I am sure you have noticed it by now. The first 100 days of the performance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government has turned into a big marketing event. This is probably the first time that some of the big media houses had employed marketing agencies to conduct nationwide surveys. The results were splashed on the front pages, and TV channels not only dissected the survey report throughout the day but also held panel discussions on the same.

In a way, the 100-days performance analysis, which has been more of a journalistic exercise all these years, has now been upgraded by the markets. I shall not be surprised if ‘100 Days’ becomes a once-in-five-years marketing ritual, akin to Father’s Day, Mother’s day or Valentines Day. It would also give rating agencies another opportunity to garner more business.

Once markets take over, it is the voice of big business that resonates. Backed by rising stock markets, the completion of 100 days of the Modi government became a perfect event for markets to appreciate further, thus exhorting and prodding the Prime Minister to push for more investments.

While respondents to the different surveys in media appeared to have been drawn from different genders, age groups and socio-economic strata, the common thread that ran through all the results that I came across was the need to push for more of the same: Reduce subsidies, provide more sops/incentives for industry, and make land acquisition easy and cheap. In fact, the entire thrust of the 100-days marketing exercise, also evident from some of the columns that appeared in mainline newspapers, was to primarily pressure the Prime Minister to go in for what has earned the sobriquet of big ticket reforms.

Nothing else matters.

A longer-term view

I am not sure how much of an impact media and market pronouncements will have on Narendra Modi’s thinking and approach in the future, but what has been evident so far is that he is taking very calculated steps.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation on its 68th Independence Day. Pic: PIB

The emphasis on constructing toilets and the direction to MPs/MLAs to use their MPLAD funds to fund toilet construction in schools, public places as well as households across the country is something that does not enthuse the markets. Nor did his strong position at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), where he refused to sign on the Trade Facilitation Treaty unless a permanent solution to protect India’s food security was found.

I appreciated it when he said, “This decision may invite some media criticism in international and national press, but India will not compromise the livelihood security of its farmers” In my understanding, that was a powerful statement for the international trading community, something that has never been said and done by any previous Prime Minister. 

Participating in several TV discussions to evaluate the 100-days performance, I highlighted in particular the decisive role that the Prime Minister’s Office has now begun to play. The discipline and work culture that is being demonstrated by his Cabinet colleagues has percolated to the government machinery. It is no mean achievement that the bureaucrats and officials now come in time and do not fritter away the public exchequer as has been the observed trend over all these years.

A strong work culture when it spreads to the state governments will certainly make a difference. I am looking for the day when the bureaucracy welcomes you with a smile and attends immediately to your queries.

What comes out very clearly is the real desire to use his mandate to bring about a difference, but it cannot be at the cost of social and environmental upheavals. Containing food inflation, for instance, must be top priority for the government, but it does not mean punishing farmers for producing more.

In a move disguised as attempts to keep inflation low, the Food & Agriculture ministry has clamped down on procurement prices, blaming it for the rise in food prices. This year, while government employees are set to get 107 per cent of basic pay as dearness allowance, farmers are penalised by this near-freezing of procurement prices at the same levels as last year.

To top it, the Food Ministry has directed the state governments not to provide any bonus over the procurement prices, and if they do so, the Centre will refrain from making procurements. In a way, this diktat goes against the election promise of providing farmers with a higher procurement price.

The taciturn approval for GM crops and the restructuring of the public distribution system too need to be revisited. The government cannot adopt a hypocritical approach of opposing WTO rules in the name of protecting farmers, and at the same time pushing for autonomous liberalisation as proposed by the markets.

Old wine?

Removing procurement would spell the death-knell for farmers, and the government appears keen to have it that way. This is primarily because the same set of economic advisors that the Congress had during its 10-year misrule are now back, advising the Modi government. I have always said that the people who were responsible for the crisis cannot be expected to provide a solution to emerge free from the same crisis.

On Independence Day, the Prime Minister had made a commitment from the ramparts of the Red Fort that needs to be applauded. While expressing his wish for India to turn into a manufacturing hub, he had spelled out that he was in favour of “Zero Defect, Zero Effect,” meaning that no destruction of the environment would be allowed.

However, there does not appear to be too much hope for that vision, given the way in which the Ministry of Environment & Forests has gone about clearing pending projects, and also rejected the Madhav Gadgil report that stressed on keeping the ecologically-sensitive Western Ghats free of mining and other harmful industries. At the same time, the efforts to dilute the National Green Tribunal Act, the Forests Rights Act and the Land Acquisition laws show that ‘zero effect’ is being openly impinged upon.

Now markets, of course, would never raise these concerns. The reason is obvious. They consider environmental norms as being in the way of speedier industrial development. That is why you will hardly find mainline media talking about these social and environmental impacts that the country has to be careful about.

It is this that makes me wary of the way marketing agencies have taken over the entire debate on the performance of the Modi government. I am hopeful that the Prime Minister will ensure that development is pro-people, pro-gender and pro-environment. There can be no compromise.