By K Raveendran
It has been a season of extraordinary handshakes. Clips of President Donald Trump and French President Emmnuel Macron shaking and grabbing each other’s hands vigorously and landing kisses on the cheeks have been flashed on TV screens across the world. North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Je-in crossing the border line in the heavily fortified demilitarised zone, hand in hand, was a sight that was thought impossible until a few months ago. And in Wuhan, Narendra Modi and Chinese President for Life Xi Jinping started a summit between two world powers with a warm and firm handshake, with the Indian Prime Minister telling the Chinese leader how his ‘new India’ and Xi’s ‘new era’ will help in world progress.
Stunning visuals indeed! But all the players in the high-drama scenes are on the 2018 Times list of most influential leaders, except Narendra Modi, who was on it in 2017, but not any longer. Among those who have made it to the list this year are Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, London’s Pakistani Muslim Mayor Sadiq Khan and even Microsoft’s Indian CEO Satya Nadella. Probably Times thinks that Narendra Modi has not done anything that merits consideration in recent times. Maybe, Times thinks he has lost his place in the hearts and minds of vast number of Indians, for which it had put him in the top slot last year.
Modi was in the august company in 2017 for his ‘undimmed aura’, despite his knack to play on the ‘existential fears and cultural insecurities of people facing downward or blocked mobility’. The magazine acknowledged his success in reaching out to the masses feeling left or pushed behind by globalization, promising to make India great again by rooting out self-serving elites. While recognizing all this, the magazine had overlooked his failure to realize the promised vision of India’s economic, geopolitical and cultural supremacy. That benefit of doubt is no longer available to Modi.
It is not that the retention of his place on the list would have made a world of difference. But it does convey a message that Modi or his party cannot brush away. There is clearly a change of perception not just by the editors of Time, but in people’s mind as well. The Modi magic has waned and the results are there for everyone to see.
Modi came to power selling a dream to Indians: a dream that showed every Indian enjoying a better living standard, less corruption, more equality and opportunity to earn more. Unfortunately, people believed the dream to be true. They believed him totally and voted for him overwhelmingly. Such was the appeal of his promise. He wanted voters to give him an opportunity for 60 months, instead of the 60 years that the dynastic Congress ruled, taking the country to wherever it was. And he also offered a guarantee against failure. If he failed to do what he promised, he was ready to be hanged.
But like most dreams, the one sold by Modi also soured in little time. He has consistently failed to do what he promised. Into the fourth year in office, his record so far is pathetic and he is turning out to be a failure in whatever he has attempted to do. The fiasco began with the promise to bring back all the black money stashed away by unscrupulous Indians in foreign bank accounts within three months of assuming office. As if suffering from selective amnesia, he has never talked about it again.
This has, in fact, become typical of the Modi style. He has a penchant for announcing schemes one after another, but as soon as a new one is announced, the previous one is forgotten. But more importantly, all these schemes remain on the periphery of the economic agenda, with the result that the basic problems remain. Pretty little has been done to make structural changes which can have lasting impact on the economy and change people’s lives.
His worst failure was, of course, demonetisation. Conceived and presented as a masterstroke that was capable of creating a new India, the plan on which Modi said he was staking everything turned out to be a ’monumental blunder,’ as his predecessor Manmohan Singh suggested. His own government has since accepted the failure of demonetisation to achieve anything that had been originally envisaged, other than subjecting people to untold miseries and destroying economic activity, particularly in the informal sector—a problem that the country has still not managed to come out from. On the other hand, it offered a window of opportunity for black money holders to convert their money into white, making it a double whammy for the Modi government. GST was another grandiose idea that has gone wrong due to messy implementation. And now it turns out that the so-called tax efficiency brought about by GST has, in fact, led to revenue loss. So not only has it put additional burden on people, it has failed to achieve the broader goal of more efficient tax collection.