Would you like to marry Narendra Modi

Growth, Disenchantment and Insecurity: One Year Modi in India

After a year of Modi's government, India is seeing the economic growth it had hoped for. But there is also a lot of disillusionment, especially on the land issue. Aggressive Hindu nationalist forces and increasing pressure on selected NGOs are unsettling civil society.

When Narendra Modi took office as Prime Minister of India on May 26, 2014, he had aroused enormous expectations of bringing India's economy out of the crisis. Today, a year later, India's economy is actually growing stronger again. But the big bang did not materialize, and disillusionment is also spreading in business circles. A change in land expropriation compensation legislation is proving to be a serious political problem. At the same time, in the face of an increasingly aggressive appearance by radical Hindunationalist forces in public space, uncertainty is growing, especially among the Indian minorities. The interior ministry's growing pressure on parts of civil society is also a cause for concern.

From the Indian parliamentary elections in April 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged with an absolute majority of the seats (with only 31 percent of the valid votes, result of the majority suffrage practiced in India and a highly fragmented opposition) in the lower house. It was a highly personalized election campaign: top candidate Modi, at the time the controversial prime minister of the state of Gujarat, was able to present himself as a guarantor of efficient, non-corrupt, growth-oriented governance, which primarily appealed to the middle class and many young people in the cities.

For the first time in decades, his electoral success allowed a government to be formed without a coalition partner. However, the BJP does not have its own majority in the upper house occupied by the state governments, despite electoral successes in some federal states, and must continue to find partners to implement some important legislative projects.

Since taking office, Modi has presented himself as a “doer” who waved overdue decisions about infrastructure projects despite environmental concerns, made a lot of things a top priority, personally placed himself at the forefront of popular campaigns such as Swachh Bharat (“Clean India”) and through his intense public presence indoors - and foreign policy that his predecessor Manmohan Singh was not at all interested in.

To this day - as many observers in Delhi see it - decision-making powers are concentrated in the office of the prime minister, while ministers and high-ranking officials are now considered to be less influential or independent than in previous governments. But there are also doubts that this style of government is sufficient to rule a complex country like India.

Economic policy with problems

In the first few months of its term of office, the new government initiated a number of innovative and ambitious social and economic programs. An initiative to expand “financial inclusion” is to reach 40 percent of households that do not yet have bank accounts. Many commitments from private investors have already been obtained for the extraordinarily ambitious plan to expand India's solar power capacity to 100 gigawatts by 2022 (currently around 3.7 GW). It was a good start, but the success of this and other programs will not be judged for a few years.

Has Modi revived India's crumbling economy? In the short term, it looks like this: The GDP growth forecasts for the current year are 7.5 percent, which is pushing India ahead of China and making it a great beacon of hope among the BRICS countries. However, since the Statistical Office recently changed the methodology for calculating GDP, the informative value of such figures is limited. Other data - such as industrial production growth - look much less impressive. In the first year of Modi's administration, food inflation in particular remained low.

This was also a result of the low oil prices, which are favorable for India, but since the atypical rains in northern India this spring there has been a risk of crop failures. The country's English-language business press continues to view Modi as positive overall, but disillusionment with the slow progress in reform is evident. Anyone who expected a big bang of liberalization will be disappointed.

Indeed, as any other Indian government would do today, Modi is facing enormous structural problems. Population growth has declined sharply, but the large number of young people who are currently coming of working age will require massive training programs and enormous job creation efforts in order to become the hoped-for “demographic dividend”.

To this end, the Prime Minister has proclaimed "Make in India", i.e. an industry and export-oriented growth strategy based on the success stories of East and Southeast Asia. However, given the dominance of China in the manufacturing sector and the general weaknesses in the global economy, the global framework conditions for the success of such a strategy are anything but optimal, as the head of India's central bank has repeatedly emphasized.

In order to implement such a strategy, reforms are necessary in many areas, which meet with a wide range of resistance. The Modi government has opened some sectors further to foreign investment, but the hoped-for rush of investors has so far failed to materialize. There are countless tax, labor and other regulatory obstacles the existence of which is fiercely defended by relevant stakeholders. Contrary to some perceptions, the BJP is by no means a party of unrestrained neoliberalism, but comprises diverse, nationalist and protectionist interest groups.

Disputes over land and compensation

The problems are perhaps most evident in the land question, where ecological, social and economic interests clash particularly sharply. The location is characterized by environmental degradation, overexploitation, scarcity of land and a wide distribution of small property. At the end of 2013, the then Congress-led government, with the support of the BJP, passed a law through parliament that reorganized land expropriation for industrial, infrastructure and urbanization projects of all kinds.

In the past, farmers were often evicted from their land without adequate compensation, the new law created procedures for building consensus among owners, prescribed environmental and social impact assessments and guaranteed comparatively substantial compensation payments for landowners, but also for landless people whose existence, for example, as day laborers would be called into question by an expropriation. The Modi government is now planning to soften these rules in order to - as it sees it - expedite land use change procedures. Process changes to soften environmental regulations are also being discussed.

The planned amendment to the Compensation Act has led to an unprecedented protest movement by farmers' organizations and civil society and almost all opposition parties in the past few months, which the BJP government is now making as "anti-farmers". The widespread opposition brings the BJP into serious problems in a country where 50 percent of the population is still employed in agriculture and threatens their chances in the upcoming elections at state level - through which they actually achieve a majority in the upper house want. In any case, the “Modi wave”, which was much touted in 2014 and appeared unstoppable at times, suffered a considerable damper when in February 2015 the well-positioned “Aam Aadmi Party” in Delhi under Arvind Kejrival won almost all of the seats in the capital's parliament.

Despite a good start - neighboring leaders including Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif attended Modi's inauguration - there is no improvement in relations with Pakistan in sight. But unlike his predecessor in office, the Prime Minister is on the road extensively abroad, especially in India's most important trading partner countries in Europe, Asia and America. While traveling to the USA and Australia, he addressed the Indian diaspora in spectacular large-scale events, within which he had a great deal of support - a form of "public diplomacy" that has never existed in India before.

Pressure on minorities and civil society

While much of Modi's personal leadership and communication style - for example the intensive use of social media - represent “modernity” and “openness”, since autumn 2014 aggressive variants of Hindu nationalism have been gaining increasing public recognition. This political spectrum is shaped by the "national volunteer association" Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other, sometimes downright fascist organizations. One of their subject areas is a language policy that aims to enforce Hindi as the official language of India nationwide - also against the resistance of the states in the south - and to strengthen the role of Sanskrit in education; The latter has led, among other things, to a conflict about the role of German teaching in the curriculum of state schools.

More dramatic are actions to “re-convert” poor Muslim and Christian population groups who are to be “returned” to Hinduism under the keyword ghar vapsi (“return home”). There are forces in the BJP who want to use this situation to enforce a law on a general ban on conversion in order to secure the dominance of Hinduism in India, which they perceive as threatened. In the winter there were multiple cases of vandalism in churches in Delhi. It took Prime Minister Modi, who had grown up politically in the world of RSS, several months before he publicly made it clear in a conversation with bishops that such activities were unacceptable for his and every Indian has the right to choose his or her religion freely.

While the activities of the right fringes of Indian politics are unsettling the religious minorities in India, the pressure of the Interior Ministry on civil society organizations, especially those that criticize the growth-oriented development strategy based on fossil energy or nuclear power plants, is increasing the land rights of farmers against expropriation Defend infrastructure or mining projects, etc.

The pressure is not really new: The congressional government already began a review of Indian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which have to register under the so-called Foreign Contributions Regulatory Act (FCRA) and are subject to supervision by the authorities in order to be allowed to receive funds from foreign donors . As early as 2011, the FCRA licenses of numerous organizations were suspended because of real or alleged violations of the registration conditions. Under Modi, however, the pressure has increased massively: Almost 9,000 organizations (i.e. over 20 percent of all FCRA-registered NGOs in India) have now lost their license, and not all of these cases were mere cardholders. The Intelligence Bureau has placed about a dozen international organizations, including the Ford Foundation, under special scrutiny, and only allows transfers with individual approval.

The Ministry of the Interior and Greenpeace are in a public war with each other. The pressure of the Modi government on Indian civil society organizations - at least those that not only provide social services but also act politically - has increased significantly in recent weeks.