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More than two years after his landslide victory, why is Modi struggling to implement policy?




On May 23, 2019, Narendra Modi became only the second non-Congress prime minister to win two consecutive terms. The Bharatiya Janata party won over 37% of the vote with 303 seats in Lok Sabha, giving it 55% of the seats in the House, marking the second time a party has had an absolute majority since 1984.

The BJP’s back-to-back victories meant the moment was historic, cementing the Saffron Parties’ place as India’s most powerful party, dramatically eclipsing Congress, which had ruled India for decades after independence. Political scientists have even started to Argue that India now had a new party system, with the old coalition era giving way to one in which the BJP was the clearly dominant pole.

However, since then the fortunes of the BJP have belied its massive tenure. While the Modi government has passed far-reaching and controversial legislation in parliament, it has been much less fortunate in being able to actually implement these policies.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah gesture as they celebrate the BJP’s victory in India’s May 23 general election. Credit: Money Sharma / AFP

Radical legislation

In August, just over two months after Modi was sworn in, the BJP passed measures revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir legally coded as Article 370 of the Indian Constitution under which it had joined the Indian Union. At the same time, the Modi government moved large numbers of troops to Kashmir, cut off communications, and arrested hundreds of leaders.

Just four months later, the Modi government passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Parliament which, for the first time, introduced a religious criterion for Indian citizenship by allowing undocumented non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, from Pakistan and Bangladesh to apply for Indian citizenship. .

Earlier, Amit Shah, then president of the BJP, now the Union’s Home Minister, had linked the citizenship law to a proposal to create a national citizenship registry in order to allude to the possibility that only Indian Muslims should prove their citizenship. The BJP had also supported the Supreme Court’s order to conduct a citizenship test in Assam to identify suspected migration of Hindus and Muslims from Bangladesh.

A year after the enactment of the Citizenship Act, the Modi government passed three agriculture bills that aimed to bring about large-scale changes in Indian agriculture by allowing free market play in the sale of agricultural products as well as in agriculture.

Cup and lip

All three movements were important, in accordance with the massive mandate of the BJP and were, quite naturally, presented as great victories by the Saffron Party. However, as it soon became evident, passing a law in parliament is often only the first step in the effective implementation of the policy.

The passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act sparked some of the most widespread protests in independent Indian history, with sit-ins and marches held across the country.

Protesters attend a demonstration against the Citizenship Amendment Act at Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi on February 2, 2020. Credit: Reuters

It has also drawn immense negative attention to India internationally, with the law seen as overthrowing India’s secular democratic history. In March 2020, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights filed a request for intervention with the Supreme Court on the new law.

In the same month, India lost its status as a free country in the ranking of the American think tank Freedom Houses 2021, a major driver being Amit Shahs complaints of a CAA-NRC chronology which would allow an exercise of exclusively Muslim citizenship. Previously, a United States government commission on religious freedom advised that the Indian Minister of the Interior, Amit Shah, be sanctioned for his role in promoting the citizenship law.

The new law, as well as the policy surrounding it, which alleged massive migration and religious persecution from Bangladesh, has likely deteriorated relations with Dhaka. In a rare gesture, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina commented on Indian law, deeming it unnecessary, asserting that there had been no migration of Bangladeshi minorities to India as a result of persecution. Hasinas’ statement was prompted by a surge in anti-Indian sentiment in Bangladesh following these migration allegations. In 2021, when Modi visited Bangladesh, protests against him led to large-scale violence and arson killing 17 people.

Tactical retreat

Against the backdrop of these reactions, the Modi government did something remarkable: it put the citizenship law in a state of suspended animation. Despite the fact that the BJP announced it as a huge push for its policy, the law has yet to be implemented with rules or guidelines on how legislation will be implemented, which have not yet been implemented. not yet notified.

In West Bengal, home to large numbers of Bangladeshi Hindu migrants, the BJP even downplayed the citizenship law during the 2021 Assembly election campaign, preferring to focus on bread-and-butter issues like corruption. local.

Earlier in December 2019, at the height of the protests, the Union government had already made a less dramatic descent, with Prime Minister Modi giving a speech washing the hands of the NRC BJP claiming that it was in fact a ‘an initiative of the Congress. While this ignored not only Amit Shahs repealed allegations of introducing a nationwide NRC and also the BJP’s own 2019 manifesto, more importantly, it was another example of the BJP proposing dramatic changes. only to temper once the opposition is assembled.

Agricultural laws

A similar dynamic has been played out with agricultural laws. The legislation sparked massive protests in the states of Punjab and Haryana, where farmers felt most threatened by the free market push of the new policy as they feared it would end public procurement in large-scale grain that had characterized agriculture in these states. since the Green Revolution. With large numbers of farmers camping out at Delhi’s borders, it was the Supreme Court that, in an unusual exercise of judicial power, suspended law enforcement without actually suspending laws.

The courts’ decision was not opposed by the Modi government. In fact, the government itself proposed to suspend the application of laws as part of its offer to protesting farmers, an offer that was rejected.

More was to come: On July 2, 2021, the Modi government imposed stock limits on pulses in response to growing public anger over food inflation. This directly contravened one of the farm laws, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, making it clear that the political pressures of inflation would see the government tilt in favor of the consumer over the theoretical principles of the free market elucidated in time of adoption of agricultural bills.

Protesters against agricultural laws storm Delhi’s Red Fort on Republic Day 2021. Credit: Sajjad Hussain / AFP

Kashmir is coming back

The BJP has also had to back down considerably on its Kashmir policy. While Jammu and Kashmir’s special legal status is unlikely to return, the BJP plans to replace the leadership of the Kashmir valleys appears to have been wiped out. On June 24, Prime Minister Modi met with Kashmiri leaders, many of whom had been arrested after the removal of Article 370, signaling that in fact much of the old political order in the valley would be maintained. Calling this meeting a humiliating reverse, security and defense commentator Sushant Singh highlighted that, to a large extent, the hand of the Modi government had been forced by international factors such as American pressure as well as back door talks with Pakistan.

Note that Kashmir’s special status had been completely eroded in substance by previous congressional governments anyway. Lawyer and historian AG Noorani called Article 370 is an empty shell which, rather than granting special status, has in fact given New Delhi greater powers in Jammu and Kashmir compared to other states in the Union. So apart from the cosmetic modification of Article 370, it is not clear what more real powers New Delhi had acquired in Kashmir with the action of 2019.

Notably, Indian political logic often dictates that severe political changes are often put in place at the start of a term with the next election a good distance away.

Obviously, the BJP has not been able to achieve this. Worse from his perspective, his 2019 glow has faded after a significant number of national election losses since. Added to this are the economic setbacks due to the pandemic and economic mismanagement which made the Indian economy globally the most affected during Covid-19.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the leaders of the political parties of Jammu and Kashmir. Credit: Prime Minister’s Office

Waste your electoral victory

The BJP’s aggressive attempts to put policy in place and then withdraw, or at least freeze, in the face of opposition is a model that tells us something important about democracy and in particular how it works in India. Elections, as has often been stressed, are a necessary part of democracy, but by themselves they are not sufficient as a tool of legitimacy. Even when a government is in power, it must constantly use feedback loops and gain support for its policies. This is doubly true for the Indian Union given its continental size.

Unfortunately, the hyper-centralized governance model of the BJPs in Modis’ second term completely ignored these realities on the ground. While the government has seen a good pull on programs such as a supply running water to houses or even abolish the practice of instant triple talaq already banned in many Muslim countries as well as under Indian law itself, following a 2017 Supreme Court order, it struggled to put implementing controversial policies that arouse significant opposition.

So far, it seems that the BJP has little realization that it needs to change its far-reaching goals or its working style. Even the successes of his first term, like the goods and services tax, are now damaged because of it, with opposition parties on their way to war with the government, a radical departure from the consensus that the BJP itself had aroused when the tax was introduced.

As the second Modi administration is nearing halfway through its course even as India is in dire economic straits, there may not be enough political capital left for the BJP to force policy implementation. he had started working on or was introducing new ones. If the second half of Modi-II plays out the same as the first half, it would be a disappointing outcome for the BJP given the massive victory in the 2019 election.




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