Reboot, Not Replace OS Modi 1.0
A report card of the hits and misses of Modi government
A few months before the general elections, the report card of the Modi government reads rather well, even if there is need for the government and Modi to do some retuning and adjustments.
It’s been over three years since I wrote on Prime Minister Narendra Modi completing a year in office, and after having seen the three following years of din that accompanies our life and even entertainment, I decided to revisit the same piece and write about what had changed. This piece is not another one crying hoarse about cows, temples and the nuances in between, neither dynasties nor their servile staff with short-sighted vision. The new India must be more than what is being projected before our eyes by the people who demand precious minutes of our day. India before Modi 1.0 was, in fact looked upon by the world as a nation which must make it and can’t afford to lose it now. It was a truly make or break moment.
A lot has happened in the 3.5 years that his government has been in power but equally a lot remains to be done. To start with let us see what is already history. Service Tax and other multiple taxes are gone and the constant tinkering shows that Goods and Services Tax (GST), though needing constant work is a success story. Considering the largeness of the exercise, which is yet to find its equal in the world economies, it is much more than a bold move. A single GST for all its member states is something even the Europe Union (EU) doesn’t provide now. Implementation will take its time and the division of revenue will be a constant point of discussion in a federal system that is India.
Now moving to the very big woe in the new GST SystemT for Tourism. Though it makes beautiful brochures, is meted out step motherly treatment. What has been inexplicable is that hotel rooms costing just over INR 7,500 or roughly EUR 100 attract a tax of 28 pc and are clubbed together with sin goods. If there must be a sort of luxury surcharge let the same be over INR 30,000 per night. Leaving the threshold at INR 7,500 is not conducive to attract tourists.
Online Visa works, and it represents a big accomplishment as the number of countries is now large enough to ease travel to India. The booking of train tickets online by foreign tourists, now works, too. And yes, prestigious projects like bullet train will surely boost travel between major cities.
Swachh Bharat – Clean India Campaign has not only resulted in banning of plastics and large fines on traders selling them but also in newer and technically superior toilets on trains. Overall there is much more than just awareness that has spread and can be seen in day-to-day life unlike earlier.
Digital India, Skill India and various other initiatives are interwoven for the very first time together with employee provident fund and various other schemes that needed to go hand in hand to reduce human intervention. Commendable is the fact that Make in India has finally been given the required impetus under this government. We have seen the markets the world over dumped with imports with no manufacturing facility being installed as is the case in many countries of Africa. The important examples are automobiles, where certain models are fully produced in India by foreign car companies and the number of cellular handset manufacturers that has grown from a measly two prior to 2014 and has now standing tall as the second largest producer of handsets in the world to service the booming market that India represents today is worthy of mention.
It is important to note that many projects under the Make in India scheme are rare and shall produce things for the very first time under this scheme ranging from refrigerators, cranes and cars and even fighter planes. And if it’s the fact that certain business houses have been selectively shown to have seemingly benefitted, then it would also mean that no head of state of any country should ever travel with a trade delegation.
Whilst NaMo is still famous among millions, infamous is in the meanwhile also DeMo. It is much more than just a similar sounding word. The reasons that were given and are still given in from various sources range from plain foolishness to political to a very calculated move.
I had experienced that evening in the company of a lawyer and a government officer, and while many would have expected an entrepreneur like me was wondering what to do; on the contrary, it was the government official who was visibly uneasy. What did the mammoth exercise finally achieve?
I had heard from various quarters that many weren’t able to pay salaries and people even died unfortunately. But it is important here not to get blinded by the narrative that is being repeated time and again for mass consumption by the myriad opposition parties in fray for the people’s mandate.
Catching the tax
The fact is that almost every individual now has a PAN number, even the ones who don’t yet pay income tax. The number of tax payers has gone up exponentially and that in my opinion is one of the biggest returns from the exercise, if you for a minute forget counting money that came back into the system.
Traders in the city market now pull out a bill book and even offer you various ways to pay other than cash. If that isn’t a change and departure from the murky past, then what is? To me it’s a leap forward to becoming a less cash and modern society.
Bringing in a Unified Payment Interface (UPI) has reduced the need for multiple bank accounts, allowed people to pay each other directly without requiring the interface of other companies. That the UPI has made many small payments cashless and easy to handle and, in the end, easily accountable from one’s own bank account is no mean achievement. Today many businesses use UPI and send requests via channels like WhatsApp and SMS making it a savvy way to go about one’s business.
That demonetisation caused a temporary devaluation and affected India hard was evident from the cost of fuel that India as net importer had to pay. The cost of fuel is not where it was, but I believe the devaluation did give a push to the exports.
Further, the drive to open zero balance accounts and later mapping the same with Aadhar cards that are biometric and with the PAN cards for filing returns made sure innumerable bogus cards were done away with. The other side effect has been the cutting down of subsidy and making sure the same is now controlled via one time passwords that appear on mobile phones of the people benefitting from the public distribution system thus controlling corruption that emanates from human quarters. This also made sure people used lesser accounts and finally got down to using the one account that received the subsidy amounts. These new accounts come equipped with a facility to apply for basic life insurance and health.
There are so many schemes that I could mention here ranging from public health schemes that opened the doors of the poor to private and better equipped hospitals, to the fact that physically challenged like me have a right to the driver’s license is a dream come true. The government at various levels is learning to be accountable and therein lies the catch. An e-mail to the PM’s Grievance Cell regarding a badly equipped primary health centre not only resulted in a letter of apology but also in a remedy within 15 days in my village in Karnataka but also a follow up that the centre had now a doctor and three nurses are available.
Biting the ballot
The invitation to attend this PBD that arrived by e-mail had a scan of the official invite signed by the prime minister himself. Having lived in Europe for more than a decade, one finally feels the country does care where you are.
Lately, the ruling BJP has lost seats in the local state elections in three states. The reason given by many was farm loan waivers. One really needs to ask if a stop-gap solution wherein one waives off loans is the right answer or as is prevalent in the west, farmers should be encouraged to insure their crop. The former is business as usual in India the latter a leap in to the future.
Governments the world over have one reason to be elected. The prosperity of the nation and its people. The art is in the execution of the plans of the government. And its astute implementation that differentiates one legislature period from the other and in the end a good leader from the politicians. Considering that Modi inherited the same breed of bureaucrats in service, he has done considerably well.
The government will have to contemplate if it needs development at any cost by destroying the eco-systems that are already fragile, build an elevated highway though national parks just to facilitate the movement of trucks into a state or utilise the resources wisely and leave some fresh air for the generations to come and to achieve the goal of universal development, which I firmly believe Modi hasn’t lost sight of.
India, with the operating system Modi 1.0, needs perhaps a reboot and tuning but in no way a deinstallation. This together with citizen involvement at every step will make sure India takes its rightful place among the world. And yes, to quote someone who was able to afford a home after ‘DeMo’ for once after all the troubles that the changes mentioned above took us through, they do provide the joy of being good by allowing us to do our bit in mammoth task of development.
Karthik Davey is a tourism professional, who has lived in Germany, is physically challenged and now runs an eco-friendly lodge in Bandipur Tiger Reserve (dholesden. com) in Karnataka. The article represents his personal views and is about the changes he has seen in the part of India where he resides, over the last four years of Modi government.