Modi’s Shibboleths – Truth, Half-Truth and U-Turn

A critical evaluation on the slogans of Modi Government while it celebrates the completion of three years

Modi govt. still going strong
Modi govt. still going strong

The slogans that win the elections in the oldest and largest democracy are widely recognized and have a profound impact on the citizens and punditry

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]P[/dropcap]olitical parties try to invent catchy slogans that captivate and enthrall the hearts and minds of voters and thus carry election night in their favor. Catchy slogans date back to 1948 in the oldest democracy when Mr. Harry Truman’s supporters chanting “Give them hell Harry” won the Presidency for their candidate. “Morning in America” was the slogan used in 1984 during the re-election bid of President Ronald Regan that won him 49 of the 50 states and gave him 59% of the popular vote. More recently “Yes We Can” won the election for a young candidate Barack Obama who asked voters to be optimistic about their prospects after America was hit with a terrorist attack and a financial crisis.

The penchant for catchy slogans by Narendra Modi & his governemnt has continued beyond the elections

In the largest democracy, the memorable slogan “Garibi Hatao Desh Bachao” single-handedly brought Mrs. Indira Gandhi to power in 1971. And in the 21st century, “Congress ka Haath, Aam Aadmi ka Saath” brought the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to power by winning over “India Shining” campaign of the National Democratic Alliance in 2004. Fast forward to 2014, the current NDA Government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unforgettable slogans “Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas” and “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance” won the heart and minds of voters and rewarded the BJP and its allies with an absolute majority in Parliament.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]W[/dropcap]hat is new about Prime Minister Modi and his Government is that the penchant for catchy slogans has not ended after the election but has continued to be part of his governance agenda. Thus “Make in India”, “Digital India”, “Smart Cities” and many others are often heard daily and have become part of governance lexicon.

While the Modi Government celebrates the completion of three years, a critical evaluation of its slogans suggests that some are true, some half-truths and there has been an 180-degree U-Turn on two of the widely publicized ones.

“Make in India” and “Smart Cities” have turned to be truthful. The Prime Minister in September of 2014 made a grand announcement to make India a global preferred destination for manufacturers. In Apple starting to assemble iPhone in Bengaluru indicates that there has been enormous progress on improving the business environment, making India more investor friendly, opening up various sectors including Defense and creation of modern infrastructure. “Smart Cities” too has seen considerable progress with the transparent selection of cities and allocation of funds. If execution continues to get top priority in the remaining years, development and prosperity will touch many tiers two residents.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]”S[/dropcap]tartup India”, “Skill India”, “Digital India” and “Swachh Bharat” are half-truths. In January of 2016, Prime Minister launched with much fanfare “Startup India, Standup India”. An auditorium filled with new age entrepreneurs heard the Government define “startup”, provide tax breaks and announce seed funding through Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI). Thus far, an ecosystem for Startups to thrive is lacking and is doubtful to be created in the remaining two years. Similarly “Digital India” has seen fund allocation but lacks the quantum progress required for the Government to claim success. And recently Government abandoned “Skill India” program completely after pouring money in the first three years. “Swachh Bharath” too won many hearts and minds of people but has seen little progress despite celebrity endorsements. Many are critical of the fact that the Central Government has brought upon itself a municipal function and questioned Government’s intention in imposing a Cess. Progress or lack thereof on cleaning up of River Ganga has left many disappointed.

The biggest has been the U-Turn of Modi government on the all important slogans that brought the BJP and NDA government to power with an absolute majority-“Sab ka Saath Sab ka Vikas” and “Minimum government Maximum governance”. In the last three years, welfare spending has been on a meteoric rise compared to Social and Infrastructure development expenditure. And during the campaign trail, Mr. Modi repeatedly pronounced that “It’s not the governments business to run a business”, but once in power he has justified government’s right to be in business. Central Government has also been more intrusive in the lives of citizens, the most recent being introduction of rules of cattle slaughter. More importantly, there have been no signs of a reversal on these two critical slogans except for few vague responses from Finance Minister and Niti Aayog members on sick PSU’s.

Although the majority of current NDA government shibboleths have shown no progress, it can take solace and succor in the fact that, the opposition parties are unlikely to mount a strong challenge in 2019. Congress is still reeling from the rollicking defeat in 2014 while many regional outfits have been successfully tamed in many of the subsequent assembly elections including the all-important state of Uttar Pradesh. Thus Modi Government might yet have seven years or more to turn half-truths and lies into reality. Therein lies the governance challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Government.

1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

N. V. Krishnakumar is an investor and ardent follower of economic and political developments in India and United States. After graduating from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service with a Masters in Public Finance and Policy, he returned to his hometown of Bengaluru. He is active politically and engages in civic activities.

He tweets at @envyk_blr.
N V Krishnakumar


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