The Narendra Modi government “is popular despite the lived economic experience of people, not because of it,” writes Raghuram Rajan, the former governor of India’s central bank in the Financial Times.

The most critical element of Modi’s political success over the past decade, Rajan argues, has been his government’s “ability to influence perceptions by touting good economic news and suppressing criticism.”

Since 2014, supporters of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have proclaimed, “Modi hai to mumkin hai” — which one might loosely translate to: “If there’s a Modi, then there’s a way.” That theme of boundless optimism and renewal — much like Reagan’s “It’s morning again in America” — is a much harder sell in India today. And Rajan, who’s been a strident critic of the Indian prime minister since leaving his post in 2016, shows why.

Rajan points toward a set of indicators that show these are anxious economic times for many and desperate for more than just a few. These include high urban joblessness, the rise in agricultural employment, and the decline in India’s share of garments exports. Labor-intensive manufacturing like leather and textiles that powered the growth of China and the Asian Tigers have yet to recover from Modi’s demonetization and good and services tax plans. And India doesn’t quite yet have the human capital to power a deep domestic semiconductor industry.

Instead of building that human capital by improving the woeful quality of India’s schools, Modi is instead chasing after headlines and prestige, subsidizing chip manufacturing at home that will produce comparatively few new jobs.


The growing ranks of the unemployed and underemployed don’t bode well for India’s stability let alone its ability to compete with China. It should also trouble India’s well-wishers abroad.

In 2014, the Modi campaign didn’t abandon Hindu extremism. For example, it fomented anti-Muslim pogroms in the northern city of Muzaffarnagar ahead of the 2014 polls. But at a national level, it did try to appeal to a broader audience with an optimistic slogan, “Achhe Din Aane Waale Hai” — which I’ll loosely translate to “Good Times Are Coming.”

As Modi seeks a third term as prime minister, he’s not running on a decade of supposed economic achievements. Instead, he’s doubling down on anti-Muslim bigotry, telling Hindu voters that if the opposition wins, Muslims will steal what’s theirs.

Public opinion polls show most voters see big business as the biggest winners of the Modi era and fault the prime minister for failing to produce jobs. The Modi model isn’t working for many, if not most, Indians.

As Rajan notes, many of Modi’s supporters say he offers the kind of authoritarian bargain said to be made in China and elsewhere: reduced liberties in exchange for greater policy efficiency and superior outputs. In India’s case, such outputs have yet to really be seen.

Modi turns seventy-four later this year. Should he win a third term as prime minister, it could be his last. It’s time to start talking about the legacy he might leave. Once Modi’s charismatic, strongman appeal has fully withered, more Indians may see that far from an authoritarian bargain, the Modi era came with a great price. But, when that time comes, will they punish the BJP or the BJP’s scapegoats?

Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.

He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.


Comments are closed.

Exit mobile version