore (S$370 billion) economic package and containment of Covid-19. However, foreign investors are not coming forward anymore as even the global economy is hit.

The country might need many lakhs of crores rupees this year also to boost the economy besides servicing the health sector. Almost every sector has been hit because of the pandemic. Global recovery is a slow process. Hundreds of millions of jobs were lost and the poverty alleviation gains have been wiped out. Trade, tourism, entertainment, sports, and many other sectors that benefited from globalisation have suffered as countries closed borders.

Last year Modi took the people into confidence, took the chief ministers on board, and even the opposition voices were muted given the pandemic. There were some miscalculations like the migrant labour crisis but on the whole, the management of Covid-19 during the first wave was competent. This resulted in complacency from both the government and the people by March. The second wave was much harsher and the country was unprepared to meet the challenge.

There was a vaccine crisis, an oxygen crisis, lack of beds, and in short, there was a health management crisis. The Supreme Court and the High Courts entered the picture as the executive seemed to have failed. Even some state governments moved the courts. Last year Indian diplomacy used the pandemic to revive Saarc in Covid-19 relief. New Delhi also supplied medicine and equipment to over 150 countries and evacuated over a million Indian and foreign stranded nationals and earned global goodwill.

The Modi government also successfully addressed issues like dealing with China's rise, sustaining key strategic partnerships with major powers like the US, Russia, Japan and in Europe, and deepening the engagement with the immediate neighbours. It also dealt with a tense border stand-off. The biggest challenge for Modi personally is to get back his image of a 'doer' abroad. Since 2014, he has constantly interacted with world leaders in politics, industry, academia, and the Non-resident Indian community.

The international media projected him as an important global leader. But the second wave since March has undone the achievements. The foreign media, which built him up earlier, is now critical of him on many issues. Centre-state relations also need some fine-tuning. While the chief ministers supported the Modi government fully last year, come 2021, politics took over and there has been mutual criticism in public because of elections to five states in March-April this year.

Centre-state cooperation is important at the time of pandemic as after all it is the states which implement the health schemes. It has been reported, quoting a survey, that Modi's approval ratings have fallen since February 2021. According to this, the Prime Minister's approval rating last week stood at 63 per cent, his lowest since 2014. But these are not normal times and almost every popular leader is facing the same problem. There is still half of this year ahead and things can improve if the country fights the pandemic unitedly. Unprecedented times require unprecedented measures.

  • The writer is a columnist for the paper. The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.

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