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Eight years on | The Indian Express


THE Narendra Modi government completing eight years is a moment to pause and look back — and ahead. When it came to power in 2014, a large swathe of Indian voters saw in the slogan of “achche din”, and in the BJP’s energetic bid to wrest power at the Centre under the leadership of a man who had made himself a name, and controversy, as chief minister, a promise for a break from the status quo. In the first five years, from rethinking the language of welfare to recasting nationalism and reworking foreign policy, the Modi government made an impact that led to its re-election in 2019 with a decisive majority. Looking back, the eight years of Modi’s rule so far have been dominated by the last three. And in these, the government’s record has been two-toned — it has shown resolve, boldness, and a capacity for navigating complexity in some areas but it has been stiff and unmoving in others.

The signal that the second term would be more change-making than the first was sent by the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir in August 2019. Only months after that, came the enactment of a law that made religion a criterion for citizenship for those in the neighbourhood seeking refuge. The next year, the government inaugurated the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. But if the Modi government took these large, contentious steps, it also faced steep challenges. While the over a year-long farmers’ agitation on Delhi’s doorstep could be traced back to the farm laws it enacted in September 2020, the public health emergency that began with the Covid outbreak earlier that year, and this year’s Ukraine war, are problems it has been forced to step up to. On balance, the Modi government has shown a mature head in crisis, coming back after a period of paralysis during Covid’s second devastating wave, to set in motion a strikingly successful vaccination programme. It resisted pressures to provide more direct support to a people lacking in safety nets, but ran a comprehensive free rations programme, ensuring efficient and mostly corruption-free delivery. Amid the continuing economic slump and joblessness, it has signalled a recommitment to its privatisation programme, with the sale of Air India and the LIC IPO. With China, after the face-off in Galwan, and 15 rounds of talks later, it shows firmness and resolve. With the US, it is strategically — and boldly — strengthening areas of convergence in the Indo-Pacific, even as, on Ukraine, it has negotiated a position keenly conscious of competing priorities. All this, under the leadership of a prime minister whose popularity is burnished more strongly than before.

And yet, the maturity and nuance that the Modi government shows in the areas outlined above seem to elude it when it comes to others — be it its heavy-footed handling of the agitation against the CAA-NRC, its attempt to forcibly join the dots between those protests and the communal violence later in northeast Delhi, its use of the IPC to tar dissent, its weaponisation of Central agencies to target political opponents. Its ringing silence amid the bid to reopen the faultline that now stretches from Ayodhya to Gyanvapi and its failures to restore the political process in Kashmir are part of the same problem. A government capable of thinking afresh seems trapped in stale resentments when it comes to the imperative that lies at the heart of democracy: Trust between communities and a respectful place for minorities. With the Opposition weaker than it was, and not many countervailing institutions, the Modi government will need to find it in itself to course correct. For, the challenges of inflation and recession, Ukraine war, China’s sabre-rattling, expectations of the young — these call for a governance that includes all, that does not let ghosts of history hijack spirits of the future, that heals old wounds without rubbing them in. Eight years on, that’s the hope.

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