Posted by: John Elliott | May 29, 2017

Modi celebrates three years with stout claims that aren’t all justified

.Authoritarianism and intolerance cloud the record

The third anniversary of Narendra Modi being sworn in as prime minister was celebrated on May 26 with all the bombast that has come to characterise a nationalist administration built around the image of one man, backed by his chief henchman, Amit Shah, the arch Hindu-nationalist president of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

Modi went to Assam in the north east of the country to open India’s longest bridge and, along with statements from Shah and various ministers, paraded a series of extravagant claims about what has been achieved in the three years. Many of the assertions are difficult to verify, whereas critics produced an array of more easily accessible points on which the government has failed, not least on the growth of authoritarianism and intolerance that does not fit with the traditions of a country which prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy.

PM Modi Dhola-Sadiya Bridge Assam

Narendra Modi at the Dohla-Sadiya Bridge in Assam

The most telling event of the day demonstrated how priorities focus on Hindu nationalism, even if that runs counter to the country’s economic interests. This was an announcement of a ban that had been gazetted earlier in the week severely restricting the sale of cattle for slaughter at livestock markets and animal fairs.

Billed as a protection of animals measure, it in effect supported opposition to beef eating, which the BJP’s more Hindu fundamentalist and sometimes violent activists have been spreading across the country with bans on the slaughter of India’s sacred cows.

The measure included buffaloes, which are widely eaten as beef, as well as other cattle. This will hit Muslim meat and leather traders, as well as many farmers who raise money by selling cows for slaughter after they have ceased producing milk. Experts have warned this could upset the economics of milk production and undermine India’s $5bn a year buffalo meat export market.

Kerala’s Left Democratic Front government condemned it as a “fascist and anti-federal move” adding, in a reference to people even being killed by beef-ban vigilantes, “Cattle slaughter becomes illegal at a time when manslaughter happens in the name of cow”.

That political jibe illustrates how the government’s critics believe its primary aims are slewed towards the Hinduisation of India, even though Modi’s top priority is building an economically strong India that earns respect and influence internationally.

Foreign policy lapses

Today (May 29) Modi flies to Germany for two days of talks with Angela Merkel, the  German chancellor, and her ministers, and will then go on to Spain and Russia. His foreign trips and overall policy have not yielded the gains that had been hoped when he made high profile visits around the world in his first year in office. Many multi-billion dollar promised deals and investments have failed to materialise.

Good rapport with President Obama did however help to strengthen relations with the US, while growing ties with countries to the east, notably Japan and Australia, could form the basis of a bulwark against China’s aggression.

Modi has tried to counter China’s wooing of India’s immediate neighbours, and has achieved some success with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, but he has been inconsistent in dealings with Pakistan and relations have worsened. This has exacerbated instability in India’s northern state of Kashmir, which is mired in the worst social aunrest for many years with the government doing little to ease tensions.

At the same time, Modi seems to have abandoned attempts to develop co-operative relations with China, which holds virtually all the cards in the bilateral relationship and can use its closeness with Pakistan to destabilise both that country’s relations with India and life in Kashmir.

On May 26, Modi tweeted that his three years in power had seen concrete steps that had “transformed” people’s lives. “Sath hai, vishwas hai, ho raha vikas hai”  – “There is cooperation, there is confidence and progress is being made”.

Insufficient energy

The economy is strong with around 7% growth and various measures are in train such as the introduction of a long-delayed goods and services tax, but the contrasting view to what Modi said has been summed up well by Martin Wolf, who has been studying IndiA for over 30 years and is widely regarded as one of journalism’s best economic commentators.

Writing in the Financial Times, he says that the government “has shown insufficient energy in tackling both the immediate problems of inadequate private investment, excessive debt and feeble banks, and the longer-term problems of dreadful education, lousy healthcare, weak infrastructure, corruption, regulatory incompetence, excessive interference and government waste”.

Modi has posted graphics on various sectors such as agriculture, mobile banking, tele-density, women empowerment, electrification, and solar energy and included some of his favourite branded schemes such as Make in India and Digital India.

Make in India is said to have generated a “giant boost” to investments in electronic manufacturing that has multiplied ten times. There is however little evidence that the campaign has had much success in its primary aim of boosting manufacturing industry jobs, even in the defence manufacturing where there is most potential.

LocalCircles survey

A survey (above) of 40,000 people in 200 cities by LocalCircles, a social media organisation, found that only 8% thought Make in India had been the most effective campaign, whereas 47% voted for a direct benefit transfer scheme that pays subsidies via bank accounts.\

On Digital India, Modi’s tweets claimed that the country’s optical fibre broadband network had increased to 205,404 kms from just 358 kms in 2014, but a recent study by the Centre for Equity Studies shows that much of what was promised three years ago has not materialised. Only 37% of the optical fibre needed to reach 250,000 gram panchayats (village and small town councils) has been laid.

One of the biggest failures has been cashing in on what is called India’s “demographic dividend” with two-thirds of the population under 35 and providing jobs for new entrants in India’s labour market.

Writing on news and analysis website, M.K. Venu, a leading economic columnist, says that there has been a “sheer decline” in the creation of new jobs in the organised sector which includes textiles, metals, leather, gems and jewellery, information technology, call centres and automobiles from an average of 950,000 a year between 2009 and 2011 to 155,000 in 2015 and 231,000 last year. Venu reckons that unorganised small business new jobs will have followed a similar trend.


Modi repeatedly says he has “zero tolerance on corruption”. That seems to have had an impact on central government ministers and the top grades of bureaucrats, but not on the lower levels of government employees, nor in most state governments. A new bankruptcy code could have some impact, but the government has made no attempt to introduce a Lok Pal anti-corruption ombudsman that was planned by the last Congress government.

There is also scant evidence that its dramatic demonetisation project last November, when the validity of 86% of bank notes was cancelled overnight, has had a permanent effect on corrupt deals, money laundering and general graft, though there are some reports of, for example, real estate companies being more cautious about taking large payments in cash.

Piyush Goyal, minister for power, coal, and mines, reports that the number of villages without reliable access to electricity has been reduced from just over 18,000 in 2014 to around 4,000, and says he is aiming for the whole country to have round-the-clock access to electricity by 2019, three years ahead of an official government timetable. There is however no way that power will be in widespread use throughout the villages, even though it if it reaches them.

Overall, the LocalCircles survey showed that the 44% of the people said the government had met their expectations with 17% saying the expectations had been exceeded and 39% being dissatisfied.

The real question however is whether Modi will be able to say in two years time that he has delivered on what he was elected to do, namely change the way that India is run by making the machinery of government cleaner, more effective, and less bureaucratic, and whether he has created jobs and opportunities for the young.

“My prime minister is focused on speed and scale, he doesn’t like small targets,” Goyal told the Financial Times.

That must also mean that he does not like slow small results, which inevitably leads to extravagant claims of success, but there is no other national leader, or potential leader, to challenge Modi. The political opposition is weak, despite a current attempt to unite on the choice of India’s next president, so he is on strong ground.

Currently it looks therefore as if the BJP has a good chance of being re-elected in 2019. No-one knows however whether the growth of often intolerant Hindu nationalism, which horrifies India’s liberals and strikes fear among Muslims and some other minorities, will affect people’;s judgement on how well Modi has done..


  1. Errors, biases and misrepresentations galore in your piece, I’m afraid to say. Let’s take them one by one-

    1. “BJP’s more Hindu fundamentalist and sometimes violent activists for cow protection”- 1st, they are not necessarily BJP’s workers but independent vigilantes, trying to do something which is enshrined in the directive principles of the Indian Constitution.

    2. “Many of the assertions are difficult to verify, whereas critics produced an array of more easily accessible points on which the government has failed, not least on the growth of authoritarianism and intolerance that does not fit with the traditions of a country which prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy”- you haven’t really bothered to confirm exactly what have they said and whether it can withstand closer scrutiny. Odd cases here and there, the kind relegated to inside pages during the previous regime and being hyped up and presented to people as the routine, ipso facto state of the affairs.

    3. “he has been inconsistent in dealings with Pakistan and relations have worsened.”- Modi did do whatever could be done for peace in Pak. But the Country cannot be held hostage to peace talks. Especially when immediately after Modi’s Pakistan visit, Pak-backed terrorists attacked an IAF post in Pathankot.

    4. “average of 950,000 a year between 2009 and 2011 to 155,000 in 2015 and 231,000 last year.”- Pardon me, but it seems that a govt formed in mid 2014 has actually done well to increase the 2015 figure by 50% in 2016. I may be wrong. Not sure.

    5. “zero tolerance on corruption”, but not on the lower levels of government employees, nor in most state governments- How would a central govt have magical effect on lower central level corruption? How can one be so sure about the ombudsman- what’s the guarantee they themselves would not get corrupted, especially when tasked with keeping a watch over lower level employees and state governments? That corruption at higher places has been curbed in a welcome sign and indicates progress. Graft cannot be removed with a magic wand.

    6. LocalCircles survey showed that the 44% of the people said the government had met their expectations with 17% saying the expectations had been exceeded and 39% being dissatisfied.- Again, if I add numbers, then 61% think the govt has met or exceeded expectations. I myself may be among the remaining 39% but that shows the extent of dissatisfaction with the previous regimes and the lack of political alternative even in this vast country

    There are other misses as well but this is all from my side for now! Good day!

  2. Short answer; even if he hasn’t achieved nearly as much as he touts, he is still infinitely better than the chief factotum who was his predecessor, or the dolt who would like to replace him. However, you do need to do better at hiding your obvious (at least to Indian readers) biases. Better relationships with kakhistocracy next door, or the hegemonic dragon in the Middle Kingdom, cannot happen unless from a position of economic strength, which will take time beyond Mr. Modi’s tenure at the helm. The ban on cow slaughter is a non-issue for the majority of his constituents, just as is the ban on headscarves among the majority of European voters. With regard to corruption and building the infrastructure, the Indian voter appreciates his efforts to change the elephant’s momentum while being fully cognizant of how difficult it is to clamber out of the Nehruvian gorge of under-performance that took a half-century to furrow. There is no national alternative to the BJP or Mr. Modi at this time, and most Indians and true well-wishers of India do recognize this fact.

  3. India has been reduced to a state of anarchy and and a state of psedo-secularism by successive Congress Governments. How else do you explain a lack of common civil code. Religion and their purveyors be damned as India is a plural society where religion has to be kept at home and never displayed outside.
    Cow slaughter ban has always been a part of Indian agenda. It has nothing to do with Muslims or Christians. India must focus on getting cows off the roads and focus on animal rights. Eating them in the form of culling them is not the only answer.
    Indian public sector is a great creation but former governments have used them for their personal benefit. True public sector is where people own the asset and governance is through competent people. Such people have existed. It is a success story and it did create a management pool. Modi should strengthen them.
    Make in India does not happen overnight. At least Modi has given it shape and a vision. Give credit for it. Private sector in India would rather stash their money overseas and invest wherever. Their track record is abysmal and they continue to fail.
    China is the new ” Imperialistic hegemonist power. I am glad that India is standing unto it. China is hardly a great example of human rights and the West loves it and the investors think that this is a great model
    Western world must recognize that India is the last hope for them to counter the jihadist factories and universities of Pakistan and its handlers including China. India can be their low cost labor force at least for the next century
    Yes India needs discipline and it does not come from a weak government. Much work needs to be done. Roads in india are a great example of the anarchy that exists.
    Frankly, give these people time. three years is hardly enough to fix 65 years of mis governance starting from education, civil discipline.
    When China mocks at India it is precisely because of the lack of discipline in the country.

  4. Elliot, you have many times talked about the invinsibility of Modi in national politics. What would be your advice to Congress and other parties ? Do you know any politicians who can successfully take leadership over the congress party once the party realizes that Gandhi dynasty belongs to the past.

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