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Opinion

Opinion: The changing face of India

Narendra Modi's first year in office seems to have produced more losers than winners. While the Indian PM has chalked up some success, creating a modern India seems more difficult than he imagined, says DW's Mahesh Jha.

The way the public views a national leader is a vital part of his public persona and plays a key role in his ability to shape the political agenda. Narendra Modi is no exception. During the elections last year he used his political, intellectual and marketing skills to create an image on which he is being judged after one year in power.

A key part of this was his undoubted success in modernizing his home state of Gujarat through cutting red tape and attracting foreign investment. Moreover, after a decade of Congress rule that ended in allegations of large-scale corruption in the highest circles in the land, people had huge expectations of Modi.

The younger generation in particular expected him to create new, better paid jobs and improve the standard of living across the board. Trade and industry expected the new government to push to improve output and efficiency, and women expected a safer place to live in. All this was supposed to amount to "achhe din" i.e. good times for the country. And that, after all, was the basis of Narendra Modi's election campaign.

Jha Mahesh Kommentarbild App

DW's Mahesh Jha

Decades of coalition government and an endless stream of poor compromises fueled public desire for strong government and a quicker decision-making process in the corridors of power.

And Modi's personal performance has not disappointed, even if his first year in Delhi has been a celebration of his own successes rather than clearly documented success with regard to his election campaign promises.

Failing to follow through

His performance as a new leader of India has become an event in itself and attracts not only the attention of world leaders but also of many young Indians both at home and abroad. All this has kept India in the news but has not yet led to the kind of results India or even Modi himself were hoping for.

The first year of a new government must be judged by its performance in fulfilling the commitments given during the election campaign, policy decisions taken to put the economy back on track and discussions started on structural reforms which will not only improve the lives of people but also ensure that economic development is sustainable.

Modi has shown himself to be a master when it comes to starting new initiatives, be it with the "Clean India" campaign, the "clean Ganges" campaign or the "Save and Educate Daughters" scheme. But his government has not yet succeeded in taking the steps required to ensure the success of these plans. There is a marked lack of follow-through.

Modi's new, very personal style of governing has made him more enemies than friends. To break the logjam in decision-making the new Prime Minister made his office the very hub of decision-making on important environmental and infrastructural projects.

This coordinating role has resulted in ministers of departments like environment, agriculture or labor losing power and influence and becoming ineffective in their ministries. Petty jealousies abound. Unlike China or East Asian countries, India has failed to make headway in reducing unemployment and poverty, and despite attracting interest abroad, Modi's "Make in India" campaign has not made much headway and is also facing serious difficulties.

No doubt, the public perception that Modi is a one-man show is dominating his government's image. Almost all of his cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats have vanished behind the larger-than-life figure of the Prime Minister, who hogs the limelight at every opportunity.

Though the Modi government has made a serious effort to stimulate the economy, his attempts to change the land acquisition law have run into opposition by farmers. Many of them are in serious financial difficulties because of a poor harvest, and considerable numbers have committed suicide. Many are blaming Modi as the only public face of the government.

Disenchantment

Thus, Modi, who won the election not least because of his skills in using social media, now appears to be losing the sympathy of some of the voters who put him in office in the first place. Disenchantment is beginning to set in. The opposition Congress party has managed to regain some traction.

To regain the support he has already lost, Modi will not only have to soothe the feelings of the farmers but also win back the support of the religious minorities like Muslims and Christians, who have been haunted by extremist Hindu fanatics ever since Modi came to power.

To create new jobs, India must create an atmosphere conducive to foreign investment. Foreign business is lining up to invest, but before investors spend a penny, they want to see a stable and sustainable structure being put in place.

So far not much has happened. Modi is a fighter with a cause. But he will have noticed in the last few months that this will take longer and will not be as easy as he probably thought a year ago. India is not Gujarat.

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