100 Days of Narendra Modi

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It was US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt who borrowed the term ‘100 Days’ from Napoleonic history to describe the feverish working of the 73rd US Congress which had sat for a 100 days from March 09 to June 17, 1933. The term was first used in a radio address on July 24 of the same year and contrary to popular belief, it does not refer to FDR’s first 100 days in office – he was sworn in five days earlier – but that session of Congress.

Since then, 100 Days has gone on to become a barometer of performance of all US presidents, much to their chagrin, and now an Indian prime minister. Few leaders have enjoyed the sort of control FDR and the Democrats had over the House and Senate in 1933 – a 196-vote margin in the former and a 23-vote margin in the latter. Unfortunately for Modi, he holds a small majority of 64 in the Lok Sabha but is 67 votes short of a majority in the Rajya Sabha.

Beyond numbers, the 100 Days barometer is unsuited to a system of government wherein the Executive is not as powerful as it is in a presidential system. Furthermore, the short time frame is not as fair a judge of a new government as an annual address to the nation, taking stock of the achievements, shortcomings, and ambitions of the next year, would be…the first one after a full year in office. As Sir Humphrey would have reminded his audience, diplomacy is about surviving until the next century whereas politics is about surviving until Friday afternoon.

In the realm of foreign policy, Modi’s 100 days have been been interesting; right off the bat, he invited the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to his inaugural address and spent time each of them the day after his swearing-in ceremony. It was an interesting choice of guests, shunning all the major powers and even strategic partners like Israel or Japan. However, it appeared to be the first play of the new prime minister’s decision to pivot India towards Asia. During his conversation with Nawaz Sharif, Modi pushed Sharif again on the granting of Most Favoured Nation status by Pakistan to India, which has been pending for almost two decades. This initial optimism towards Pakistan was dampened after India cancelled foreign secretary-level talks after the Pakistani high commissioner to Delhi met with the leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leaders.

In line with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto to reinvigourate SAARC, Modi’s first international visit was to Bhutan, followed by a visit to Nepal; his foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, also visited Bangladesh. The flurry of foreign visits to the neighbours, has resulted in agreements on Indian aid, the joint development of hydroelectic power, and discussions on any grievances such as the India-Nepal Friendship Treaty of 1950.

Another major foreign policy initiative by Modi Sarkar came during the BRICS summit at Fortaleza right after the World Cup finals. The New Development Bank was established, with India as its first chairman and its headquarters in Shanghai. The bank provides yet another avenue for India to develop its soft power while fostering new markets for its goods and services. Modi had previously met with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Delhi regarding Beijing’s investment in Indian manufacturing and special economic zones. China has also accepted India’s full inclusion into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

True to the election manifesto, Modi’s international contacts so far have prioritised economic development. Beyond BRICS and SAARC, India set a delegation to Vietnam, a country that will play a strategic role in any “Look East Policy.” Easier trade with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) was also promised. However, his rejection of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement despite pressure from the United States and other Western states has cooled the ardour for Modi’s reforms in the West. It indicates, however, a clear awareness India’s problems and the solutions it would need to develop. In fact, Modi’s medium-paced economic reforms show far more wisdom and maturity than many of his followers’ urgent appeals do.

The new government has also played host to several international leaders. Swaraj met with her Omani counterpart and Russian counterparts in her first month in office, as well as French (Laurent Fabius), German, British (William Hague, George Osborne), and American (John McCain, William Burns, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel) leaders. The international community’s eagerness to do business with India is a heartening sign that the acerbic rhetoric before the elections has given way to pragmatism in foreign capitals and boardrooms.

Two international crises intruded on Modi’s 100 Days – the kidnapping of Indians by ISIS in Iraq and Israeli action against Hamas in Gaza. Delhi’s response was deemed slow but there were hardly any options either. Thankfully, the crisis was resolved with many of the Indians returning home. On Gaza, the government initially refused to even hold a parliamentary discussion but in a very unpopular move with BJP supporters, eventually voted against Israel at a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

India has also sealed a nuclear deal with Australia which is to be signed in September. Also on the books for the month just beyond his 100 Days is a visit to Washington DC and one to Tokyo, where the Indian delegation has already signed a historic defence agreement with Japan and has agreed to institute a 2+2 dialogue (foreign and defence minister) between them; Japan has such dialogues only with the United States, France, Australia, and Russia.

Modi has earned a reputation for being a meticulous planner and it shows; India’s initiatives with its neighbours and other partners have proceeded according to a plan and gone well. However, Delhi’s slow and muddled response to sudden crises reveals a weakness in the Ministry of External Affairs, one that has been known for decades. If Modi is to rely on his MEA over the next five years, some attention should be paid to acquring area studies, language, and cultural experts on regions of interest to India.

In the realm of security, Modi Sarkar has sped up clearance for critical border roads along the frontier with China and moved to strengthen troop deployment as well as civilian settlements in the region. Over ₹30,000 crores of procurement proposals have been cleared and 100% FDI in the defence sector has been allowed. Given the long gestation period of defence development, these initial steps indicate that the government is headed in the right direction – a little long-term reform without ignoring the pressing needs of the day.

On the whole, it has been a decent 100 Days. Compared to the lethargy of the previous administration, Modi Sarkar has indeed set a refreshing pace. While the list of concrete achievements may be small, Modi’s period in office has been equally small. By reaching out to SAARC and BRICS first, Modi did exactly what he had said he would during his campaign. The slight surprise was, however, his warm response to US overtures of friendship; many analysts had predicted a sour relationship between the two democracies given the visa imbroglio. Modi has proven to be a far more pragmatic leader than his critics or even his supporters had thought.

The most important task for Modi in his first 100 days in office was to maintain the enthusiasm about India, both within and without – India was the land of opportunity, the next growth miracle. The prime minister had to make people believe that the country is headed in the right direction; in that, he has succeeded. The barometer is inadequate for anything more substantial. As they say, Rome was not built in a day.


This post appeared on Daily News & Analysis on September 01, 2014.