Year of the Lotus

  • Narendra Modi | AFP
  • Close on the PM's heels: (From left) Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu
  • Show-stopper: President Pranab Mukherjee administers oath to Narendra Modi at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan | PTI

Taking stock of the Narendra Modi's first year in office: Has India's most visible prime minister become a victim of his own propaganda machine?

Since June 2013―when it became clear that Narendra Modi was the BJP's prime minister candidate―he has been sharing his dream for India on all platforms. While campaigning in Maharashtra for the assembly polls in 2014, Modi, by then prime minister, told the crowd: “I will present a report card to the people of India at the end of five years.” The tone was assertive and the promise was daring.

A BJP leader present at that meeting said Modi made the promise because he knew that the mandate in the Lok Sabha polls was “clearly and unambiguously for him”. “Every vote the National Democratic Alliance won was for Modi as prime minister,” the leader said. “The BJP was just an institutional setup to help him. He knows that the responsibility for the delivery of promises he made and continues to make is his alone.”

One year into office, Modi has been described variously: control freak, selfie-obsessed (the one with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang got 31.85 million hits on Weibo), self-promoting, touring premier, prime Twitter minister, micro-manager, dictator and clothes horse (remember the monogrammed suit?) being some of them.

Overall performance

Most tags have had good and bad connotations. Eg. the micro-manager tag highlighted the hands-on quality of Modi, as well as the complete grip that the prime minister's office has over every ministry. Addressing US President Barack Obama as “my friend Barack” in an official address was interpreted as confidence by some and as a lack of etiquette by others.

Modi's constant tweeting ensured a connect with the people that his predecessor did not have. But did Modi go overboard by saying that the Nepal premier came to know about the disastrous quake through his tweet? And, let's face it, despite the auction, the monogrammed suit was a PR disaster.

The Modi jokes, too, have been many. Sample this: Modi can find a hidden camera, just like HRD minister Smriti Irani did. Just that he turns to the camera, clears his throat and begins, “Mitron...”. Or this: “Modi has confirmed he will be in India to celebrate his government's first anniversary”. Some say that the statesman prime minister was succeeded by a rockstar prime minister.

But, perhaps it takes a rockstar to grab eyeballs and cultivate a fan following that will shell out money and buy tickets to the great Indian show, like the one Modi has promised―achche din. Good days and a “Congress-mukt Bharat.”

Modi's swearing-in ceremony in the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, too, befitted a rockstar. Heads of neighbouring countries rubbed shoulders with tycoons, film stars, socialites and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharaks. “It felt great. Why should this change of guard at the Centre not be turned into a celebration of democracy?” said a Congress leader, who wondered why his party had never thought of this!


To add substance to the showmanship, Modi hit the ground running. He was not leader No 1, he said. He would be “mazdoor No 1”. Critics and detractors alike grant that he led by example in the push for punctuality. He showed up before most of the staff in North and South Blocks. Most people fell in line and followed suit; things got a bit tough for those who did not. A cabinet minister who was not in office on time received a call on his home landline number. Modi suggested that he head to office, if through with breakfast. Old files were thrown out of offices and no one was allowed to walk into a ministry office without an appointment.

All these steps gave the impression that the Modi government intended to replace dither with decision-making, and confusion with systems that would be binding on all. Ministers received clear instructions, even on personal matters. One cabinet minister was asked not to go to his alma mater's alumni party because corporate honchos and journalists would be present. Hobnobbing with corporate types could give rise to allegations about corruption and the presence of the media would result in unsavoury stories. And, famously, another minister received a dressing down about his dress code, as he was heading to the airport. “You are part of the government now,” he was reminded.

Prime Minister Modi is as image conscious as chief minister Modi. Said a minister: “It is that image, the infrastructure laid out for them and the ease of doing business that had investors eating out of his hand [in Gujrat].” The minister said working with Modi was “a totally new experience”, which made him “realise that this is the only way to do things, work for the country”.

Modi's image-building exercise was able to generate three major impressions: that indecision and policy paralysis had ended, the prime minister is in total control and corruption at the highest level has ended. The coal and spectrum auctions added to this exercise, though critics say that the auctions were the Supreme Court's doing and not the prime minister's.


Modi's total hold over the PMO, and the total hold of the PMO over all ministries have been a hallmark of NDA 2. Many think that corruption allegations are nil because of this. “He is not allowing [corruption] to happen by this control,” said a CEO. Incidentally, the PMO has also asked the corporate world not to air views, good or bad, on governance!

While asking ministers to “perform or perish”, Modi has “empowered” bureaucrats “be bold and be correct”. In fact, he is said to have shared his personal cellphone number with a few secretaries: “Call me if there is any problem!”

As part of retaining control, Modi has asked ministers not to take inter-ministry issues to court. He wants them to resolve the issues among themselves. Among some changes he made soon after taking charge, was to re-bunch departments in the ministries and then to staff some important posts with handpicked men.

Modi was not going to squander the clearest mandate given to any political party in 30 years. Riding on that confidence wave, he brought in Nripendra Misra as principal secretary and steamrolled all opposition. He trashed legal obstacles to Misra's appointment with an ordinance, the first of eight in the first six months. It was clear that he would kowtow to no one―even to those in the party―when he decided against appointing those over 75 years as ministers.


A senior minister confessed to THE WEEK that he was surprised when Modi launched the Jan Dhan Yojana for financial inclusion on last August 15. Many bureaucrats, too, were surprised and sceptical. The minister said, “He said, 'You start, it will happen'.”

Modi has a dedicated group of people with whom he ideates on pet projects, but these people told sources that the ideas are the prime minister's own. How and when to unveil them are also his own decision. The group merely provides the statistics and facts he needs to sell the idea to the people. “He does not take no for an answer,” an exasperated officer told a former colleague.

Few expected the prime minister to talk about toilets and cleanliness. The Swatchh Bharat Abhiyan did not get villages and urban ghettoes cleaned overnight. In fact, banners and posters of the scheme were littered outside the Reserve Bank of India building on the prestigious Sansad Marg in Delhi. But, Modi got the corporates interested and invested.

In the run up to the one year bash, Modi announced the universal social security net of insurance, accident insurance and pension under the Jan Suraksha programme. BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli told THE WEEK that the NDA 2 government was “clearly a pro-people, pro-poor, pro-farmers government” which wanted “poverty elimination and not poverty alleviation”.

Some of the reforms Modi promised sailed smooth, like raising the FDI cap in insurance and defence. But, key reforms like the goods and services tax and the land bill have run into a wall in the Rajya Sabha. While the BJP is crying from every available roof-top that the land bill is pro-farmer and pro-poor, opposition parties are united against it. And, stuck with the land bill is the hope of laying an early foundation of the smart cities or the bullet train tracks.


The first jolt for Modi came nine months into office, when the BJP got an electoral drubbing in Delhi. Despite Modi and almost all other Union ministers campaigning, the BJP got only three seats against the Aam Aadmi Party's gargantuan tally of 67 seats.

Sources say that even as Modi invited Arvind Kejriwal over for tea, he told his party leaders that “something is amiss”. A source said that during the 100-day audit, Modi made it amply clear that they have to deliver on every promise made. Modi said that that by the 365-day mark, things should be visible on the ground. The BJP team then threw itself into achieving targets with renewed vigour.


Modi got the pravasi prime minister tag for two reasons: for his many travels abroad and for his wooing Indian expatriates in cities he visited. Modi's visit to the US was a personal conquest for him. The Madison Square Garden show was the icing on the cake. But, subsequent tours, complete with extravagant events involving the Indian diaspora, resulted in raised eyebrows at home.

RSS-spokesperson-turned-BJP-secretary Ram Madhav hit back at the opposition by comparing foreign tours by Modi and Manmohan in their first year in office―Modi covered 17 countries in 51 days; Manmohan had covered 12 countries in 47 days.

What came in for criticism was that strategic achievements were overshadowed by the extravaganzas involving the diaspora. The BJP said that courting the diaspora was a strategic move: “Who else came to invest in the India Bonds when sanctions were imposed after Pokhran 2?”

But what irks many is a certain disregard for conventions and established courtesies. Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has hardly been on board the prime minister's aircraft. Even at home in India, when Modi went to Maoist-affected Dantewada, Home Minister Rajnath Singh was left out. The face-saver from the home ministry was that Singh's calender was full that day!


Next to the “achche din aayenge” slogan was Modi's campaign slogan, “sabka saath, sabka vikas”, meaning together with everyone, development for everyone. The “everyone” was supposed to include all communities and all political parties.

Top Performers

The 14th Finance Commission pushed for the enhanced devolution of funds to states. Modi implemented it as it fits perfectly with his “PM+ CMs = Team India” slogan. But, other state governments do feel that BJP-ruled states have an advantage in getting things done. “The days of states exerting undue pressure on the Centre are over. Federalism is no longer seen as a pressure tactic, but a constructive process,” said a BJP leader.

The minorities remain unhappily silent, only to raise their voices when people like BJP MPs Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti and Sakshi Maharaj issue provocative statements. Another low point was when the Modi government designated Christmas Day as Good Governance Day to honour A.B. Vajpayee, whose birthday falls on December 25.

Ministers in NDA 2 are not ashamed to admit their meeting with the RSS at Nagpur or in Jhandewala, Delhi. One minister told THE WEEK that “the RSS wants good governance, and the Modi government is doing just that. Their interests are same, discussions are routine.”


BJP president Amit Shah has total access to Modi. “It is Modiji who calls Amit Bhai,” said a source. A minister told THE WEEK, “Amit Shah does not interfere in government affairs in any way. His role is to ensure the BJP victory in all assembly elections, that is clear.”

Shah had a crucial role to play in forming the PDP-BJP post-poll alliance in Jammu and Kashmir. “When the PDP-BJP government was formed, Modi and Shah were the happiest. The PM felt even the troubled state had become “Congress-mukt”. Shah was celebrating the fact that the BJP became part of the government there for the first time ever,” said a party source.

At party meetings, there are generally only three people who speak: Modi, Shah and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who has long overtaken Rajnath in Modi's heart. In fact, while Modi prefers to communicate directly with the masses, Jaitely has been charged with communicating with the corporates and the intelligentsia.


Modi's slogan for the first anniversary is “saal ek, kaam anek”. Many people will agree with the “kaam anek” part. While schemes like the Jan Dhan Yojana, the FDI investments and the auctions have gone well, the kitchen budget is still in the red and fuel costs continue to be high.

A senior officer who was part of the NDA 1 government said that there was very little expectation from the Vajpayee government, so there was little or no disenchantment. “We did not try to pole-vault; we did a high jump,” he said.

About NDA 2, he said: “Are the cities cleaner? Are the offices cleaner? There were inaugurations and photo ops, and lots of money was pumped into these. When heavy allocation of funds from government go into schemes, the results have to be experienced and felt by the people on the ground. That is not visible.”

Dr Anil Joshi, “the mountain man” of Uttarakhand, was among the first to cast his vote in the last Lok Sabha elections. He voted for the BJP. “It was not because I wanted the scam-ridden Congress out,” he said. “It was because of the hope, the promise that Modi held. He came from a humble background and worked his way up, so I thought he would understand the plight of the common man, and will deliver.” Today, Joshi is not sure he did the right thing.

Agriculture policy analyst Devinder Sharma is “totally disappointed” with the Modi government's performance. Sharma said: “During the campaign, he said he was aware of the agrarian crisis in the country, and went around promising a 50 per cent hike in minimum support price. In 2014, there was a monsoon deficit. They increased the MSP by Rs50 in 2014-15, which comes to 3.2 per cent! But, government employees got a total dearness allowance hike of 14 per cent!”

Narendra Modi Big Apple grandstand: Modi in full flow at the reception accorded to him by the Indian American Community Foundation at Madison Square Garden, New York | PTI

Sharma said that, in response to a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court, the government said it cannot increase the MSP by 50 per cent. “In the 2015 budget, Jaitley had listed increasing farmers' income as one of the top four priorities of the government,” said Sharma. Was he talking of income by way of compensation for land acquired? So, that is disappointing.”


Modi took over in the year that was to mark the 125th anniversary of Nehru's death. The Congress had huge plans, but the election debacle took the shine off the events. And, the BJP is on a drive to dilute or rewrite the legacy of the Nehru-Gandhis.

The controversy about the Subhas Chandra Bose papers (to declassify or not) is the other instance of this deliberate policy against Nehru. The controversy over the Nehru government snooping on Bose's relatives did Modi a lot of good. It also ensured that Modi made a promise to actually let out the secrets. A committee was formed to declassify documents, but so far there is no clarity on who will head it or what the mandate is.

The emphasis in the next year will be to continue the appropriation of icons. There will be Bhagat Singh, B.R. Ambedkar with his vast following of dalits, and even Lala Lajpath Rai.


Modi apparently has become a victim of his own propaganda machine. He made his audience think that effecting a change was simple. He stopped short of saying that he was a superman. People believed him. “Where is the Rs15 lakh [of black money refund] in each account?” asked a manager of a firm. There has not been much difference between Jaitley and former finance minister P. Chidambaram when it comes to bringing back black money. Yes, the black money bill was passed. So?

“Jaitley is Chidu in pyjamas,” said a chartered accountant, who was frustrated by the “slow speed of reforms and the mess with the taxation”.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the year has been “a disaster” for Modi because “inflation has not been contained as promised, parliamentary procedures have been bypassed and the farmers' issues not addressed”.

Another BJP supporter said he was exasperated that NDA 2 has not taken legal action against UPA 2. “There have been two budgets,” he said. “Both have exonerated the past. They should either admit they were wrong in making those allegations against the Congress and apologise. Or, they should start proceedings.”

Another person who took a sabbatical to contribute to the elections said, “We are ranked 142 in the ease of doing business index. But, can't the government say that by 2017 we will be in the top 40?” He also said that income tax reforms were put on hold because “it was hurting the government's core constituency”.

The dejected BJP voters say that “for the first time a genuine right wing liberal government is in office. If it fails, there won't be another one for at least 30 years”. The Modi government sees “achche din” as a journey, a process. But, will the voters be as patient?

Interview/ M. Venkaiah Naidu, Union minister for parliamentary affairs and urban development
Bureaucracy has been energised
By Soni Mishra

M. Venkaiah Naidu M. Venkaiah Naidu | Sanjay Ahlawat

How has Prime Minister Narendra Modi changed the way the government functions?

The PM has changed the functioning of the government by underlining the need for speed, skill and scale. He has enhanced the self-worth and importance of the bureaucracy and made it a partner in policy initiatives through regular interactions with secretaries. He has assured the bureaucrats that they will be protected if they have taken well-meaning decisions. He has stressed on discipline, punctuality and cleanliness in offices.

He has insisted that thorny issues should be resolved through discussions amongst all concerned, instead of pushing files and not arriving at solutions. For example, I have held six to seven meetings with other ministries to find solutions to problems.

The PM has cut down on multi-layered processing by the bureaucracy. Now, no files can be kept pending for a long time. All files have to be dealt with within seven days.

How has Modi’s mantra of 'minimum government and maximum governance’ translated into action?

The broad philosophy suggested by the Prime Minister is to enable quick decision making and timely delivery of services to the citizens. It has already begun to make an impact. Our bureaucracy is accustomed to a 'laid back’ style of functioning over the decades. It may take some more time for the principle of 'minimum government, maximum governance’ to manifest fully. Restructuring of existing decision-making systems and processes is a work in progress and it will be taken to its logical conclusion.

Modi has been criticised for relying heavily on the bureaucracy and often bypassing his ministers.

This is totally false and is a part of disinformation campaign. The PMO has certain responsibilities in ensuring that things get moving through effective coordination amongst all the concerned ministries, and regular review of progress is made on prioritised issues.

He seeks feedback from the bureaucrats, but he gives maximum importance to the views of ministers. At every cabinet meeting, he seeks the views of each and every minister on any issue before coming to a conclusion. As many as 47 bills were passed by the government in the last one year. All this was not done by the PMO alone. This was the work done by the various ministries.

The Prime Minister is the head of the cabinet and has the mandate of ensuring swift actions and decisions, particularly, to revive the economy and put it on a high growth trajectory. How can any sane person question the PM doing his job?

The Opposition Congress has charged the government with fooling the people on the issue of bringing back black money.

The Congress has taken the people for a ride all these years by allowing a steady stream of incomes to flow out of the country, resulting in generation of substantial amounts of black money. Now, when sincere efforts are being made to unearth black money, the Congress is getting jittery for obvious reasons. Where, when and how did we mislead the people on this count? We have stated that it will be brought back, come what may. And we are at it.

During the just-concluded budget session, we passed the black money bill. The Congress meekly tried to delay it but had to fall in line out of fear of public outcry. Why did they not insist on the Bill to be referred to a standing committee, which has come to be their mantra for all other important legislations?

Getting such a Bill passed within the very first year of being in office goes to prove our commitment to keep our promise. There are certain issues to be overcome, like international tax treaties, confidentiality agreements, etc. But we are committed to resolve all such hurdles.

About the quantum of black money, there are different estimates. Whatever was referred to by us was an illustrative account. What Modiji meant to say was that a substantial amount of incomes were siphoned off without paying taxes and it will be brought back to be utilised for the good of the countrymen.

Sonia Gandhi attacked the government on compromising with transparency and RTI by not filling up the vacant posts of CVC and CIC.

When this issue was raised in the Lok Sabha during the budget session, the government responded in great detail explaining the situation. As for the appointment of Chief Vigilance Commissioner, there were some orders of the Supreme Court in the matter of appointment and the apex court has given the go-ahead to the government only recently. Regarding appointment of Chief Information Commissioner, the process is on.

The government has been accused of pushing bills without referring them to standing committees and issuing ordinances, thus bypassing Parliament.

Such criticism is like the kettle calling the pot black. During its 55 years of rule at the Centre, Congress governments issued 467 ordinances, which comes to about nine ordinances per year. We have issued nine ordinances in our first year in office. How can they have one rule for themselves and another for others? Same is the case with the Leftists. The United Front government, of which they were a part, issued 77 ordinances, which comes to three per month. On pushing of legislations, yes, our government is working against time to remove the hurdles coming in the way of economic recovery and rapid economic development. After ten years of drift and policy paralysis of the UPA government, people want quick action.

While we are working for the cause of development, the Congress is hell bent upon delaying economic recovery for their own political considerations. The debate is now between politics of development and politics of poverty. Standing committees are primarily meant for detailed scrutiny of demands for grants of various ministries which may not be feasible on the floor of both the Houses of Parliament. Where is the rule that every legislative proposal should be referred to a standing committee?

Land Bill, GST Bill, Insurance Bill, Real Estate Bill, etc have all been formulated after extensive scrutiny by such committees, still the Congress wanted them to be sent to some committee or the other. Is this fair? Is this not a delaying tactic?

I can say with responsibility that we are reaching out to the Opposition unlike any government before. That is the prime reason why the productivity of Parliament has clocked record levels. We firmly believe in the democratic traditions of consulting the opposition, addressing their concerns and taking them on board in the larger national interest.

The government is on the backfoot on the Land Bill.

Land is a vital instrument in growth and development of the country. The Congress cannot raise questions about our intent on land acquisition. Congress governments acquired over two lakh acres of land in Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra over the last ten years to set up SEZs. We will acquire land only for public purposes such as building roads or setting up power lines. The UPA brought the Land Acquisition Bill on the eve of elections in 2013 only in the hope of getting some electoral benefit.

Paucity of numbers in the Rajya Sabha is not allowing you to get legislations through.

It is a fact that we do not have majority in the Rajya Sabha. I am not saying that the Rajya Sabha is a showpiece. But it should not become a stumbling block for development. It is mainly the Congress which is using obstructionist tactics in the Rajya Sabha to thwart the government’s initiatives. It is not frustrating for us, but it is frustrating for the people.

What are the takeaways from Modi’s emphasis on cooperative federalism?

The states have become partners in the initiatives being planned and launched through various schemes. States are owning up such initiatives and feeling involved. Our approach of true cooperative federalism also gives the states a high degree of flexibility in design and implementation of programmes and schemes. States are very happy with the devolution of 42 per cent of net tax revenues to them like never before.

In my own ministries of Urban Development and Housing and Poverty Alleviation, JNNURM launched by the UPA did not give the desired results because it was based on a Delhi-driven project mode. The Central government functioned like a benefactor giving funds to the states. In contrast to this, we were keen to involve the states in the formulation of our new initiatives, such as smart cities, housing for all and Swach Bharat Mission.

All the chief ministers are members of NITI Aayog. Some of the chief ministers are heading sub committees. Chief ministers are being taken by the Prime Minister to various countries for his foreign tours.

Modi has been termed as 'anti-poor’ and 'anti-farmer’ by the Opposition.

Modiji’s thrust has been on farmers, poor, women and youth. In the last one year, natural calamities hit several states. What did the Prime Minister do? He sent senior ministers to the field to assess the situation. When farmers were hit by untimely rain, he promptly revised the eligibility criterion for compensation, from 50 per cent damage to 30 per cent damage.

While we have always had the concept of social welfare for the poor, the PM has introduced the concept of social security for them through various schemes, which give them financial inclusion, pension as well as insurance. Within 12 days of the launch of the Atal Pension Yojana, six crore people have enrolled in it. Nobody can question Modiji’s commitment to working for the poor and the downtrodden.

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