26/05/2015 8:28 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Modi's First Year In Office: The Battle For India's Narrative

ROB ELLIOTT via Getty Images
BOMBAY, INDIA: Pigeons take flight into the blue sky along Marine Drive with the city skyline as a backdrop on an extremely clear day in Bombay, 10 October 2004. India's financial and entertainment capital with it's rising population of some fifteen million is faced with some of the countries highest pollution levels and the advent of a clear day is a rarity for the citizens to enjoy. AFP PHOTO/Rob ELLIOTT (Photo credit should read ROB ELLIOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

When a relative phenomenon like time, which can only be perceived, becomes the tool for passing absolute judgment on ground realities and concrete achievements of a government, one runs the risk of falling prey to propaganda. There is a beautiful similarity between a marriage and a government - the first anniversary is too nascent a landmark to write eulogies or obituaries for either. The moment can be used for reflection, introspection even interrogation but certainly not for passing verdicts.

But this piece of homely wisdom seemed to have escaped the collective consciousness of soothsayers, doomsayers, naysayers and pollyannas alike. India is amidst a blitzkrieg of polarized views wherein depending on one's own predilection one would find herself living in a country galloping towards its demise or cheerfully singing all the way to paradise. The truth with its fondness for clichés, like always, lies somewhere in the middle.

It would be a travesty to assess the success and failures of the government in form of a laundry or bucket list. The tools at all governments' dispensation are the same - legislations and executive actions. What sets apart one government from the other is the intent and implementation. Whilst the previous regime chose to legislate over all ills plaguing the country, the present government has chosen the path of enablement over entitlement - and there lies its biggest accomplishment. Statutory rights of employment, education and food when doled out in the nature of concessions are bound to fail and are failing. The same rights can be better guaranteed through engaging private sector by providing ease of business.

"The Government of the day should be asked to share its failures and the opposition should be made to acknowledge what it considers are the Government's accomplishments."

For me the greatest proof of Modi Government's intent lay in the non-announcement of any new trains in the rail budget but focused implementation of promises that it had inherited from previous governments. The Environment ministry, which had become the greatest roadblock in industrial progress under the previous regime, is now perhaps the most efficient ministry.

Anecdotal evidence of administrative efficiency apart, perhaps all of us have noticed a perceivable change in citizenry mindset - with Swachh Bharat becoming a buzzword across the country. For the first time perhaps, drive for cleanliness has become part of the corporate and individual consciousness. As far as ideological triumphs go - Swachh Bharat is perhaps Government of India's greatest success story. Financial inclusion and social pension schemes given to the sheer magnitude of the task are work in progress but the signs are encouraging.

Credit must also go to the government of the day for plain speaking. I believe that the Prime Minister has been unfairly criticized for lamenting the state of affairs of the country before his government took charge. It is perhaps human tendency to forget the malaise once the initial signs of recovery appear; but not too long the country was floating at high seas like a rudderless boat.

"A government is more likely to err when rather than acting it is forced to appear to act."

What has hurt the government most is the inexperience of some of the ministers and parliamentarians. For instance, at a time when the government could have rightly claimed accolades for rescue operations in Yemen; the entire attention was diverted over needless controversy surrounding the remarks of the minister at the helm of Operation Rahat. Other bizarre remarks from party members range from delusional to deliberate sabotage thus shifting focus from agenda of governance.

Perhaps as a result of keeping mainstream media at bay and denying key posts to hitherto faithful supporters; the government suddenly finds itself facing a barrage of negative publicity. Political pundits are going out of their way to write off the government on the basis of juvenile political jibes of the opposition and silly epitaphs like 'suit boot ki sarkar'.

Faced with disproportionate criticism, the government has launched its own counter offensive with scores of rallies and press conferences lined up to highlight the not so insubstantial achievements of the government. The biggest casualty in this battle for narrative of India is governance. A government is more likely to err when rather than acting it is forced to appear to act. For all the criticism that the Government had to face for going down the ordinance route; I found the ordinances to be extremely well drafted and more importantly they were unequivocal statements of intent. Such bold policy action today is unthinkable with the government's time and resources being spent in firefighting and image building.

In my view, one legitimate way of assessing the government's performance would be by posing counter intuitive question to both the government and the opposition. The Government of the day should be asked to share its failures and the opposition should be made to acknowledge what it considers are the Government's accomplishments. Rational replies to both these queries would help arrive at a more balanced evaluation of the Government's performance after one year. But till the questions are posed and answered, the battle for India's narrative continues unabated...

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