(On the 9-year-anniversary of the Narendra Modi government, this article takes a look at its successes. Read the "View" here.)
It is incredibly difficult to assess the performance of a leader and politician like Prime Minister Narendra Modi. You are gratuitously condemned as a member of the "Godi" media if you praise any initiative or policy of his regime. You are met with a similar treatment as a member of the “Pidi” media if you criticise any policy of his regime. For good measure, Modi “Bhakts” or fans label you as an anti-national malcontent. As with everything across the world, the reality lies undisturbed between the extremes of hysteria.
Like all leaders, Narendra Modi has failed to deliver on some key issues over the last nine years. Then again, he has delivered on some other in a spectacular fashion. Since this platform is featuring critique elsewhere, the author would like to highlight some notable successes; at the risk of being labelled the Godi media. Given the limitations of space, the author has zeroed in on just a few successes that have gained special significance after Modi won a second term in 2019.
Financial Inclusion and Digitisation
It could be a historical irony, but Narendra Modi has kept the promise made by Indira Gandhi 54 years ago in 1969 when she started nationalising banks. Her self-professed dream and ambition were to ensure no poor Indian was denied access to modern banking and formal credit.
With close to 500 million Jan Dhan accounts that held Rs 1.99 lakh crores as of 31 March 2023, Modi has done the near impossible. The author still remembers the frenetic weeks and months after August 2014 when the Jan Dhan initiative was launched.
Cynics and critics who then thought Modi was an interloper (they still think the same) mocked the scheme. Their refrain: when the poor literally live hand to mouth and are illiterate to boot, of what use are such fancy schemes? One year after the scheme was launched, there were 175 million Jan Dhan accounts with Rs 22,000 crore in deposits. Today, even the cynic has to acknowledge that this massive program of financial inclusion has been a success.
Add digitisation via low-cost high-speed data and the UPI and the scale of this transformative change becomes even more evident. As usual, critics mocked when the UPI that facilitates digital payments was launched in 2016. One prominent opposition leader almost snickered by wondering aloud how Modi expected vegetable vendors to do digital transactions. Today, that electronic voice that announces a successful digital payment is literally ubiquitous. The author has used them in the interiors of Odisha and Jharkhand to pay for tea and snacks.
In 2017-18, India recorded 2071 crore digital transactions. By 2022-23, they had surpassed 10,000 crore. This has also formed the phenomenally successful Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) trinity whereby, Aadhar-verified Jan Dhan accounts get welfare benefits digitally through mobile phones.
The third aspect of financial inclusion relates to access to formal credit. The current regime has achieved that through the so-called Mudra scheme that was launched in 2015. Under this scheme, small entrepreneurs are given bank loans that do not carry usurious rates of interest. As of March 2023, 40.82 crore Mudra loans have been disbursed with a monetary value of Rs 23.2 lakh crores.
Critics have dismissed this as a token freebie to win votes as such loans are usually not repaid. But data suggests otherwise. The “Bad Loans” or NPAs of Mudra loans were just 3.7 percent, compared to 5.9% for the overall banking system. This, despite the depredations caused by the COVID pandemic.
Infrastructure: Speed and Scale
The Navi Mumbai International Airport was conceived in 1997. It was approved in 2007. Global tenders were invited in 2014 to construct the airport. It will finally be partially complete and available for operations towards the end of 2024. In 2001, when Rajnath Singh was chief minister, the first proposal to construct an airport at the Greater Noida was made.
The project went into cold storage after the SP came to power in UP and the UPA at the centre. Soon after Narendra Modi was elected prime minister, the project was revived. The pace accelerated when the BJP came to power in UP in 2017. The airport will be ready for operations in September 2024, a few months before the Navi Mumbai airport.
This is just one example of the single-minded focus with which the current regime has gone about building infrastructure since 2014. Railways, highways, ports, airports, rural roads, freight corridors, pucca houses for the poor, massive renewable energy projects, the North East: every corner of India and every aspect has been given unprecedented attention. It is not for nothing that Nitin Gadkari has become famous as "Mr Highway of India."
In 2012-13, about 2,800 kilometres of new highways were constructed in India. In 2022-23, that number was 10,993 kilometres. And Gadkari was visibly happy because his target was 12,500 kilometres. The total cargo handling capacity of Indian ports was 1399 million tons in 2013-14. By 2022-23, it had crossed 3,000 million tons.
Such massive investments in infrastructure not only generate jobs but also lay the foundation for future growth. India Inc was gobsmacked early this year when the finance minister committed Rs 10 lakh crores in public investments this year during her budget speech. At a time when private investment growth has been tepid at best, the infrastructure push of this regime has been a saviour.
'Nationalistic' Foreign Policy
It is a cruel thing to say. Yet, one of the biggest, albeit unintended beneficiaries of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been India. In 2022-23, India imported close to 1 million barrels per day of crude oil from Russia. It exported more than 200,000 barrels per day of diesel and other value-added products to Europe.
Soon after the invasion, the “West” imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia and encouraged other “friendly” countries to do the same. In a very firm and polite manner, India refused to toe the line. In fact, it increased trade with Russia. There have been recurrent murmurs in Western capitals of punishing India for its "brazen” behaviour. But it is mostly posturing as every G7 nation courts India as the long-expected “Cold War” with China becomes a reality.
Modi fans have been clapping and applauding each time foreign minister S Jaishankar ticks off pesky media professionals or think tankers spouting nonsense about the moral hazards of engaging with Russia. But the author uses the word 'nationalistic' not in the tub-thumping manner of the Bhakts, but as a pragmatic pursuit of national interests.
Barring China (and its vassal state Pakistan), the conduct of the foreign policy of this regime has been a success measured on those terms. China is clearly a failure as Modi engaged repeatedly with the Chinese "Emperor” Xi Jinping to build a workable relationship. All his efforts were smashed to smithereens in June 2020 in Galwan, Ladakh when Indian and Chinese soldiers engaged in medieval hand-to-hand combat.
But with almost every other country or group of countries, the regime has engaged pragmatically and successfully. Imagine being close friends with both Israel and Saudi Arabia. More importantly, foreign policy is not just optics but has economic implications. In 2012-13, FDI inflows to India stood at USD 28 billion. By 2021-22, it had shot up to almost USD 85 billion.
(Sutanu Guru is the Executive Director of the CVoter Foundation. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)