Honeymoon over, Modi government vulnerable to attacks on performance

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The NDA government seems bogged down by the depressing results of its decisions. The government has failed miserably on the economic front and it is increasingly finding it difficult to defend its decisions. The Congress party has described demonetisation as the “scam of the century”. The ‘India Inc’ has now started speaking about its slowdown.

After the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014, it enjoyed the benefit of doubt despite implementing some harsh policy decisions like demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax, its plea of “in the national interest” being lapped up by many people.

However, going by the feedback from the ground in the recent weeks, the honeymoon period seems to be over for the NDA government, now bogged down by the depressing results of those decisions. The central government has failed miserably on the economic front and it is increasingly finding it difficult to defend its decisions. Last month, the Congress described demonetisation as the “scam of the century” and demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister. The ‘India Inc’, which had been silent on the situation of the economy so far, has now started speaking about its slowdown.

Nevertheless, the ruling BJP kept putting up a brave front in the face of attacks from the opposition even at a time the recent data released by government agencies had painted a gloomy picture of the economy – the GDP coming down to 5.7% in the April-June quarter from 7.9% just before demonetisation; massive job loss 15 lakh, highest in years; and industrial production spiraling down.

But the ruling party at the Centre was visibly wounded by a “surgical strike” by its own ‘Margadarshak’ (advisor) Yashwant Sinha. In a recent opinion piece titled “I need to speak up” published in The Indian Express on September 27, Sinha made a frontal attack on finance minister Arun Jaitley for allegedly damaging the economy. “I shall be failing in my national duty if I did not speak up even now against the mess the finance minister has made of the economy,” he wrote at the beginning of the article, “I am also convinced that what I am going to say reflects the sentiments of a large number of people in the BJP and elsewhere who are not speaking up out of fear.”

Though Yashwant Sinha avoided criticising Modi, the message was loud and clear that the government headed by him was heading nowhere. He concluded the piece saying: “The prime minister claims that he has seen poverty from close quarters. His finance minister is working over-time to make sure that all Indians also see it from equally close quarters.”

Jaitley reacted sharply to Yashwant Sinha, but instead of answering the issues raised by the senior leader, Jaitley made a scathing personal attack on him in the media saying that he was still looking for a job at the age of 80. On the very next day, Yashwant Sinha’s son and Union minister Jayant Sinha was entrusted with the responsibility to counter his father.

Writing a column in The Times of India, the junior Sinha dismissed his father’s argument that the economy was in a mess. Without directly referring to his father’s column, Jayant Sinha said: “Several articles have been written recently on the challenges facing the Indian economy. Unfortunately, these articles draw sweeping conclusions from a narrow set of facts, and quite simply miss the fundamental structural reforms that are transforming the economy.”

A day later, on September 30, another BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, wrote a rebuttal in The Indian Express to Yashwant Sinha’s column. It was titled “I too need to speak up”. In his column, Chandrasekhar said that Yaswant Sinha joined some others in a desperate attempt to build a narrative of a falling economy, which was nothing but wishful thinking. “With respect to him, Sinha is off the mark in his assessment of where we are today – perhaps a case of personal dislikes overcoming facts and reality,” he concluded, alluding to Yaswant Sinha’s relationship with Jaitley.

Both Jayant Sinha and Chandrasekhar however did not quite address the issues raised by Yashwant Sinha. Though the junior Sinha said that demonetisation and GST were “game-changers” in the move to formalise the economy and creating millions of new jobs – as against his father’s contention that they had been disasters destroying jobs – it was just a hope he was offering. Most part of Chandrasekhar’s article slammed former finance minister P. Chidambaram (who slammed the Modi government following Yaswant Sinha’s article) as the man responsible for destroying the economy during the UPA era and then handing the liability to the NDA government.

The Modi dispensation that cared a damn about criticism by the opposition has suddenly seemed vulnerable following Yashwant Sinha’s attack from within. Now, with several economists projecting a downward trend for the economy for the next couple of years, it might be in for several more attacks on performance, from outside as well as within.

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