Modi's 100 days!
I believe it was Franklin Roosevelt, one of the greatest presidents that the USA has ever had, who asked the American public to judge his administration, only 100 days after it had been sworn in. Well, some Indian commentators have already had their say on the Modi administration ever since it took over some three months ago, so let me now put in my two bits worth. Narendra Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to an overwhelming victory in the general election.
No doubt about Modi's seminal role in that victory. The Congress Party was expected to lose but not so badly. What helped Modi was the fact that the Indian public was fed up of the Sonia Gandhi/Rahul Gandhi, mother-and-son duo. They were also no-match for Modi's mesmerising oratory.
He pressed all the right buttons and hit the Congress Party where it hurt most, harping on corruption, mis-governance and an abysmally low economic growth rate. A hapless Congress was reduced to a miserable 44 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Indian parliament. It was not just a loss; it was a rout. Further humiliation followed.
With less than 10 per cent of the seats - the required minimum figure - the Congress is finding it difficult to be officially called the main Opposition party. Modi began his tenure as Prime Minister with a masterstroke. For his - and his Cabinet's - swearing-in ceremony, he invited all the heads of India's neighbouring SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries.
All of them came, though they had to sit through a most boring ceremony, full of British-style pomp. Yet, it provided a perfect photo-opportunity for the new Indian government, while signaling that India would do more than the previous regime in furthering closer ties with its neighbours.
The main neighbour who made a surprise - and welcome - appearance was Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. Many in New Delhi and Islamabad thought that this meeting may set in motion an era of more cordial relations between the two nations.
However, the recent abrupt cancellation of foreign secretary-level talks by India and tension on the Indo-Pak border has put a question mark on Modi's intentions vis-A -vis Pakistan. Will he be a hawk or a dove?
The Saarc initiative was followed up by Modi's visits to Bhutan, Nepal and Japan (on his agenda, later in the month, is a trip to the USA and a meeting with President Obama). The Japanese visit concluded with Tokyo's commitment to provide a massive investment of $35 billion for India's industrial infrastructure. The initiative towards neighbours apart, Modi's biggest success in his first 100 days has undoubtedly been the upsurge in the Indian economy. Growth has picked up, foreign investment into India increased and the stock market has been booming (on September 8, it touched a record high).
The limit of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) has been raised in the Indian defence, railways and insurance sectors. Projects that had been held up for various reasons, like environmental clearances, have been given the green signal.
Indian business is happy. It sees Modi and his Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, as market-oriented men who will bring India back to the annual eight to nine per cent economic growth rate path that it had five years ago (and which had enabled the Congress Party to get re-elected to power in 2009). Till now, India has figured low down in the list of business-friendly countries, with its complicated labour laws, and permissions required for all kinds of "clearances".
Meanwhile, on the domestic front, Modi has stamped his authority by ruthlessly sidelining veteran BJP heavyweights like Lal Krishan Advani, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha, none of whom had been overjoyed with Modi's rise.
Modi has also put the bureaucracy on notice. Senior civil servants, who were in the habit of sauntering into office one or two hours late, sometimes after a morning game of golf, have been told to be at their desks at 9am sharp, and cut down on their lunch breaks, which often took place at fancy hotels and extended into the late afternoon. He is clearly trying to instill a sense of purpose and urgency into the lethargic bureaucracy and, by all reports, succeeding to some extent. One of his main election slogans was, "Better governance, less government". Only time will tell if this pledge, too, will be fulfilled.