PM Modi's six months: Pursuing his own line and pace

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Looked at from one angle, the six months of Narendra Modi's tenure may be a cause of disappointment for some. For the corporate sector, for instance, the absence of "big ticket" reforms is bound to detract from the prime minister's go-getter image. The business houses may not have said anything as yet about their dissatisfaction, but it is clear by now that Modi is not an ideologically-driven right-winger like Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher.

Instead, he evidently likes to pursue his own line and at his own pace. He will not be hustled, therefore, into drafting a hire-and-fire labour reforms policy which is favoured by industrialists, nor into a return to land acquisition laws reminiscent of the 1894 rules which have now been scrapped.

Modi

What is more likely is that he will tweak these laws, including those on environment, and not opt for drastic changes. In this respect, Modi is a reformer, not a radical.

Any expectation, therefore, that his party's majority in the Lok Sabha will make him ride roughshod over the existing rules and regulations will not be fulfilled.

One reason why such dramatic changes have been expected since Modi appeared on the scene like a "rock star", as even the foreign media describe him, is the pent-up frustration in the last years of the previous government among both businessmen and ordinary people caused by the stalled reforms and policy paralysis. It was hoped, therefore, that Modi's changes would be in the nature of a no-holds-barred recourses to a fast-growth path.

Since this hasn't been the case, the belief is that he is as much of a pragmatist as any other politician who will not like to unnecessarily overturn the apple cart.

As a result, while avoiding major changes, the prime minister is currently focussing on what can be deemed small things, such as toilets, cleanliness, e-governance, encouraging the underprivileged to open bank accounts and the celebrities as well as the MPs to "adopt" villages. The last venture has even persuaded a well-known Communist economist to mock the projects as being aimed at turning the people into "mendicants".

There is also another kind of disappointment for some people with Modi. It is the result of the fact that there hasn't yet been what Mani Shankar Aiyar called the "Godhra moment". According to the former Congress MP, Modi is waiting for such an outbreak of communal violence to reveal his real self just as Hitler used the Reichstag fire to impose one-party rule on Germany.

Although the recent riots in Trilokpuri and the communal tension in Bawana on the outskirts of Delhi have been seen as examples of the local foot-soldiers of the saffron brigade fishing in troubled waters, especially with next year's elections to the Delhi assembly in mind, there haven't, mercifully, been any major incident.

What is more, the likes of Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj have not only fallen silent, they have desisted - or have been prevented - from carrying on their earlier vicious propaganda on "love jehad" in Maharashtra on the eve of the polls as their followers had threatened to do. It is not impossible that Modi is more serious about his proposed 10-year moratorium on sectarian animosity than what his hotheaded followers had assumed.

It is noteworthy that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief, Mohan Bhagwat, did not mention the phrase, "love jehad", in his customary Vijaya Dashami speech as he did on earlier occasions. Nor did he set any deadline for the construction of the Ram temple, or say that all Indians are Hindus.

Interestingly, the BJP has indicated that it will go soft on the question of scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution which confers a special status on Jammu and Kashmir. Evidently, the hopes which the party entertains of scoring an unlikely victory in the impending assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir have persuaded it to dilute one of the key items on its pro-Hindu agenda. Not only that, the BJP has even said that "Islam will prosper" under its rule, a claim which is likely to baffle both Hindus and Muslims, especially the bigoted among them.

There is little doubt, therefore, that Modi has decided to follow a path of moderation which cannot but have a calming effect on the saffron brotherhood. From the standpoint of at least curbing, if not ridding society of any innate communal poison, this evidence of sobriety can be considered to be one of the major features of his first six months in office. Its value is much higher than any achievement, or lack of it, in the economic field.

That the country is advancing even in the economic sector is however evident from the projection of a 6.3 percent growth rate next year by Morgan Stanley. If the trend continues, then Modi can further consolidate his position at the national level even if there are setbacks like the possibility that the BJP may flounder in Maharashtra because of its failure to get a majority in the state legislature.

One reason why Modi's first six months in office have been relatively trouble free is that the Congress not only continues to remain in the doldrums but also that its "internal tensions", as Rahul Gandhi once said, have not subsided, as was evident from the virtual boycott of the party's observance of Jawaharlal Nehru's 125th birth anniversary by party stalwarts like A.K. Antony, P. Chidambaram, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Kamal Nath, Ghulam Nabi Azad and others.

IANS

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