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Narendra Modi govt returned to power on delivery of social infra projects should focus on boosting employment, pvt investment in second term
Forbes India  |  May 28, 2019

S Murlidharan

People by and large are not taken in by grandiose promises smacking of impossibility of fulfillment. Small wonder then that the NYAY scheme promised by the Congress party in its 2019 manifesto failed to resonate with the masses. A promise of Rs 72,000 on a platter was too good to believe. So was Narendra Modi's supposed Rs 15 lakh per person promise from out of black money retrieved from abroad belonging to Indians. Neither did that apparently resonate with the masses in 2014 nor did the failure to live upto this promise anger them has been validated in retrospect by the overwhelming mandate in 2019.


What resonates with the masses is the delivery of doable promises. MNREGA, the brainchild of the Communists implemented by the Congress, ensured the UPA's return to power in 2009 after it was launched in 2005. It is another matter that it has been derided by its detractors as dole economics at its worst.


The delivery of 1.53 crore houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awaaz Yojana by the Modi government between 2014 and 2018 seems to have endeared it to the beneficiaries. A house is the most aspirational product/property. Walking the talk thus has paid very rich dividend to the Modi government. Remember a small house also comes with a toilet. Therefore, the housing-for-all scheme of the Modi government in a way also took forward the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan.


Physical infrastructure like expressway is a social good enuring for all. But Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) houses constitute social infrastructure and thus are targeted at the poor. Naturally, the beneficiaries have given their thumbs up despite the fact houses under the scheme are not given free but through an intelligently crafted interest subvention scheme.


Opening of about 33.5 crore bank accounts under the Jan Dhan Yojana was also a step in the direction of financial inclusion and empowerment of the masses resulting in Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) of subsidies without leakage or diversion. The bait of overdraft and free accident cover served to hook the poor into a banking habit they had remained untouched by for long years. This is more than a third of India.


Subsidised gas connection to as many as 5.86 crore households, both literally and figuratively, wiped the tears off the eyes of rural women. Simultaneously it also made the well-to-do urban folks socially conscious and give up their subsidies so the resultant savings to the government could be spent on the poor. It was a masterstroke. So was the steps taken on war footing to ensure electric connection to every household in the country.


The delivery of free health services under the Ayushman Yojana has been even more spectacular. Launched on 23 September 2018, it has already benefitted close to 9 lakh patients. In a country where the poor and middle class often had to dispose off their properties for providing prolonged and expensive medical treatment to their dear ones, this was the best initiative ever.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi was thus right in his assertion that the caste divide is artificial and the only real divide is rich-poor. He has done well to dismantle the caste barrier and bend all his energies towards making lives of the EWS segment easier. While doing so, caste and religion simply do not figure.


The catchphrase, 'it is economy, stupid', used by the former US President Bill Clinton has caught on in India, too, among the commentariat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have understood its import very well. In his first term he has focused on social infrastructure. In his second, hopefully, he would focus on the more broad-based physical infrastructure so that private investment shy for more than a decade now is galvanized into action and the festering problem of unemployment is solved.


(The author is a senior columnist and tweets @smurlidharan)