By TV Mohandas Pai & Nisha Holla
Prime minister Narendra Modi is akin to a phenomenon rarely seen in Indian or global politics. He remains extremely popular among the citizens despite efforts by many in the media and opposition to continually criticise and pull him down.
So, what explains this popularity? Three major factors:
1 An impact-strategy while executing policies
2 Focus on uplifting the 60% bottom-of-the-pyramid
3 A transparent, non-corrupt government
When the NDA won the election in 2014 and Modi became the prime minister in the first term, he probably already had a clear strategy to uplift India into a vibrant country that met the needs of all the citizens. In his very first address, he swung into motion a grand Swacch Bharat mission: that every household must have a toilet, that open defecation becomes a thing of the past, and that dignity is brought back into the heart of the Indian citizen, particularly the woman. What India hadn’t achieved in 67 years of Independence was achieved in PM Modi’s first five-year term—India is now nearly 100% open defecation free (ODF) compared to 38.7% in October 2014.
He then turned his attention to financial and digital inclusion. Recognising that, in this new age of knowledge-economy-led growth, individual and national development are intimately connected to a citizen’s ability to access digital and banking platforms, he launched Digital India and drove the next wave of growth via the India Stack, where every Indian would have access to personal identification (Aadhaar), internet and mobile connectivity, and bank account (Jan Dhan). To date, 90% of Indians have Aadhaar, and Jan Dhan has provided more than 40 crore with a bank account digitally accessible via their mobile—a significant majority for the first time.
India Stack has also unlocked productivity leaps in subsidy and relief delivery via the direct benefit transfer (DBT) system; Rs 12 lakh crore has been disbursed via DBT resulting in a savings of Rs 1.7 lakh crore. Forty-two crore beneficiaries received relief and minimum income support during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown. India’s digital inclusion drive has been a massive success, by domestic and global standards.
The distribution of gas stoves and connections has made a phenomenal difference to rural family health, particularly the women. Before the Ujjwala Yojana gas cylinder distribution, smoke and ensuing lung problems were commonplace. With smoke-free cooking enabled by gas stoves, this has ceased to be a problem. The number of gas connections increased from 12 crore in 2014 to 25 crore.
PM Modi then turned his attention towards industry reforms with demonetisation, GST, and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC). These were undertaken to reform corporate India and rid the country of crony capitalism. These reforms have drawn criticism from many, perhaps forgetting that demonetisation has broken the back of the black money class. The use of black money has reduced considerably. Long-term habits to deal in black money have been mostly converted into the default use of digital banking systems.
GST has been an outstanding success towards India’s move to reduce supply chain costs, which today account for 14% of GDP as against 6% in China and 5% in the US. Seventeen taxes were rolled into one, providing a uniform system for the first time in 70 years, and effective indirect taxes have reduced. In its first month, the system onboarded 56 lakh filers. For various reasons, GST has not shown buoyancy, but one can expect to see the effect in the future.
Infrastructure development has been another significant push of the Modi government. Rural road connectivity, railways development, and construction of high-speed roads, ports and airports have taken off at a fast pace—all vital ingredients to increase India’s productivity and reduce supply chain costs.
Make-in-India, at commencement, was not a great success because it was cast in the traditional mould without a focus on the policy changes and incentives required. Subsequently, the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for large scale electronics proved successful—mobile manufacturing has risen multifold, making India an exporter. Merging PLI-like strategies with the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan push could make Make-in-India a success.
PM Modi’s next focus was health. Ayushman Bharat was launched to provide health insurance cover to the millions of uninsured in India; 12.6 crore e-cards have been issued, and 1.2 crore hospital admissions were managed through this scheme. The next frontier in health is the Bharat Health Stack, built on the India Stack architecture, which will further improve access and management of healthcare in India.
Other reforms that have the potential for sizeable economic impact have been in simplifying labour laws, incentivising and reclassifying MSMEs, especially with the guaranteed loan programmes, reduction in corporate tax rates, and deregulating the farm sector, which will empower farmers to double their income by 2022.
The emphasis on employment needs better policies and focus, but it will certainly improve when the effects from these other reforms bear fruit.
During the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdowns, PM Modi’s focus was on ensuring the lives and livelihoods of the bottom-of-the-pyramid. All the reforms and digital advancements made earlier are proving extremely useful in these difficult times. Rations and minimum income support were extended to 80 crore Indians, which wouldn’t have been possible without Digital India and India Stack. PM Modi’s housing programme has also been an outstanding success in bringing dignity to crores of Indians with pucca housing; 1.1 crore houses have been built, targeting a total of 2.95 crores by 2022. The return of migrants during the Covid-lockdown has accelerated this programme and enabled them to build a life in their hometowns. With this acceleration, the timeline to build a house has reduced from 120 days to a 45-60 day horizon.
At this rate, by 2022, all Indians will have access to basic necessities—housing, clean water, gas connections, bank accounts, internet and mobile connectivity, road access, and education—especially with the implementation of the National Education Policy 2020. For a population of 138 crore, these are remarkable achievements. PM Modi had a clear strategy to reach this point, unambiguous aspirations and a structured sequence of reforms and policies.
Previous political regimes launched schemes like Garibi Hatao, which were unsuccessful because they focused more on politics and less on execution. PM Modi has inverted this paradigm, and personally monitors and reviews progress on the programmes. He leverages technology platforms wherever possible to ensure the programmes are executed as soon as possible. He sets clear priorities for himself and his government. He has not fallen victim to unnecessary politics. His foreign policy moves have made the Middle East friends of India, and the entire world looks more favourably on the country now. Standing up to hegemonic China, too, has improved our standing in the world.
No prime minister has done as much for India’s development as PM Modi has in his six years. As India celebrates PM Modi’s birthday, citizens all over the country pay tribute to this remarkable leader.
Pai is chairman, Aarin Capital Partners and Holla is technology fellow, C-CAMP. Views are personal