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Modi Regime @9: A Throwback At Low Points

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes nine years in office, there are many things to write about. However, the last nine years also had a couple of hiccups along the way

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Farmers protests at Delhi borders

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes nine years in office, there are many things to write about. However, the last nine years also had a couple of hiccups along the way. As we celebrate nine years of Modi Government, let’s also take a look at some of the events that could have been executed better. 

Demonetisation - 2016 

The first major controversial event occurred in November of 2016, two years after PM Modi took oath for his first term. This, of course, is what we now remember as 'demonetisation'. The PM claimed that the action would help reduce black money, increase cashless transactions and decrease the amount of illegal and counterfeit money that was being used to fund illicit activities and terrorism.  

The execution fell short, as not only was the announcement made only four hours prior to the bank notes becoming invalid, a giant wave of cash shortages all over the country followed soon after. People who wanted to exchange their, now defunct cash, for new notes were forced to stand in lengthy queues and some died too. Ultimately, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) reported that 99.3 per cent of the demonetised notes were deposited in banks, meaning that the operation had effectively failed to serve its purpose of removing black money from the economy.  

While demonetisation was able to significantly increase the number of digital and cashless transactions in the country, it came at the expense of a reduced industrial production and GDP growth rate. It is also estimated that around 50 lakh people lost their jobs as a result of demonetisation. 

Implementation of CAA and NRC - 2019 

Soon after Modi came to power for his second term in 2019, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) were introduced. The CAA, enacted in December 2019, provides a pathway to Indian citizenship for specific religious minority groups, namely Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians, from neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The CAA was criticised for being discriminating in nature as it excluded Muslims from the provision, which raised questions about its compatibility with India’s secular principles.  

The National Register of Citizens (NRC), on the other hand, is a proposed nationwide register of all Indian citizens. The register requires individuals to produce documentation to prove their citizenship and those unable to do so could potentially be deemed as illegal immigrants. The NRC was initially implemented in the state of Assam, resulting in the exclusion of around 1.9 million people, mostly Muslims, from the list. The potential implementation of the NRC nationwide has raised concerns about the potential marginalisation and statelessness of vulnerable communities, particularly Muslims, who may struggle to produce the necessary documentation due to various socio-economic factors. There are arguments both for and against these policies. 

Farm Laws – 2020 – 2021 

The farm laws of 2020 are a set of three agricultural reforms which were passed by the government in September 2020. The first law, the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, allowed farmers to sell their produce outside of government-regulated wholesale markets, giving them more freedom to engage in direct sales with private buyers. The second law, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, enabled farmers to enter into contractual agreements with agribusiness firms for the sale of their produce. The third law, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, removed certain agricultural commodities from the list of essential commodities, thereby deregulating their production, storage, and distribution. 

The laws were met with massive criticism and protests from the farming community of the country, with widespread protests by farmers, primarily from the states of Punjab and Haryana. The protestors argued that the reforms favoured big corporations and undermined the protestor’s livelihoods. Farmers' concerns included the potential dismantling of the existing government-regulated wholesale markets, known as mandis, which ensure minimum support prices for their crops. They feared that the new laws could make them susceptible to exploitation by corporate buyers and weaken their bargaining power.  

Despite multiple rounds of conversation between the farmers and the government, neither party could come to unanimous agreement, ultimately forcing the government to repeal the reforms in November 2021. 

COVID-19 Lockdown – 2020 

On 24 March 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation and announced a 21-day lockdown in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. The unexpected announcement, while effective in its attempts to slow down the spread of the virus, caught many off-guard, with the hardest hit being migrant workers. As factories and workplaces had shut down, millions of migrant workers were left without an income, along with food shortages and uncertainty about their future. With no work and no end to the lockdowns in sight, many decided to begin walking and cycling hundreds of kilometres back to their native villages. While some were arrested due to violation of lockdown guidelines, others died due from exhaustion or road accidents.  

While many provisions were made to help migrant workers during this time, such as distributing rations and launching special trains to help migrant workers get back to their homes, the execution was subpar as distribution systems failed to deliver and the lack of coordination between the centre, states and the railways meant that migrant workers were being charged for their tickets when they were not supposed to be.  

Handling of 'Second Wave' – 2021 

As active Covid cases waned in the latter half of 2020 and everything gradually reopened, India started putting its guard down against the virus, however, this would soon come to backfire. The second wave of Covid that hit the country in the following year was the deadliest. Not only was the new variant Delta variant extremely dangerous compared to previous variants, but the Indian government also failed to properly handle the massive rise in cases.  

Thus, the government’s handling of the second wave of Covid-19 in 2021 has been widely criticised for several reasons. Not only were there concerns about the lack of preparedness and response in anticipating the surge in cases. The sudden spike in infections overwhelmed the healthcare infrastructure, leading to shortages of hospital beds, medical oxygen, and essential medicines. The inadequacy of healthcare resources resulted in tragic scenes of patients struggling to access critical care, and many lives were lost due to the inability to provide timely medical assistance. 

Secondly, the vaccination campaign faced challenges and criticism. The initial vaccine rollout was slow, with limited availability and distribution. There were concerns about vaccine shortages and difficulties in accessing vaccines for the general population. The vaccination strategy initially focused on specific age groups and categories, which left a large portion of the population vulnerable. The government faced calls for a more inclusive and efficient vaccination drive to ensure widespread coverage and control the spread of the virus. 

Overall, the government's handling of the second wave of Covid-19 faced significant criticism due to perceived shortcomings in preparedness, healthcare infrastructure and vaccine distribution, which contributed to the severity of the crisis. 

During the onset of the Covid pandemic, the government also launched the Prime Minister's Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund or, PMCARES Fund. However, the fund has been marred with controversy since its inception due to its lack of transparency, meaning that even though the fund received a massive amount of money in donations, there is no sure way of telling what, where, or how the money has been used or allocated.  

This flows into another point that became apparent during the pandemic, which was that despite the government’s shortcomings, it never provided information when asked to do so. Every time a question was raised such as the number of farmers who died during protests, the number of migrant workers who died while going back home, or the number of people who died due to lack of oxygen, the government always replied with “no data available.”  

There is no doubt that the Modi government has done some great work over the last nine years, however, there are also many things that the government could have done better. As we look forward to what comes next, it is also important to take a look back and ask questions about what could have been done better. 

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Modi Govt At 9 lockdown farmers protest Demonetisation