From Modi 3.0 to NDA 3.0: A New Era of Course Correction & Balancing Conflicts
It is too early to judge, but the salutary impact of the people’s election verdict is perhaps evident from the fact that we have moved from Modi Sarkar 3 or Modi 3.0 to NDA 3.0, despite a pliant media’s slow recognition of this change. 
 
Prime minister (PM) Narendra Modi, after being sworn-in for the third time, has retained his core team of ministers; but his first two decisions suggest a course-correction. The PM began his new innings by approving a plan to build 30mn (million) houses for the rural and urban poor and released a Rs20,000-crore instalment to benefit 93mn farmers and declared, “Ours is a government fully committed to kisan kalyan (farmers’ welfare). It is therefore fitting that the first file signed on taking charge is related to farmer welfare.”
 
This attitude is a stark contrast for a government that used barbed wire, concrete barriers and put spikes on roads to block the march of agitating farmers into Delhi.
 
 
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies bravely celebrate a  third term, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has punctured this narrative with his candid criticism. The RSS has been ideological mentor and is also a key grassroots mobiliser for the BJP during elections. However, this time, during the elections, BJP's former president JP Nadda claimed that the party no longer needed the RSS; it can manage its own affairs well. This statement had angered many RSS members and the election results seem to have proven him wrong. 
 
The episode lends added significance to the Mr Bhagwat’s criticism of the BJP’s arrogance (ahankar), falsehoods, lack of decorum and adversarial stance against Opposition parties.
 
 
 
The RSS chief went on to say that although a lot of positive things have happened in the past 10 years, the challenges facing the country have not ended. Indeed, Modi 2.0 may have failed to understand the biggest challenge of all, which is the need for ‘inclusive’ growth. Here are just a few issues and sectors where the party failed to connect, despite several new initiatives and doing significant work. 
 
Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan
The PM did not grasp the sentiment behind the slogan Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan and alienated both, farmers and soldiers. In December 2021, the PM repealed three controversial farm laws after prolonged protests but failed to build bridges with farmers or address their demand for a minimum support price (MSP). Two years later, as the farmers marched to Delhi again, the State went into a war-mode.  Streets were barricaded with barbed-wire, concrete blocks and spikes on the ground. The farmers were abused and called traitors in a vicious campaign unleashed through a pliant mainstream media and the Party’s digital media cell. 
 
Similarly, the Modi government introduced the controversial Agnipath scheme, under which Agniveers would be enrolled into the Indian armed forces for four years, after which they would retire. Those who raised legitimate concerns over deploying ill-trained Agniveers at sensitive border posts met with a similar treatment as the farmers. The Agniveer scheme caused enormous resentment among the youth at a time when unemployment is running high. The Congress Party tapped into this sentiment by promising to scrap it; but the BJP failed to read the extent of resentment. Will NDA 3.0 see a course-correction on this issue as well?  
 
Railway Modernisation
As part of the much-publicised railway modernisation, we have been inundated with images of spanking new, air-conditioned, luxury trains being flagged off and beautiful drone-captured videos of them snaking over scenic terrains. These were happily shared by India’s 80mn newly minted investors, who have been big beneficiaries of the massive Budget allocation for railway modernisation. 
 
Stocks of companies in railway-related businesses, such as signalling equipment, bogies, electronics, transformers and electrification, have seen their prices soar. These include: Bharat Earth Movers, Hitachi, ABB, Siemens, Titagarh Wagons Ltd and CG Power. Among the beneficiaries of railway modernisation is the controversial electoral bond buyer Megha Engineering and Infrastructure. 
 
A series of ghastly train accidents in 2023, including several train fires, multiple derailments, and the massive collision of two trains in Andhra Pradesh suddenly changed the picture. It soon became apparent that luxury trains were deployed at the cost of ordinary, unreserved coaches, sleeper coaches and passenger trains that catered to migrant workers and the economically disadvantaged. Something had to give and it did. People began to invade reserved first and second class coaches, crowding the passage ways and even blocking access to toilets. This caused a public outcry with dozens of videos being posted by angry travellers in the past few months. By election time, the picture of a modern railway system was shattered and the consequences were visible in the results.
 
 
 
NDA 3.0 needs to see renewed focus on mass transport which is a social obligation for any government. 
 
Tolls and Highways
The ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) is considered a top performer. A year-end review in 2023 says that the national highway network is up 60% to 146,145km since 2014 at a pace of 28.3km/day. But regular travellers, especially truckers, are frustrated at the relentless increase in toll, fuel prices and  taxes. The government has collected Rs48,028 crore in user fees in 2022-23 charged for with 45,428km of roads.
 
 
 
At the same time, road construction is patchy, and riddled with corruption. The best example is the Mumbai-Goa Highway NH-66 which has been under construction since 2011. Political leader Raj Thackarey, who used to be a huge critic, is quoted as saying that Rs15,566 crore were spent on that Highway, in just over a decade, while Chandrayan-3 mission cost Rs650 crore. It has also seen 2,500 fatalities and is unlikely to be completed next year. The upshot is that smart expressways and an expansion in highways has again helped only the higher income earners and did not translate to electoral gains for the government. 
 
Aviation Issues
Aviation ought to have been the centrepiece of visible economic transformation. Domestic and international travel has, indeed, boomed as the top 20% of Indians saw a massive jump in income. According to Destination India FY2024 would over 160mn domestic travellers and 72mn-75mn foreign travellers, representing a 20% jump year-on-year. 
 
Unfortunately, this sector, too, was riddled with issues of flight delays, disruption, poor customer service and grievance redress. A 34% jump in flight cancellations and delays affected over 950,000 passengers, says the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA). Almost every top airline has faced issues. Market leader InterGlobe Aviation Limited (IndiGo) had half its fleet grounded due to faulty engines at one time. SpiceJet and GoAir have faced financial issues and seem to follow the fate of Jet Airways, Kingfisher, Sahara Airlines and others. 
 
The Tata-owned carriers then went into a tailspin due to staff issues. The problem began at Vistara and then extended to Air India when pilots went on mass leave protesting the terms of their employment. The newer airlines connecting smaller cities have not been able to ramp up operations to fill the vacuum caused by problems with the big carriers. A fast-growing economy aspiring to hit the US$5trn (trillion) mark faces the ignominy of fewer aircraft and airport infrastructure that is struggling to cope with growing demand. A big part of the problem is very high fuel and infrastructure costs including landing rights and taxes. Government hand-holding is required for passengers as well as airlines. 
 
NDA 3.0  a coalition that is heavily dependent on two outside parties, has crossed the first hurdle by setting up a large Cabinet. It must now find a way to balance the interest of all sections of society, including a middle class that is burdened to breaking point by rising costs and high direct and indirect taxes. At the same time, it faces the trickier task of juggling the demands of coalition partners whose priority will be their own states, rather than equitable national development. Can PM Modi pull off in a coalition, what he failed to do for a decade when BJP had an absolute majority? 
 
 
Comments
S.SuchindranathAiyer
1 month ago
Nothing will change. "Continuity" will ensure that this is the last Modi regime. But the after shocks of high taxes, high inflation, high Government self indulgent profligacy, unemployment, will continue for ever more. Nothing dies in India. Particularly fundamentally anti national policies such as reservations, corruption Government self indulgence and inequality under law.
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