Wednesday, September 17, 2014
9

Modi’s Hypocrisy

NEW DELHI – According to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s supporters, his overwhelming victory in India’s general elections was a sweeping repudiation of everything for which the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, led by the Indian National Congress, stood. Will Modi live up to voters’ expectations?

There has certainly been a lot of hype. Modi, it was claimed during the election campaign, would reverse the UPA’s “poor governance” and “policy paralysis,” introducing a radically new approach, based on his corporatist “Gujarat development model.” In doing so, he would transform India, liberating it from the UPA’s exhausted and ineffective policies and thus improving the lives of millions. “Achhe din aane wale hain” – “the good days are coming” – his supporters declared upon his victory.

In particular, the Modi public-relations machine proclaimed an end to the sops and compromises that supposedly characterized the UPA coalition. Modi pledged to make the tough decisions that the UPA could not, weaning Indians from the statist culture of “doles” and subsidies, while pursuing bold policies aimed at spurring economic growth and job creation. Indians today, he averred, want jobs, not handouts.

It took just a few weeks for the hollowness of these claims to become apparent. A commonly cited example of the outgoing government’s alleged economic mismanagement was its sugar-price policy. Powerful sugarcane cooperatives, led by major UPA supporters, supposedly drove the government to fix extravagant prices and write off sugar farmers’ bad debts, leading to over-production.

Instead of eliminating this system, as expected, Modi’s government has augmented subsidies for sugar exports to support higher output, raised import duties on sugar to discourage foreign competition, and increased the percentage of sugar-based ethanol that must be blended with petrol. His motivation is not difficult to discern: his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes that such concessions will help it to wrest control of Maharashtra, India’s main sugar-producing state, from the UPA in the upcoming state assembly election.

This goal explains another policy reversal as well. The UPA’s critics long claimed that unsustainably low, state-dictated passenger fares and freight charges for rail services – which could not cover the cost of maintenance to ensure the safety of trains and tracks, much less enable expansion and improvement of service – reflected the government’s inability to make tough decisions.

It is true that coalition politics prevented decisive action, with a railway minister being summarily dismissed by his own party leader – whom the UPA was politically unable to confront – after attempting to raise fares. But, in the pre-election interim budget, the UPA government finally bit the bullet, proposing a 14.2% increase in rail fares and a 6.5% hike in freight rates. Per India’s code of political conduct, the budget changes were deferred until after the election.

Soon after taking office, the Modi government announced its intention to implement the price increases, though officials made sure to emphasize that they were merely following through on an existing mandate. Then, faced with public resistance, they moderated the planned hikes, particularly of the significantly discounted monthly pass currently available to suburban commuters – an important segment of the electorate in Mumbai, Maharashtra’s capital.

Modi had previously derided the UPA’s populist railway ministers for distorted policies that punished businesses, declaring during his election campaign that India’s railways should be run more like China’s, with increased government investment, including for bullet trains. Yet, no sooner had he been sworn in than he acquiesced in precisely the kind of political compromise to which he and the BJP – which won a parliamentary majority, and thus does not depend on coalition partners for its government’s survival – was supposed to be immune.

Modi’s government has adopted an even weaker stance on another unpopular but necessary decision: fuel-price increases. In order to align Indian fuel prices more closely with world market prices, thereby enabling domestic oil and gas producers to finance exploration and extraction, the UPA government had announced that natural-gas prices would be doubled from April 1. But, as with railway fares, the final decision was left up to Modi. And, instead of doing what was needed – even while blaming his predecessors – Modi postponed the decision until September.

This hypocrisy has characterized virtually every policy decision that the BJP government has taken so far. Despite the BJP’s strident criticism of the United States-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation deal – the UPA administration’s signature foreign-policy triumph – Modi’s government has just ratified an India-specific “additional protocol,” granting the International Atomic Energy Agency access to India’s civilian nuclear sites.

Moreover, the BJP had opposed interaction with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, pending satisfactory progress on the prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 164 people and injured more than 300. Yet Sharif was an honored guest at Modi’s inauguration, exchanging gifts with India’s newly affable leader.

The Modi government has also adopted the UPA-proposed Goods and Services Tax, which had been stalled by opposition from BJP-ruled states (including Modi’s Gujarat). And it will strengthen the national anti-terrorism effort, which Modi previously denounced as an assault on Indian federalism.

Many Modi supporters in the media have already begun to decry the series of policy abdications Modi has conducted since his campaign. Indian citizens who thought that they voted for change are beginning to wonder if the BJP has simply reprised the UPA government’s policies. As a member of the previous government, I must say that that may not be such a bad thing.

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  1. CommentedThierry Lemoine

    Hari, you haven't understood his game... that is why Keralites are still intelligent and intellectuals..

    Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/shashi-tharoor-argues-that-india-s-new-government-is-adopting-the-policies-that-it-previously-opposed#BvEVxS1eUD172tQg.99

  2. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    Mr. Tharoor continues to ruminate along the narrow lines of political fervor that stifles the progress of ideas and that prevents one to go beyond the pettiness that the moral divide would want to achieve; in the victory of his argument we see the defeat of the Indian polity to rise above the shackles of self-interest that had so far failed to take up the cause of the peoples, either through growth or through a delivery mechanism that allows the deepest interiors of India to move from the minimum standards of livelihood to the standards that today’s modern world would want them to enjoy. The first budget sets the direction and the intent, which Mr. Tharoor has perhaps confused us with a stunning testimonial that UPA would have done the same thing minus the coalition baggage it had to contend with; that at least is an admission that the path is right, no matter what.

  3. CommentedSRINIVASAN RANGANATHAN

    Mr.Shasi Tharoor very clearly analysed the present Modi government's promises Vs. his governance and exposed the BJP led NDA government's lack of "Out of Box" ideas in the own words of BJP stalwarts when it comes to governance. But what he has not mentioned is that the miserable failure of UPA government's economic policies that led to jobless growth, higher inflation, sky rocketing prices of essential commodities, corruption all pervasive all these burning issues helped the BJP led by Mr.Modi to come to power with historic majority after 30 years, assisted by big corporates huge fund, extra vaganza campaign,polarisation of voters on the communal line espicially in UP (for which its leader was charge sheeted by election commission later pardoned by it). But in these 50 days of BJP govt. rule and that too after the submission of budged the modi government thoroughly exposed for its false promise famously coined by Mr.Modi as "AACHHE DIN AANE WALE" and this government also following the same economic policies of UPA without any change and traped in high inflation, sky rocketing prices etc. The people of this country have voted decisively against UPA policies and failure in governance and if BJP continues to pursue the policies to help rich and the corporates the same fate they will meet.

  4. Commentedhari naidu

    This so-called intellectual Keralite is a hypocrite: right after Modi's BJP won the landslide national election, he actually praised Modi for rising above his own BJP's hitherto nationalistic politics; Congress leaders couldn't believe him praising Modi!

    Now, he's become a mouthpiece/propaganda machine of Indian dynastic politics. Why? Because he's no other political alternative to remain relevant...but to assist Rahul - who should by now been thrown into the dustbin of Indian politics.

    Tharoor - Modi will be the top dog in Indian politics for next decade or more; not only because of his charisma and personality; but principally because the subcontinent desperately needs an able administrator to clean up the UAP mess left over after a decade of mismanagement and corruption. "Dynastic politics is dead; long live the Indian masses under Modi"!

    That will be the slogan for future...

      CommentedShaju Perinchery

      Hari, you haven't understood his game... that is why Keralites are still intelligent and intellectuals..

  5. CommentedPUNDALIK Kamath

    .Mr. Tharoor:
    This is not the magazine where you show your frustrations . It should be one of those Indian newspapers. I find it disappointing. There is is lots of work ahead for members of the Congress Party of India to do the soul searching and real analysis as to the causes why your party was decimated.
    Corruption, arrogance of power, lack of sincere governance etc are some of the causes that destroyed one of the truly great national parties of India. You should work at least within the party to drive some sense to others. You are not a good street fighter in the party and you may do well otherwise.

  6. Commentedwhite monk

    Surprised to see why Project Syndicate is allowing itself to be a mouthpiece of one politician to ramble blatantly against his number 1 political opponent? We have plenty of political news and op-ed outlets. Mr Tharoor should be welcome to write on his insights on Indian society and polity such as his piece on role of Social Media in Indian Politics or if he wants to write about booming start-up scene in Kerala, where he is an MP. Please do not make Project Syndicate a mindless one-sided political battlefield.

  7. CommentedSantosh Limaye


    It is unfortunate that ordinary former citizen of India like me have to express the genuine disgust at the negativity spewed by a person of your stature.

  8. CommentedSantosh Limaye

    Really Mr. Tharoor? Just after the elections, I thought people of your stature would see the possibility of dismantling the shackles corruption and give the new government a chance to govern. Instead, within a few weeks of new government coming to power, you are starting to act like a articulated megaphone of Gandhi clan. I hope you acted responsibly in the parliament and not storm the podium like other hooligan MPs during the argument about the Railway price hikes.

    In fact, as a comment to an article, I had hoped that intellectuals like you would actually contribute positively to the change in the country. Instead, you are brandishing your hypocritical thoughts about governance while masking the mistakes of the past and naming the article "Modi's Hypocrisy." Whose proxy are you serving?

    Instead, it would be very useful to put your analytical skills to use and account the errors of UPA and Congress and provide a more insightful reformist view of the "revived and able" Congress party of the future free from dynastic tyranny of Gandhi clan - which has shown to have a direct causal link between the corruption and cronyism within the politics and finance of India. Instead of providing a litany complaints, and saying what they are doing wrong - do something right with your skills. Provide the global insight - which you certainly have - to India, use the skills you and your colleague Dr. Singh have in International Affairs and Macroeconomics to help the country and stop the mudslinging.

    It is unfortunate that ordinary former citizen of India like me have to express the geniune di

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