On May 26, two years back, President Pranab Mukherjee administered the oath of office to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Cabinet. The lavish ceremony was attended by Premiers of SAARC nations, several Chief Ministers, Opposition leaders, besides a host of celebrities, corporate honchos and religious heads.
For the first time in 30 years, the BJP came to power with an absolute majority and the swearing-in ceremony gave a hint that Team Modi was ready with a game-changing plan for the country. Two years into governance, we look back at the Centre’s performance.
This was one of the biggest evacuation during the times of war, since the Gulf War I. MoS Gen. (Retd) V.K. Singh personally oversaw the operation. The External Affairs Minister headed by Sushma Swaraj earned laurels for helping the Indians living abroad, be it for rescuing Kerala nurses from war-torn Libya or bringing back differently-abled Geeta from Pakistan.
Jan Dhan Yojana
Anyone can now open an account in a bank, thanks to this financial inclusion scheme. Barely a fortnight after the launch, the yojana entered the Guiness Book of World Records for the maximum number of accounts opened in a week. The scheme is a big boost in moving towards direct subsidy transfer.
LPG subsidy reforms
Initially started as a ‘Give It Up’ campaign, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry headed by Dharmendra Pradhan barred LPG subsidy to customers who earn more than Rs. 10 lakh per annum. The amount saved was used to give over five lakh new LPG connections to those who still use firewoods or kerosene stoves for cooking.
Swachh Bharat Mission
A pet project of Mr. Modi, sanitation ministry’s Swachh Bharat mission got wide public support, especially on social media after celebrities joined the Clean India challenge. Not just stopping with cleaning the locality, the government has taken initiatives such as building more toilets, waste management and waste segregation. Real success, will however happen, when manual scavenging is completely eradicated.
India-Bangladesh land boundary agreement
When India is facing boundary disputes with every neighbour, this agreement gives optimism that issues can be amicably solved over diplomacy. The people living in the enclaves that were recently annexed to India even exercised their franchise in the recently concluded West Bengal Assembly elections.
At a time when bankers were grappling with huge rise in non-performing assets and government eyeing to create more entrepreneurs, the amendment of existing bankruptcy laws was necessary. With the support from Congress, the law was passed in Rajya Sabha during the Budget Session where the ruling party was short of numbers.
Real Estate regulation
Apart from making the process transparent and keeping checks and balances in the form of a Real Estate Regulatory Authority, the law drafted by Housing Ministry headed by M. Venkaiah Naidu gave confidence to home-buyers. When housing sector contributes to nine per cent of GDP, this law, if effectively implemented by the States, is a game-changer in the housing sector.
India’s lobbying got success when the United Nations declared June 21 as International Yoga Day. The mass yoga performance at Raj Path, which was led by Mr. Modi himself, set the record of most number of people participating in such an event.
Mann Ki Baat
A first such initiative in India where a top leader addresses millions, that too periodically. The programme even featured U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to India.
This flagship programme of Ravi Shankar Prasad’s Communications Ministry aiming to create a knowledge economy and good governance is travelling in the right path. Every minister and every ministry is now on Twitter. A slew of e-governance measures like digital locker, open data platform like data.gov.in, and feedbacks through mygov.in are some notable initiatives.
The attack at IAF air base, just few hours from the National Capital, is the first of its kind after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. There were differences of opinion over the way in which the encounter was handled, Home Minister Rajnath Singh was kept out of key meetings at the time of attacks and to make things worse, there was confusion over the number if terrorists sneaked in to carry out the attack. The attack raised questions on the security-level at India’s military bases.
India’s efforts to add the name of Masood Azhar, the chief of JeM, in the UN list of proscribed terrorists failed as China raised objections to it. This is a major setback to India as Azhar is believed to be behind the Pathankot attack.
Much to the hype of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attending the swearing-in ceremony or the saree diplomacy, both governments couldn’t re-start the dialogue process nor has the firing across the Line of Control came down. Mr. Modi’s surprise stop-over at Lahore too failed to cut the ice.
Anti-India protests flared up in Nepal after trade movements through the border were not allowed for many days. Nepal called it ‘India’s blockade’ as it followed protests by Madhesis. All of these happened within a year of the Himalayan quake, when Nepal thanked India’s help in rescue and rehabilitation. Also, India couldn’t keep away Nepal from moving closer to China.
Dissidence in Central Universities
Smriti Irani and the Union Ministry of Human Resource and Development was in news for all wrong reasons. The suicide of a Dalit Research Scholar at Hyderabad Central University, sedition charges against students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, the FTII students’ strike, decision of not to support off-campus centres of Aligarh Muslim University, closing down Ambedkar-Periyar Study circle in IIT-Madras, the list goes on. And some avoidable controversies such as competition for schoolchildren on Christmas or scrapping German being taught at CBSE schools.
Bringing back money stashed in off-shore accounts was one of BJP’s poll promise. The government gave a three-month window for compliance, but only 644 declarations were made. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley once said the bulk of blackmoney is within India, but little has been done to contain the feeders of parallel economy – higher education, real estate and mining.
GST Bill/Land ordinance
The government is unable to pass the GST Bill in Rajya Sabha for the past two years. Touted as the biggest tax reform in Independent India, the government is unable to bring consensus. Same is the fate of land bill. Though the Centre took the ordinance route to clear the bill, it was re-promulgated twice and lapsed on August 31, 2015.
The pre-mature imposition of President’s Rule in Uttarakhand, and victory of Harish Rawat in the Supreme Court-monitored floor test, is not only an embarrassment to the ruling government but also to the BJP, whose attempt to gain from dissidence in Uttarakhand Congress misfired.
Silence on fringe right-wing groups
Law and order could be a State subject. Murders of rationalists and attacks on minority community by fringe right-wing elements may not be limited to the BJP-ruled states. But the Centre as well as the Prime Minister’s refrains from condemning or making comments against such attacks didn’t go well with the public.
The bill seeking one-third representation for women in Parliament and State Assemblies is an almost-forgotten topic now. Cleared in Rajya Sabha in 2010, the Bill is pending in the lower House, in which the BJP front enjoys comfortable majority.
Smart City plans
It is impossible to create a city, that too a ‘smart’ one in two years. But the BJP government has kickstarted the process by short listing 20 cities in the first phase. Mr. Jaitley’s maiden budget allocated 7,060 crore for the development of 100 smart cities.
Make In India
Another pet project of Mr. Modi to make India the manufacturing hub, the government is taking efforts by easing foreign investment norms, revamping labour laws and cutting down the red tape. India has conducted road shows abroad and Mr. Modi has travelled several countries to gather support. Many multi-nationals have pledged their support.
The government introduced universal access number (UAN) to all EPF holders to make transfer of PF accounts easy when switching jobs. The good name earned from the working class soon vanished when the Finance Minister proposed tax at premature withdrawal of provident fund. It was roll backed after protest by garment workers crippled in Bengaluru.
The One Rank One Pension scheme, a long-pending demand of ex-servicemen was accepted by the government, but with caveats. Premature retirees have been excluded and the pension review will be carried out every year. Though all demands of veterans have not been met, the government will be remembered for bringing a 40-year-long struggle to an end.
Planning Commission to NITI Aayog
Doing away with the more than six-decade practice of Planning Commission, the government came up with a think-tank approach to economic strategy. The acronym NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) itself invited criticism of government pushing pro-Hindi agenda and opposition ridiculing it as aniti and durniti. For a nation so used to Planning Commission allocating funds every year, time will tell the effect of this new approach.
The Power Ministry headed by Piyush Goyal plans to aid discoms and State governments to raise upto Rs. 1.75 lakh crore through bonds to improve the health of power distribution sector. Eighteen states have agreed to take part in the scheme. The plan also aiming to curb power theft and pilfirage, appears good on paper. What needs to be seen is how it is implemented.
The government saved Aadhaar from turning to a white elephant by passing the Aadhaar Bill. However, questions remain on why was it made a money bill, would the constitution be amended to give more teeth to Aadhaar, or would the UIDAI compromise on privacy. The Centre’s Digital India and host of welfare measures rely on Aadhaar. Will Aadhaar be just another card or will it truly make a change should be watched.
The Modi government created a separate ministry headed by Uma Bharti to clean the river and protect it’s ecosystem. The Namami Gange project with a budget of Rs. 20,000 crores over a period of five years has been cleared. Ms. Bharti claims Ganga will be cleaned by 2018. The deadline appears tight but nonetheless, the clamour for a cleaner river has gained momentum.
Imagine travelling to Mumbai from Ahmadabad within two hours? That’s what a bullet train would do if the deal with Japan is implemented. China has expressed interest in developing the Chennai-Delhi bullet train corridor. But a single bullet train corridor requiring about Rs. 98,000 crores questions the viability of the project.
A slew of insurance schemes namely crop insurance for farmers, Atal Pension Yojana for the unorganised sector, affordable health insurance coverage, and the Jan Aushadhi Yojana for retail sales of generic drugs. In addition, the government has re-launched Kisan Vikas Patra and introduced a PPF-equivalent for girl child, the Sukanya Samriddhi Scheme. Again, in a country known from socialist welfare schemes, the onus of welfare shifting from government to individual is an ideological change and may take time for acceptance.