Modi’s Mid-life Crisis

AII governments go through a mid-life crisis. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of Modi is experiencing one now. Prime Minister Modi, now well into his third year in power, is currently with the same malaise faced by all his predecessors irrespective of colour and flag. It is called the mid-life crisis in governance.

All Prime Ministers pass through a phase when problems begin to look much bigger than they used to be. Every announcement faces a barrage of criticism and every decision meets with a backlash. Hitherto mild-mannered political adversaries suddenly begin to find new voice and new supporters.

The applause becomes more muted. The leader suddenly feels a little lost and perplexed. Nothing seems to work smoothly anymore. Even his hitherto subservient subordinates no longer jump to obey and implement with the same alacrity.

The mid-life crisis does not necessarily manifest itself half-way through a five year term. The UPA government's governance crisis became evident only towards the end of Dr Manmohan Singh's second tenure as Prime Minister.

A strange lethargy set in, some time in 2012-13, which opponents described as policy paralysis. The UPA never recovered its momentum and, thus, whatever good had been done in the previous six or seven years was overshadowed and soon forgotten.

Looking back, it is evident that the UPA did have a initial glorious run. It passed several 'landmark' legislations, it introduced certain welfare schemes and it steered the economy remarkably well in the early years. Many of the achievements were quite impressive and a few were even spectacular.

Between 2004 and 2008, and again in 2009-10 and 2010-11, the GDP growth rate was over 8 percent and, in fact, crossed 9 percent in four of those six years. This was in spite of the global financial meltdown in 2008.
In the farm sector, rural real wages increased 6.8 percent per year between 2007 and 2012, as compared to the average 1.1 percent annual growth during the decade before that.

The rate of growth of real consumption per capita in rural areas in the period 2004-05 to 2011-12 was 3.4 percent per year which was four times the rate in the previous period 1993-94 to 2004-05.

Food grain production reached a record high of 250 million tones. This uptrend could not have happened without a variety of innovative policies and targeted initiatives including Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, Seed Village Scheme, Interest Subvention Scheme for crop loans, Nutrient based subsidy policy for all non-urea fertilisers and National e-Governance Plan in Agriculture (NeGP-A).

The list of path-breaking legislations introduced during the UPA years is long pertaining to Judicial Accountability, Whistle Blowers Protection, Consumer Protection, Lokpal, Grievances Redre-ssal, Prevention of Money Laundering, Electronic Delivery of Services, Forests Act and Food Security are just a few.

It was during the UPA regime that the historic Right to Information Act, 2005 was passed to usher in transparency in governance through citizen participation.

The Right to Education Act is another highly progressive legislation, making education a Fundamental Right of all citizens guaranteed under the Constitution. The UPA years also witnessed a massive expansion in Higher Education, with the establishment of seven new IIMs, eight new IITs and ten new NITs. The National Knowledge Network, too, which connects all higher education institutes through via high speed broadband network, was a UPA bequest.

It is impossible not to mention is NREGA when looking back at the Manmohan Singh legacy. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, launched in February 2006, was arguably one of the most important contributions of the UPA era, and for which Congress president Sonia Gandhi deserves a share of the credit.

Despite having dent so much, and gone so far, the Manmohan era is being projected as a decade of failure. This is primarily because of the policy paralysis that gripped the UPA in its final years and the dreaded mid-life crisis from which it never recovered.

With far less to show in terms of concrete achievements during his tenure so far, Narendra Modi will need a miracle to emerge from the sudden onset of governance crisis that seems to have gripped his government with three short years.

Whatever promises he has made and the high hopes he has aroused have yet to be fulfilled. Demonetisation and GST were intended to be his masterstrokes but the evidence on the ground is that they have caused a great deal of pain and suffering.

There is no evidence to show that the parallel economy has been destroyed: rather the real economy has been derailed. Unless he finds a way to get out of the mid-life crisis his government is currently afflicted by, it could well turn out that in the end all his motivational rhetoric will have come to nothing.              


Vol. 50, No.21, Nov 26 - Dec 2, 2017