Narendra Modi’s Governance: Assessing the Rhetoric and Reality

A comprehensive analysis of India’s Prime Minister and his party’s performance in key areas

Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, has often portrayed his tenure as a golden age for the country. As he seeks a third term in the upcoming general election, it is essential to evaluate whether his governance matches his rhetoric. The Economist has created ten charts to provide an in-depth assessment of Modi’s performance and compare it to the previous decade under the Congress party’s leadership.

Economy: Promising Growth, but Unequal Job Creation
Modi frequently links India’s global standing to its economic performance, and the country has indeed witnessed rapid growth. However, GDP per person, adjusted for purchasing power, has grown at a slower pace under Modi compared to his predecessor, Manmohan Singh. The unemployment rate has remained stagnant, with youth unemployment particularly concerning.

Rural Economy: Stagnant Wages and Weak Growth
The rural economy, employing over 40% of Indian workers, plays a crucial role in India’s overall development. However, adjusted for inflation, rural wages have barely risen over the past decade. This stagnation is likely due to weak economic growth in rural areas, exacerbating income inequality.

Poverty Reduction: Progress, but Measurement Challenges
Measuring poverty reduction is complex, but India has made significant strides in improving the lives of its poor. The UN’s Multidimensional Poverty Index indicates that the share of poor Indians has halved over the past decade. This progress can be attributed to GDP growth and increased welfare spending.

Welfare Spending: Subsidies and Digital Delivery
Welfare spending, including subsidies, has increased substantially under Modi’s government. The pandemic further accelerated this trend, with the government implementing food programs to support citizens during lockdowns. Modi has embraced welfare spending, and some schemes have been rebranded to include his name.

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Infrastructure: Physical and Digital Upgrades
Modi’s government has prioritized infrastructure development, with significant investments in transport and digital infrastructure. Spending on transport has more than tripled as a share of GDP, leading to improvements in India’s roads and railways. Digital infrastructure has enhanced financial inclusion and improved the efficiency of welfare programs.

Renewable Energy: A Push for Clean Power
India has increased its reliance on renewable energy sources, with the share of electricity generated from renewables rising from 13% to 23% since 2014. Modi aims to attract manufacturing supply chains by investing in clean energy and cheap power. However, coal remains a significant part of India’s energy mix.

Pollution: A Lingering Challenge
India’s cities continue to face severe pollution, with high levels of toxic air. Efforts to tackle this issue have been hindered by poor government policies and disputes between state and central authorities. India’s pollution problem remains a persistent challenge, impacting public health and quality of life.

Education: Enrollment vs. Learning Outcomes
While almost all Indian children now attend school, learning outcomes remain a significant concern. Data from Pratham, an NGO, reveals that a declining percentage of students can read at their grade level. Pedagogical issues, poor governance, and the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns contribute to this problem.

Democracy: Erosion of Trust and Shrinking Space for Dissent
Modi’s government has faced criticism for its Hindu-nationalist project and strongman style of governance, which has led to the erosion of trust in democracy. Minorities, activists, the press, and opposition politicians have faced harassment and attacks. Global measures of democracy indicate a decline in India’s democratic health during Modi’s tenure.

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An analysis of Narendra Modi’s governance reveals a mixed picture. While India has made progress in areas such as economic growth, poverty reduction, and infrastructure development, challenges persist in job creation, education, pollution, and democratic values. As Modi seeks a third term, it is crucial to critically assess his record and consider the implications for India’s future. The amrit kaal, or golden age, remains an aspiration rather than a reality.