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.