By Jungkiu Choi
When it comes to ambition, one cannot find fault with India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
His recent pledge to provide bank accounts to all of his country’s 1.2 billion people – and in particular its poorest citizens – is one of the most audacious ever announced by an Indian government.
It is ambitious because nearly 40% of Indians, or some 480 million people, have little or no access to financial services.
To put that in context, that is nearly one-and-a-half times the US population and nearly 17% of world’s entire “unbanked” population.
Even if the task at hand is difficult, it does not mean it is not a worthy goal.
As more people – especially the poor – gain access to financial services, they will be able to save better and get access to funding in a more structured manner.
This will reduce income inequality, help the poor up the ladder, and contribute to economic development.
But there are many hurdles India will need to overcome before its plan can make a significant impact.
The infrastructure barrier
The first is changing the mindset of what a bank “looks” like. And this will have to happen at all levels, from government to consumers to the banks themselves.
A nationwide network of typical brick-and-mortar branches is simply not a feasible option, from a timeline or profit standpoint. The government needs to realise this fast. At present, it is issuing licenses for new banks with a condition that 25% of the branches will be opened in rural areas.
PM Narendra Modi unveils the logo of a campaign aimed at opening millions of accounts for poor Indians in Delhi on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 On 15 August, PM Narendra Modi pledged to provide bank accounts to all of India’s 1.2 billion people
This may not a workable idea on many fronts, not least because of the lack of trained staff to work at these branches.
At the same time, the amount of profit and revenue that the branches in rural areas would generate may not justify the expenses.
As a result, banks must adapt their business models.
One way to do this is to tap into mobile banking, using the more than 900 million mobile phones in use in India.
Another is by using the ubiquitous mom-and-pop stores as channels for collecting and distributing funds, especially in rural areas, with simple cards to track money flows.
These shops provide great local access, as their customers tend to be regulars who have built a relationship of mutual trust with the owners.
Mann Deshi Mahila Bank in India, a co-operative bank, has used e-card technology to take its services to rural women. These e-cards instantly allow the bank’s field agents and clients to view savings account balance, loan account status, and repayment history.
Red carpet or red tape
On his recent visit to Japan, Mr Modi declared that India was replacing its infamous “red tape” culture with a “red carpet” mindset. The comment was aimed at attracting more foreign investors to India. His ambitious domestic banking plan could do with a similar change in attitude.
A key aspect to expanding the reach of the financial services to more people will be simplifying the regulatory environment around it.
Indians gather inside a state-owned bank to open accounts as part of a countrywide campaign to open millions of accounts for the poor in Delhi on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. The government aims to provide bank accounts to 75 million households by 2018
To begin with, customer documentation – currently a byzantine process requiring many forms of proof – must be simple enough so that people, especially those who have never been to a bank, won’t be scared off.
State-owned banks currently dominate India’s banking sector and they will be key to making Mr Modi’s plan a success.
However, they have long been averse to offering accounts to people with little money because of costs and low profits. The government has to make it easier and more lucrative for these lenders to operate in these areas.
The unbanked in rural areas must adapt to the idea of banking and believe it is worth their time. The key to this is increasing financial literacy. Most of the target people are unlikely to have much knowledge about how they can use banking services to their benefit.
The government and banks have to take the lead in educating people about how they can use these services – savings or loans – to create wealth.
In this photograph taken on August 22, 2014, a customer deposits cash into his account at an Oriental Bank of Commerce branch in Mumbai. Cash is costly to print, move, secure, and store
One aim of the plan is to help the government pay rural poor their welfare benefits directly into accounts, cutting layers of corruption. This is an area where banks can tap into and create tailor-made products and services for customers to help them utilise these benefits better.
The banks can also reach out to these customers with more personalised help. For example, if farmers from a certain village are supplying milk to a dairy plant, the bank can use the plant’s accounting team to inform and educate farmers about how they can save money or get loans for buying new cattle.
The success of such an ambitious plan hinges on a holistic approach and multiple stakeholders playing a part, not just government policy.
While we are talking about big ambitions, one major step could help this plan succeed: cutting India’s dependence on cash.
Cash is costly to print, move, secure, and store, yet it is basically free to users. Mobile and technology-enabled payments, on the other hand, can prove cheaper and more beneficial for the economic system including for the government, retailers, telecom operators and the banks.
An Indian bank official takes the thumb impression of a woman before opening her account as part of a countrywide campaign to open millions of accounts for the poor in Delhi, India, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 It is crucial to increase financial literacy, especially in rural areas
It won’t be easy to change this, but a combined effort by the various stakeholders can help build an electronic payment system. Not only would that reduce the costs of making banking more accessible in rural areas, it will also help India address the country’s many unaccounted cash transactions and the parallel underground economy.
Reaching 1.2 billion people may prove impossible in the long run – no developed country has achieved 100% banking so far. But if India can work towards addressing these challenges, financial inclusion in the country could increase significantly.
That can only be good news for Asia’s third-largest economy.
Jungkiu Choi, a former banker, is Partner, Financial Institutions Practice, with global management consulting firm AT Kearney.firstname.lastname@example.org
By Robert M. Hathaway
The two countries have yet to embrace a common agenda that would lay the groundwork for what President Barack Obama has called “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”
Responsibility for this failure lies with both sides. Until Modi’s sweeping electoral triumph a few months ago, New Delhi had been paralyzed with indecisiveness for several years. In Washington, the Obama administration has never convincingly explained where and how India fits into America’s broader geopolitical vision. Doing so should therefore be Hagel’s top priority during his upcoming trip to India.
One of the hallmarks of Obama’s foreign policy has been the rebalance or “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific. To create the basis for a long-term Indo-American partnership, but also for reasons having nothing to do with bilateral U.S.-India ties, the administration needs to flesh out how the world’s second most populous country fits into the rebalance. After all, it is difficult to imagine a coherent U.S. approach to Asia that does not give Asia’s largest democracy a central role.
Is India even on Washington’s Asia-Pacific map?
Here the administration has been quite explicit. While secretary of state, Hillary Clinton defined Asia-Pacific as reaching “from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas,” a geographical construct other senior officials have since repeated. On the eve of their trip to India last week, Secretaries Kerry and Pritzker published a newspaper op-ed noting that India’s rise would help the “Indo-Pacific” – not “Asia-Pacific” – region become more stable, prosperous, and free.
The Pentagon’s press spokesman has told reporters that Hagel’s meetings in India will focus on the “converging interests” of India and the United States in the Asia-Pacific. The list of topics where the two countries share interests, and where they might work together, features many of the issues each most worries about.
Energy-dependent India has as great a stake in keeping open the global sea lanes as the United States. Both, meanwhile, face a threat from terrorism, from the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and especially from the leakage of dangerous WMD technologies to terrorist groups. Both want a passably stable Afghanistan following the end of U.S. combat operations later this year.
Defense cooperation offers another promising venue for drawing India more deeply into the rebalance. Pentagon officials have said they are ready to move forward on co-production and co-development proposals. Joint research into new defense technologies and platforms, perhaps including drones and missile defense, would combine India’s IT savvy with America’s high-end manufacturing strengths. Defense sales also hold promise; Delhi wants greater access to sophisticated U.S. weapons, and American arms producers are keen to further penetrate the Indian market. A renewal of the current framework agreement governing U.S.-India defense relations, which expires next year, would constitute a substantive as well as symbolic step forward.
Many analysts have described the U.S. rebalance as a response to the extraordinary strides China has made in recent decades. And the reality is that India has yet to get over the humiliating defeat it suffered at the hands of the Chinese in the early 1960s, and fears that Beijing has designs on Indian territory. So a partnership designed to check Chinese ambitions would be attractive to many Indians.
True, New Delhi, uncertain of U.S. staying power, will be cautious about being drawn into a policy that seems to target Beijing. But this doesn’t mean that India needs to be persuaded of the utility of playing a more prominent role in Asian affairs – Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Abe enjoy close personal ties, and Modi is to visit Japan later this month. Indian warships recently joined the U.S. and Japanese navies in exercises off the Japanese coast.
The Obama administration has been at great pains to insist that the rebalance is not simply, or even primarily, a military policy. Involving India more comprehensively in the discussion of regional and global political challenges would reinforce this point. And while this will not be part of Hagel’s agenda, progress in addressing some of the many bilateral economic and trade disagreements that mar the relationship would help clear the way for ultimately getting India into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the economic centerpiece of the rebalance.
“The United States and India can and should be indispensable partners,” Kerry said, before cautioning: “The words are easy; it’s the actions we need to take that will really define the relationship.”
Consciously or otherwise, the U.S. secretary of state has set forth the task awaiting his cabinet colleague. If the rebalance is to be more than a passing fad, Washington must incorporate India into its central structure. And if India is to achieve its ambitions to be something more than merely a subcontinental power, it must be prepared to act as a great power in East as well as South Asia. ??
(Robert M. Hathaway is director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Asia Program, in Washington, DC.)email@example.com
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his maiden Independence Day speech spoke on a wide range of issues, from financial inclusion schemes to stressing on need to enhance manufacturing.
Modi said that for India to make its presence felt on the global stage, there was immediate need to channelise the talent of the youth. He spoke of promoting Brand India and ensuring a better developed rural India. We take a look at the key takeaways from his speech:
1) Promote Made in India: Giving an open invitation to the world to make India a manufacturing hub, Modi said, “Come make in India. Be it plastics or cars or satellites or agricultural products, come make in India.”
We must dream of ‘Made in India’ products across the world. “We need to encourage the manufacturing sector. We need to channelise the strength of the youth through manufacturing,” Modi stressed. “Manufactured goods should have zero defect as also zero effect on environment,” Modi added.
“We should strive to be a nation that doesn’t import, but exports,” Modi said. “I urge the youth to reduce dependence on imported products,” Modi added.
2) Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana: Modi launched the ‘Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana’ to help poor open bank accounts which will come with the facility of a debit card and an insurance cover of Rs 1 lakh.
“We want to integrate the poorest of the poor with bank accounts with Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana,” Modi said. Observing that people have mobile phones but not bank accounts, Modi said, the scheme will help in bringing the benefits of formal banking system to them.
Under the Jan Dhan Yojana, he said, “the person who will open bank account will get a debit card and the family will get Rs 1 lakh insurance cover. This will help the family to tide over the unforeseen eventuality.”
3) Digital India: “We should dream of a Digital India. Digital India is a dream for the poor, with broadband connectivity, we can ensure long-distance education,” Modi said.
“Digital India is plan not for the benefit of the rich, but the poor,” Modi stressed. “e-governance is easy governance, efficient governance, and that is important,” he added.
4) Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana: Modi asked all MPs to developed a model village in their constituencies by 2016. “One village for a constituency should be developed on the model grounds. Two more can be developed by 2019.” “If we have to build the nation we have to start from the villages”
“If each MP decides to develop three villages over five years, so many villages in the country would have seen progress,” Modi added.
5) Moratorium on violence: Modi declared that he would like to run the country on the basis of consensus and not on majority in Parliament and called for a 10-year moratorium on caste and communal violence.
Modi also asked the misguided youth who have taken to terrorism and naxalism to shed their guns and adopt the path of peace and development.
6) Planning Commission to be replaced: Modi said that he would replace the Planning Commission that for decades guided the country’s economy with a more modern institution.
“The times have changed since the Planning Commission was created. In a short span of time we will initiative a new institution that will work in place of the Planning Commission,” Modi said. “We need creative thinking on the Planning Commission’s role.”
Soon after Modi’s speech it was announced that the Planning Commission would be replaced by National Development Reforms Commission.
7) Clean India: The government plans to launch the Swacch Bharat plan in October. “Let us pledge that we will not make surroundings dirty. Pledge to develop a clean India,” Modi said. “Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th anniversary is coming in a few years. How should we celebrate it? He respected cleanliness. We should pledge for clean India,” he added.
“We have to stress on cleanliness, sanitation. By 2019 we must ensure a Swacch Bharat. Modi went on to say, “Dignity of women is our responsibility. We have to ensure that we provide toilets for all.”
Modi appealed to all corporates, “Under CSR, please give importance to making toilets in schools within a year. Next year when we celebrate Independence Day, we should have made sure that there are toilets in every school.”firstname.lastname@example.org
Serving up some revealing data on the stranglehold of family and lineage on Indian politics, historian Patrick French wrote in his 2011 book India: A Portrait that if the trend continued, India could slide back to the days when it was ruled by a “hereditary monarch and assorted Indian princelings”. He also expressed concern that the next Lok Sabha – the lower house of parliament to which 543 MPs are directly elected – would be a “house of dynasts”.
New research by political scientist Kanchan Chandra of New York University actually points to a fall in the number of dynastic MPs in the new parliament, formed after May’s general election.
Professor Chandra found that 21% of the MPs in the new parliament have a dynastic background, down from 29% in the last parliament. (A survey by The Hindu newspaper, however, found a quarter of MPs – 130 – in the current parliament have a dynastic background.)
Also, 24% of India’s new cabinet, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is dynastic in nature, down from 36% in the previous Congress-led government.
The fall in numbers of dynastic MPs in the parliament may have something to do with the massive victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is considered to be less dynastic than the Congress party it replaced in government. (The BJP alone has 282 of the 336 MPs in the ruling coalition.)
“For me the decline in numbers of dynastic MPs is significant,” Baijayant Jay Panda, a prominent MP from the regional Biju Janata Dal (BJD) party, told me. “I think we will see a further fall in numbers in future parliaments.”
Professor Chandra is not so sure.
Favourable to dynasty
She says most parties, including the ruling BJP, are favourable to dynastic politicians: 15% of the BJP’s MPs and 26% of its cabinet are dynastic, and a number of its chief ministers have had their family members follow them in political positions.
Of the 36 political parties that have now at least one seat in the parliament, the leaders of at least 13 (36%) were preceded by family members who were MPs. Also, as Professor Chandra says, the rise of “young, aspirational voters does not quite represent a deterrent to dynastic politics”.
Minister and MP Ram Bilas Paswan (right) with his son and newly elected MP Chirag Paswan Minister and MP Ramvilas Paswan (right) and his son and newly elected MP Chirag Paswan run a regional party
This appears to be borne out somewhat by a survey of young voters by the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in 2011 that found that although the majority of young voters – 18-30 years of age – opposed dynastic politics in general, they preferred voting for a dynastic candidate when a dynasty was associated with youth.
More interestingly, another study by Milan Vaishnav, Devesh Kapur and Neelanjan Sircar earlier this year found that 46% of Indians had no problems supporting dynastic politicians. “What we found was kind of shocking,” said Mr Vaishnav. “Nearly one in two Indians say, if I had a choice, I would prefer to vote for a candidate who has a family background.”
Also, India’s Nehru-Gandhi family which leads the Congress is no longer the only dynastic party. The fragmentation of Indian politics has led to a sharp rise in parties led by regional dynasts – at least 15 of them remain politically significant despite many having fared badly in the recent elections. No wonder, as Professor Chandra points out, dynastic politics is alive and well in the states: 28% of the state governments are led by a dynastic chief minister.
To be sure, politics is not the only sphere where India tolerates dynasties – they dominate businesses, Bollywood and many other spheres of life.
In politics, dynasties offer readymade kinship networks that substitute for party organisations. Dynastic politics, Professor Chandra argues, is also linked to “increasing returns from state power” – public officials continue to yield enormous discretion in the exercise of power and patronage from what remains a large and powerful state.
But things, Mr Panda insists, are changing.
He believes that more first-generation politicians with no dynastic links are coming up than ever before and predicts that regional dynasties will splinter further and wither away. Most importantly, he says, social media is making it easier for politicians to organise networks without depending on families.
“When you are a dynastic politician you easily inherit the network that helps you win election. But the advent of the social media shows that this advantage is breaking down and politics is becoming a more level playing field,” Mr Panda says. For evidence, he points out the way the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) used social media successfully in Delhi’s state elections last year to mobilise supporters.
“I am not saying,” Mr Panda cautions, “that dynasties will vanish overnight. “But as more and more young Indians get connected to the world, there will be a breaking down of established modes of feudalism. That includes dynastic politics.”
Soutik Biswas, Delhi correspondent Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent
I have always gained some new insights in my interactions with the renowned media scholar, Prof. Robin Jeffrey. His work on the Indian media is immense. He has authored three important books on the media: India’s Newspaper Revolution: Capitalism, Politics and the Indian-Language Press, 1977-99; Mission, Money and Machinery: Indian Newspapers in the Twentieth Century; and The Great Indian Phone Book (co-authored with Assa Doran). He believes that India is in the midst of a dramatic and fundamental media revolution.
A couple of months ago, he delivered the Lawrence Dana Pinkham Memorial Lecture in Chennai, where he said younger journalists would play a major role in determining whether this revolution turns into a golden age of journalism. He is convinced that news organisations that have a global focus are surviving and will survive. He offers two reasons: “The first is the need for reliable information. Regular newspapers originated in the 17th century to provide merchants, who were willing to pay for them, with precisely this commodity — timely, trustworthy information. That is what India’s oldest still-publishing newspaper, Mumbai Samachar, was set up to do in 1823. There is a global audience for globally significant news that organisations like The New York Times, Agence France-Presse (AFP), Bloomberg, the BBC, and others provide. This reliability and global reach are the related reasons why big media organisations will survive. Thousands of institutions and millions of people will pay for the services they offer — even if the most effective methods of extracting payment are still being discovered.”
The world is waiting
And this is where he sees a weakness in the Indian media. He argues that the world is ready and ripe for an Indian media presence in this era of digital revolution. His forceful argument: “Britain, the U.S., Canada and Australia all have significant voices that report the world. The Arab world produced Al Jazeera. The French have AFP. EFE, the Spanish news agency, is the world’s fourth largest (after Associated Press, Reuters and AFP). Germany has Deutsche Welle as well as huge privately owned media organisations. China pours money into its global newsgathering and dissemination. Even Russia has a lively and imaginative English-language news service. Where is India? India, which has unrivalled international connections throughout Asia and Europe, in Africa and North America and even in South America? India, which has more speakers of English than England itself? India, which has a vast film industry and a leading place in information technology? Yet, India’s media presence in the world is tiny. Its public broadcaster barely speaks internationally and when its vibrant domestic media venture abroad it is only to connect with the NRIs. The world is waiting for a digital-age voice from India — a BBC, a New York Times or even a China Central Television. A voice with global interests, global sources, yet an Indian point of view.”
To be honest, I was a bit sceptical about Prof. Jeffrey’s grand vision for the Indian media. His idea of an outstanding global platform that offers a superb range of possibilities seemed like an attempt to overreach. I was not fully convinced of his argument that these possibilities do not depend on size alone. But I was forced to change my mind when this newspaper carried a lead article by Susan Abulhawa, “The searing hypocrisy of the West” and the type of responses that poured in from all corners of the world.
Ms. Abulhawa’s argument was that Palestine is quite literally being wiped off the map by a state that openly upholds Jewish supremacy and Jewish privilege, and that Israel’s excuse for the latest rampage in Palestine was that it was searching for three settlers who went missing on June 12. She was indignant about the fact that although hundreds of Palestinian children are kidnapped, brutalised or killed by Israel, there is rarely, if ever, a condemnatory reaction from the world.
Predictably, like any other entrenched and polarising issue, this article had a number of critics, just as it had a huge set of approving readers. As the Readers’ Editor, I have received angry mails on various contentious issues within South Asia. One example is the newspaper’s coverage of Sri Lanka, where extreme Tamil Nationalists were upset over the newspaper’s stand against the ‘sole representative’ claim and the violent campaigns of the LTTE. Sinhala supremacists became very shrill whenever the paper talked about fair devolution of powers and a settlement of some of Tamil’s legitimate aspirations. The point here is not whether there is a total agreement on any issue, but the fact that a newspaper flags the issues from an ethical point of view, leading to a debate.
A major opportunity
In this context, I see a major opportunity for The Hindu to move forward to become an Indian global voice. It has a legacy. It is credible. It has talent. It has a worldview that is liberal, inclusive and democratic. According to Prof. Jeffrey, the best journalists and news gatherers need all the reliability, persistence, storytelling talent and rat-like cunningness that have long been a part of the profession, and the ability to conceptualise and present their stories by using all the means that digital technology allows. Professionals in The Hindu have all these qualities, and the newspaper has a reputation for trustworthiness. All it needs now is to make a quantitative jump to leverage its qualitative advantage.
Narendra Modi led NDA government has completed its first 30 days in office following a massive electoral victory in May. While it is too early to pass any judgment as to whether the new government will be able to live up to the expectations of the people who have voted him to power, we can nonetheless see certain trends emerging. Let me briefly try to recap some of the crucial developments happening over the last one month.
Modi and his Ministers
India’s Modi era started with a gala swearing-in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on May 26. This was attended by the elite of India ranging from corporate tycoons to spiritual gurus. The leaders of the SAARC countries, including Nawaz Sharif were also present.
Soon after, Modi announced a new catchy mantra “minimum government, maximum governance”, whatever that means. In effect it meant fewer Ministers but not fewer Ministries. Most of the Ministers are not experienced which probably means that they will rely a lot on the PMO for direction. One of the Ministers, Gopi Nath Munde, had an unfortunate accident and passed away. The choice of Smriti Irani as HRD Minister raised a minor storm in view of her academic record. Another Minister Nihal Chand Meghwal from Rajasthan is accused of rape. BJP has refused to remove him from office alleging it is political conspiracy. Association of Democratic Rights, a civil society organisation, has produced data that shows that 30 per cent of the Ministers have criminal charges against them, while 18 per cent have serious charges. One of the Ministers, Sanjeev Balyan, is accused in the Muzaffarnagar riot case. Perhaps Modi could have chosen only those who have a clean record.
Inside the Parliament
The new MPs took their oath on June 5. On June 9 President Shri Pranab Mukherjee addressed the new Parliament for the first time and outlined the agenda of the new government. The speech sounded almost socialistic as he said that curbing inflation and reducing poverty is the key task of the new government. In his first speech in the Parliament, Modi focused on changing India’s image in the eyes of the world, curbing inflation, reducing violence against women, necessity of skill development, improving sanitation, giving shelter to the poor, improving centre-state relations and making development a “mass movement.” Shrimati Sumitra Mahajan was elected as the Speaker of the House.
A key plank of the Modi campaign was good governance. The first one month however saw several controversies emerging which were not in keeping with the promises made. The new government faced an embarrassment when one of its Ministers, former army Chief General V.K. Singh, accused the Army Chief-Designate Lt General Dalbir Singh Suhag of “dacoity”. Senior BJP leader and Defense Minister Arun Jaitley stepped in said that the choice is final. More mindless was a controversy related to the use of Hindi in social media which was opposed by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha and the decision was revised. There was another controversy related to changing of Governors in various states which was opposed by some of the Governors. Till the end of the period no one was however removed. The fourth controversy related to reports that several NGOs were being watched by the IB. This raised fear of silencing the voice of dissent from the civil society. On the positive side Modi has apparently emphasised on longer working hours and cleaner offices for the various Ministries. The administration has been told to speed up the process of clearing files. The Cabinet took an important positive decision to form an SIT to unearth black money stashed abroad and there were reports that the Swiss authorities are preparing a list of names of people who have black money in Swiss Banks. However it was made clear by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley that no communication has been received from the Swiss government in this regard. Delhi witnessed a period of power shortage which resulted in a familiar political blame game but not much relief for the poor and middle-class of the city.
Rural and Urban Development
The focus of the President’s address as well as Narendra Modi’s maiden speech in Parliament was on “development” but not much actually happened in terms of changes in policies related to development of the country that were initiated during ten years of UPA rule. There was a hint from Venkiah Naidu that JNNURM may be changed and an announcement from Nitin Gadkari that Ganga and Yamuna rivers would cleaned and trees would be planted but not much beyond that. The only major decision that was taken was that the height of the Narmada Dam would be raised, a decision that was opposed by Medha Patkar, activist of Narmada Bachao Andolan and AAP leader. She argued that the Ministry should first assess the ground situation, a suggestion that seems to be sensible enough.
The invitation to SAARC country leaders, especially Nawaz Sharif, for the swearing-in ceremony was a positive step towards building good relations with the neighbours. Sharif had a meeting with Modi in Delhi also later sent a letter of thanks. However there was also firing at the border in Kashmir between the two sides, indicating that stable relations between the two countries would require lot more work. The Prime Minister’s first foreign tour was to Bhutan. He made an embarrassing mistake by saying “Nepal” when he wanted to say “Bhutan” but otherwise the trip went off well with both sides reiterating their commitment to developing hydro-power and India promising Bhutan to help build its Supreme Court.
The first thirty days did not turn out to be good for the economy although initially the stock markets were jubilant after the swearing-in of the new Prime Minister. Inflation reached a five month high and it has been predicted that onion prices will reach Rs 100 by September-October. Growth rate was sluggish as India recorded it’s below 5 per cent growth rate for the second year in a row. Railway fares were hiked by 14.2 per cent and freight charges were also hiked by 6.5 per cent. While some have argued that this was bold decision to improve the financial health of the Railways, it is also likely to impact on inflation and therefore further increase the sufferings of the poor people of the country.
Communalism unfortunately raised its ugly head almost as soon as the new government came to power. On the day of the swearing-in there was a minor clash between Hindus and Muslims in Ahmedabad. This was followed by the ghastly murder of a Muslim IT professional in Pune by Hindu Rashtra Sena. There were several arrests made. RSS expressed its disapproval of Article 370 leading to a verbal confrontation with Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister. Legal notice was served by Dinanath Batra to Orient Blackswan who capitulated before the demand by deciding to review Shekhar Bandypadhyay’s well-known text book “From Plessey to Partition” and also ‘set aside’ another academic book “Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmadabad since 1969.” Thus the trend that was started when Wendy Doninger book “Hinduism: An Alternative History” was pulped by Penguin under a similar ‘legal’ threat has continued.
The Finance Minister is expected to present his first budget in the second week of July. This will make the policy orientation of the new government clearer. Till then one can say there has been some good moves in foreign policy. However inflation, IB watch on NGOs and incidences of communal violence is worrying. More needs to be done to reduce rape and murder of women which continues unabated. “Acchey Din” is clearly still some distance away.keep looking »