After Year One Re-Set, Modi can Now Outperform
369 days later, Narendra Modi is set to shift gears.
It’s the 369th day of the Modi government, and I choose to take stock of “one year and four days” of its performance now. What’s the significance of 369 days, you would ask? Nothing really, except that the deluge of read/watch/hear material on “one year of Modi’s rule” has come to an end.
Four days ago, this piece would have been a needle in a giant haystack. Today, it stands in splendid, what journalists love to call “dated”, isolation. So it might even get read.
The Wisdom of Hindsight
Of course it also gives me the wisdom of four days of hindsight. I now have a welter of opinion polls to validate what otherwise could have been risky shots in the dark. Without getting into the minutiae, a few critical conclusions pop up from the better polls conducted across the country:
One, Prime Minister Modi continues to enjoy the highest approval ratings, well above 50%.
Two, he seems to have lost about five percentage points “off the top”, ie, his “fanatical, total, unquestioning” supporters have dwindled from about 25 to 20 odd percent. It seems the maniacal fringe is disappointed. I see this as a huge positive for the Prime Minister. He is no longer a prisoner of irrational expectations.
Three, he seems to have retained support “in the middle”, ie, those who said they are “satisfied” with his performance have stayed intact at nearly half the respondents. This too is a huge positive.
Four, this is further validated by a stunning 80% saying he needs to “to be given enough time. It’s too early to call in the jury”. So the electorate is proving to be far more patient than Lutyen’s television pundits. This is Modi’s biggest positive. People are keeping the faith.
And finally, whatever the loose talk around Modi’s “frequent” foreign trips, the electorate is solidly with him; it is unequivocally endorsing his strenuous efforts to reassert India’s influenceacross the globe.
What the Numbers Suggest
To me, the numbers are giving a clear, unblinking message. The scary, irrational, euphoric demands of May 2014 have moderated, lowering the threshold to an achievable watermark. From here on, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not be judged on the impossible benchmarks of last year.
The electorate has done a sensible recalibration of expectations. It does not expect him to play Superman over the next four years. It is willing to judge him by tough, but rational and mortal, standards. And this could allow him to over-perform, especially since the tide seems to be turning across several waves.
The Big Reset
Now nobody is looking for an Indian Reagan or Thatcher in Modi. It was a totally contrived mantle. Did we ever hear him utter any doctrinaire free-market isms? Did we ever hear him talk about a SMALL government? I did a Think India Dialogue with him a year before he became PM, and if you listen closely, he believed in MINIMISING the INEFFICIENCY of governance, never in shrinking its size. In fact, he openly talked about the ENHANCED role of an EFFECTIVE state in creating opportunities for the poor and rich alike. So some people’s “disappointment” wasself created - they tagged him as a champion of free market orthodoxy, and then, when he refused to play footsie with the myth that they had conjured for him, their shoulders drooped.
Now nobody will accuse him of being a fumbling rookie in foreign policy.His break-the-mould embrace of America; his calm engagement with China; his wooing of long-ignored liberal democracies like Canada and Australia; his eagerness to expand India’s benevolent influence with smaller neighbours; his quick-draw instincts in Yemen and Nepal; his Act East initiatives with ASEAN and Japan; his controlled glare with Pakistan - you can’t fault this PM on his foreign policy successes.
Even the economic gloom is slowly lifting. He inherited an economy in deep funk. Since then, a lot of tough stuff has happened. Food grain prices have been moderated, which was a politically enervating call. Coal has been privatised; FDI has been liberalised, notably in insurance; uranium supplies for nuclear reactors have been tied up after the runaway liability law was restrained; spectrum has been transparently auctioned; mining and real estate excesses are being tamed under new laws; the retrospective tax genie is being wrestled with; the GST bill is likely to get passed; investments are being kick started in railways and infrastructure projects - they are yet to move things on the ground, but give that a bit of time; markets are just a bit off their record highs, equity raising has reignited, animal spirits are beginning to stir out of a slumber; car sales andindirect taxes are exhibiting some buoyancy; who know, even Governor Rajan may shed his caution and give us a 50 basis points’ cut next week; so the curve is clearly turning up.
I am convinced that with the big reset done, Modi has his best chance to outperform over the next four years. Let’s hope he grabs it with both hands.
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