Prime Minister Narendra Modi lifted India up at home and abroad. But he may still lose his job in the next elections, because of his ruling style.
Before Modi assumed office, India’s economy was barely growing. It was near the bottom of major international rankings, next to its neighbors, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
After Modi assumed office, India’s economy began growing at robust rates, beating mighty China. It climbed23 spots in the World Bank’s 2018 Ease of Doing Business ranking to the 77th position, up from 100thin 2017.
And that came on top of another jump of 30 spots in the 2017 ranking from the previous year.
That’s certainly remarkable progress that set India apart from Pakistan and Bangladesh, which ranked 136 and 176, respectively.
“From Fragile 5 in BRICS, India has propelled to fastest growing economy in the world,” observes Ananthu Raju, a mechanical engineer and political analyst.
International investors took notice. Foreign capital began flowing into the country again, and equity markets made many Indians millionaires.
In most democratic countries around the world, Modi’s record would make re-election a sure thing. But not in India.
The reason? Modi has been ruling India as a strongman. And India isn’t a country for strongmen, according to Ruchir Sharma, Head of Emerging Markets and Chief Global Strategist at Morgan Stanley Investments. “Until a year ago, Modi looked like the sure winner. He had sidelined all rivals in the BJP and overshadowed Gandhi, and the rest of the opposition,” says Sharma in an article published in the March/April 2019 Foreign Affairs issue. “He was running the most centralized administration India had seen for decades, with decisions large and small funneled through the prime minister’s office.”
But centralization doesn’t work in a democratic country, where elections are determined in mofussil, “provincial areas beyond the mega-cities of Mumbai and New Delhi,” according to Sharma. In fact, mofussil is turning against Modi, as evidenced by the results of December elections in three states.
And that has Modi fighting for his job. “This is exactly how Indian voters like their leaders: on the edge and fearing for their jobs,” adds Sharma. “No other democracy tosses out its ruling party as India does. Ever since the country became a true multiparty democracy, in the 1970s, two out of three governments at the central and state levels have lost their bids for reelection.”
Still, there’s another reason this time around: Modi’s policies failed to touch the masses, as was discussed in a previous piece here. In fact, the average Indian is worse off under Modi.
That’s according to a Gallup survey last month, which finds that Indians’ rating of their current lives nationwide are the worst in recent record, an average of 4.0 on a 0-to-10 scale in 2017 – down from 4.4 back in 2014.
Things were even worse in the rural areas, which determine the outcome of Indian elections.
“Beginning in 2015, rural Indians began reporting increased difficulty paying for food,” says another Gallup report. “That year, more than one in four rural Indians (28%) reported not having enough money to pay for food at some point that year (compared with 18% of urban Indians who reported the same hardship).”
There’s one more reason — the persistence of corruption. Five years ago, the Indian people gave Narendra Modi a chance to realize his big promise: clean up corruption in India. Today, Modi’s promise remains a promise. Corruption is still thriving in India, in all the usual places as also discussed in a previous piece here.
Apparently, governments come and go, and some things never change for India.
“Indians would have been in similar conditions if there would have been Modi or No Modi. The only difference that happened during his initial days was Demonetization,” says Digpal Singh Narang, a retail data analyst. “To a certain extent, it might have helped the government to find stashed cash at home. However, it impacted common middle-class families a lot and richer people got away easily. Apart from that, India is growing at slow pace and in same direction like it was with other government leaders in the past.”