News Wrap: Reflections on Prime Minister Modi’s First Year

On May 25, Prime Minister Modi celebrated the first anniversary of his government. Though his administration has received considerable praise during the first year for focusing on improving the business environment and bolstering the economy, the government has also been criticized for failing to take advantage of its rare majority in the lower house to move forward major legislative reforms. The Indian media took a more balanced approach in reviewing the government’s first year, while the international media appeared to be more critical, advocating for more swift reform action.

Writing in the Indian Express, Kiran Maumdar Shaw calls on the Indian business community to be patient with the slow pace of reform.

 “Overall, the Modi government has covered a fair deal of ground in a year’s time. The pace and intensity of reforms may have disappointed sections of India Inc, but one must factor structural bureaucratic challenges and fierce political opposition. One must also keep in mind that a lot of unrealistic expectations were built around Modi’s ability to fix the Indian economy overnight. That is why the NDA’s achievements in the first year are being measured against the same yardstick typically reserved for governments that have served a full term. This is unfair. It also means that the government needs to do a better job of managing expectations.”

Kishore Mahbubani, also writing in the Indian Express, lauds Modi’s bold foreign policy in his first year.

“With Xi Jinping in charge, we now know what the new strong China looks like. With Narendra Modi in charge, we are finally getting glimpses of what the new strong India will look like. It will be a radically different India from the one that the world has got used to.”

“In the past, India was perceived as a regional bully by its smaller neighbors. Now Modi is taking a leaf from China’s book and trying to share India’s prosperity with its neighbors.”

A report in the Business Line was less positive on the government’s achievement, noting that a gap remains between ideas and implementation.

“During its first year in office, the Modi government seems to settle for big ideas, hoping that good execution will follow. But that is subject to change in the way we think and do, and status-quoists are big resistance to change. This phenomenon cuts across all good initiatives and that’s the reason many find the reforms as a half full glass.”

“The government must undertake an in-depth evaluation of its policy proposals, estimate technical and financial resources required, and people, structures and processes that need to be put in place to put its ideas into practice. It must develop a comprehensive transition path in this regard. Simultaneously, benefits of proposed policy changes must be estimated and communicated properly to the stakeholders to manage reluctance to change. The stakeholders must be consulted at each step of estimating costs and benefits, and before finalizing the policy.”

In CNN, Ravi Agrawal argues that Modi has made significant progress but has failed to achieve certain ambitious goals. Agrawal also notes that Modi’s frequent efforts to market his administration can backfire by setting overly high expectations that are difficult to meet.

“The aura of invincibility that Modi carried a year ago has been punctured. In February, despite hitting the campaign trail himself, Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party suffered an embarrassing defeat in Delhi state elections, picking up just 3 out of 70 seats available…In the end, Modi will be judged by India's people on whether they feel their lives are improving, and here the Prime Minister has some breathing room. India is going to keep growing for many years, in part because it is starting from a low base and is blessed with hundreds of millions of young people hungry for jobs and opportunities.”

“But those very same job-seekers could turn out to be Modi's undoing. Unlike previous generations of Indians, they expect more. And for that, Modi can probably blame his own PR campaign. The reality is that delivery takes time, especially in India.”

A report in the Wall Street Journal takes a similar tone, noting that one year in, the “messy realities” have started to sink in for the Modi government.

“The Indian prime minister has swaggered across stages from New York to Paris to Sydney since taking office, helping put the country back on investors’ maps. And as he marks the anniversary of his swearing-in on Tuesday, he can point to some accomplishments.”

“But on other key fronts, Mr. Modi has moved less decisively, frustrating investors who hoped for bolder change after last year’s election.”

The New York Times’ analysis of the first year noted that the limitations on Modi’s ability to deliver reforms are increasingly clear.

“From abroad, India is now seen as a bright spot, expected to pass China this year to become the world’s fastest-growing large economy. But at home, job growth remains sluggish. Businesses are in wait-and-see mode. And Mr. Modi has political vulnerabilities, as parliamentary opposition leaders block two of his central reform initiatives and brand him “anti-poor” and “anti-farmer.”

The Financial Times took a similar tone, arguing that reform undertaken by the government was at least in part superficial.

“There is lots of sizzle, but where is the steak? Narendra Modi’s first year as prime minister of India has produced lots of ideas and reforms, yet actual economic outcomes have disappointed.”