Testing times ahead for Modi

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By : Nilofar Suhrawardy

There are no “ifs” and “buts” about Narendra Modi’s strong communication skills, the positive impact of which has helped him succeed politically to head the new Indian government. Modi was probably not prepared for his leadership being practically challenged through strong protests against his government’s initial moves. These include protests against hike in rail fare and promotion of Hindi language as well as a virtual collapse of his 100-day agenda. Even before settling down comfortably in his office as the country’s new prime minister, he has been compelled to reflect on the negative impact of these issues. His real test as a strong leader has begun now.

Soon after assuming office, Modi claimed that he would change the country within 100 days. Even before Modi government completed 25 days in office; it became clear that it had backtracked on its much-trumpeted 100-day agenda.

The 100-day promise is now hardly being mentioned. People are questioning and also protesting against pre-budget hike in railway fares. The hike, effective from June 25, is 14.2 percent in all classes of passenger fares and 6.5 percent in freight charges. Even though Modi government has tried escaping criticism by blaming the preceding government for this hike, people are not oblivious of the fact that it was not binding on his government to go ahead with the move.

After all, troubled by inflation, voters decided to give Modi a chance to help them counter this problem. Soon after Modi assumed power, most agreed that it was impossible to expect him to lower prices but at least they were hopeful that his government would prevent prices from rising further. The hike in rail fare has defeated those expectations.

Unfortunately for Modi, news of weak monsoon has at present skyrocketed food prices and dampened mood in the stock market. India has received 45 percent lesser rainfall than what was expected in monsoon’s first spell, according to India Meteorological Department (IMD). Economic revival promised by Modi will likely be delayed further due to a weak monsoon.

Certainly, Modi cannot be blamed for a weak monsoon. At the same time, plain rhetoric, even by displaying his best communication skills, can be of little help against people facing hardship due to inflation. There is a possibility that in the final budget, rail fare may be lowered a little in an effort to convince the people that the government is trying its best. Perhaps, Modi and his team may succeed in convincing voters that they have had no option but to come out with a budget, which can hardly be described as people friendly. It is not without reason that ahead of the budget, Modi has started talking about the need for people to be prepared for “bitter medicine.”

Modi’s leadership has also faltered significantly over the language issue. It is Modi’s political right to converse in Hindi, if he so desires. Yet, the apparent importance that his government has tried giving to Hindi cannot be sidelined. Just a day after he assumed power, a note was issued from Home Ministry, stating, “It is ordered that government employees and officials of all ministries, departments, corporations or banks, who have made official accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube or blogs, should use Hindi, or both Hindi and English, but give priority to Hindi.”

Undeniably, most government websites have been using Hindi and English for quite some time. However, the diktat on giving “priority to Hindi” is disturbing. It is well known that Hindi is not spoken throughout the country. The South Indian states have always been opposed to imposition of Hindi. They prefer using English or their local language and are totally against Hindi being imposed on them. Of course, the storm raised against this note prompted the government to recently clarify that this note was applicable only for Hindi-speaking states. What was the need for issuing such an order in the first place? It raises doubts about Modi trying to portray himself as a national leader. It confirms speculations about Modi’s political prominence being confined to the Hindi-speaking states. His primary agenda appears to be the promotion of Hindi-speaking belt. This certainly is not expected of a person, now viewed as an Indian leader.

Diplomatically, Modi may be credited for changing notions held about his government’s approach toward Pakistan and other regional countries. However, it is possible that Modi deliberately went a little overboard on this front to prevent people from expecting action from him immediately on the domestic front. Yet, he cannot fall back on diplomatic front for too long.

A strong leader’s primary agenda is to delve on issues, people expect him to take action and not to impose his order on them, including that of giving priority to the Hindi language. Modi’s success rests on his living up to the expectations of the electorate. Deliberations, speculations and criticism on major moves expected of his government during its first budget now dominate the media. The budget will be presented in the second week of July. A key test awaits Modi’s leadership in the Parliament, media and among the masses!

Email: nilofarsuhrawardy@hotmail.com

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