[Marxism] Modi Promised Better Days and Bridges. India’s Voters Are Still Waiting.
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri May 17 09:39:10 MDT 2019
NY Times, May 167, 2019
Modi Promised Better Days and Bridges. India’s Voters Are Still Waiting.
By Peter S. Goodman
LUNSU VILLAGE, India — Across the Kangra Valley, in the hills below the
snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas, the promise of a modern railway
reverberated like the beginning of something vital — access to jobs,
hospitals, universities, and shops.
Many villages were connected to the rest of the country by rutted dirt
roads and a rickety railway erected by the British a century ago. During
the monsoon, landslides blocked trains and flooded roads, rendering them
Narendra Modi, then running for prime minister, had come to the region
in 2014 promising liberation. A new rail line would provide fast and
reliable train service. But five years later, with Mr. Modi seeking
re-election, villagers look down the bluff at the old tracks with a mix
of disgust and resignation.
As India nears the end of the world’s largest election, which began last
month, Mr. Modi is confronting anger over his failure to deliver on the
promise that brought him to office — economic revitalization.
The prime minister has drawn praise for paring India’s legendary
bureaucracy. He has altered perceptions that his country was hostile to
business. But he has failed to spur significant economic growth, in part
because of his disappointing record in reviving stalled infrastructure
projects. The prime minister has championed rail, road and electrical
links as a means of furthering development across this country of 1.3
Although road-building has proceeded aggressively, infrastructure over
all has fallen short. During the last three months of 2018, investments
in new projects slumped to their lowest level during Mr. Modi’s tenure,
according to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, an independent
research organization in Mumbai.
“The fall after 2016 has been quite severe,” says Mahesh Vyas, the
center’s managing director. “He thought he could solve all those things
with a magical wand.”
Slowing growth has reduced government tax revenues, forcing Mr. Modi to
slash spending on public works. Private toll roads and power plants have
stalled as banks have withheld financing after losses on previous ventures.
The prime minister inherited a troubling condition that has plagued
India for decades: What economic growth the country generates does not
produce enough jobs. He vowed to create 10 million jobs a year.
As a former chief minister of his home state of Gujarat — widely hailed
as India’s most entrepreneurial — he was celebrated as a leader who
could harness India’s natural resources, intellectual prowess and
enormous work force toward industrializing.
But a signature program, Make in India, which aimed to help
manufacturing, has produced a bumper crop of public pronouncements and
scant hiring, in part because the nation’s patchy infrastructure has
discouraged investment. The unemployment rate climbed to a 45-year high
of 6.1 percent last year, from 2.2 percent in 2011, according to the
government’s National Sample Survey.
Nonetheless, Mr. Modi has won the ardor of the masses with his appeals
to Hindu nationalism and his military confrontations with India’s
nemesis, Pakistan. He is widely expected to claim re-election after
voting ends on Sunday.
Here in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, the prime minister
enjoys special rapport owing to his days overseeing the region for his
Hindu nationalist political organization, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or
From the city of Dharamshala — best known as the headquarters of the
exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama — to the villages of the
Kangra Valley, people lament the state of the economy while still
praising Mr. Modi.
“He is a great man,” says Ajai Singh, managing director of Glenmoor
Cottages, a collection of private residences in a grove of towering
cedar trees in Dharamshala. A B.J.P. flag flies from his rooftop.
“He hasn’t achieved anything,” Mr. Singh says later. “He will get
another term, and then we will see results.”
The economy has expanded by a robust 7.3 percent annually during Mr.
Modi’s tenure, better than the 6.7 percent rate in the previous five
years, according to official numbers. But many economists accuse the
administration of doctoring the data.
“The government was willing to play with numbers to score a point,” says
Amiya Kumar Bagchi, an economist at the Institute of Development Studies
Kolkata. The numbers “are wrong and possibly fabricated,” he adds.
Some of India’s problems are beyond the scope of any national leader.
Mr. Modi has presided as the American central bank, the Federal Reserve,
has lifted interest rates, making the dollar relatively more rewarding
for investors and prompting an exodus of money from emerging markets.
Oil prices have soared, lifting fuel prices.
But some of India’s troubles flow directly from Mr. Modi’s actions, not
least his disastrous 2016 move to ban most Indian rupee notes in a bid
to disrupt finance for terrorists and black marketeers. The government
failed to have new notes ready, creating a crippling shortage in an
economy dominated by cash.
“I cannot begin to explain the sheer stupidity of that,” says Jayati
Ghosh, an economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “What
you did was suck the lifeblood from the market system. It was a huge
crime on the Indian population.”
Mr. Modi’s lack of success in completing stalled infrastructure projects
has left many rural people stranded far from jobs.
Anek Kumar, 42, has worked at the Dharmsala Tea company for more than a
dozen years. He sweeps freshly harvested leaves into piles and feeds
them into machines that roll them into tea, earning 7,100 rupees (about
$100) per month.
He travels 90 minutes from his village to get to work, walking four
kilometers (about 2.5 miles) up a dirt road and then riding a bus. There
are no full-time jobs closer to home, he says.
The crisis of joblessness is especially acute among younger people.
Between 2011 and 2018, the unemployment rate for young men ages 15 to 29
soared from 8.1 percent to 18.7 percent, according to the employment
survey. Among young women, the jobless rate more than doubled, rising
from 13.1 percent to 27.2 percent.
Sudesh Bedi, 21, is completing a master’s degree in computer
applications at Himachal Pradesh University. A few weeks ago, he ran
into a recent graduate who was operating a tea stall. Another graduate
was working as a house painter. Neither of these encounters enhanced Mr.
Bedi’s confidence that education is a portal to a lucrative career.
His father, a rickshaw driver, has urged him to seek a government job,
accepting a modest but steady paycheck. Mr. Bedi has opted for
entrepreneurial pursuits. He and a friend started a business marketing
computer security software to customers in North America. Last year,
they opened a coffee shop, selling fruit juice and espresso to the
international hippie backpacker set.
“Until now, Modi has only said things,” Mr. Bedi says. “He hasn’t
actually done anything about creating jobs.”
That sentiment echoes through the Kangra Valley, where people had hoped
the promised rail upgrade would deliver fresh economic opportunities.
At campaign rallies in 2014, Mr. Modi vowed to strengthen the railway
links of Himachal Pradesh. Local members of Parliament promised to
revamp the line running east from the city of Pathankot, in the state of
Punjab, to Joginder Nagar, a 100-mile journey that takes 10 hours. They
would replace the single-gauge tracks with broad gauge, while extending
the line some 500 miles north to the city of Leh, in the mountainous
state of Ladakh.
The town of Baijnath seemed poised to benefit, given its 13th-century
temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. Pilgrims travel there to make
offerings, and tourists arrive from around the world. A faster, more
comfortable train would bring more.
In the hills above the temple, a fading luxury resort, the Taragarh
Palace Hotel, looked to the rail project to help fill its rooms, now
only one-fourth occupied, says the manager, Rajiv Mahajan.
In Joginder Nagar, the dusty city where the train now begins and ends,
construction supply companies and electronics stores envisioned using
rail to ship in wares from distributors and factories at half the cost
they pay to trucking companies.
But when the railway ministry began surveying in 2016, it concluded that
the existing rail had “heritage value” and should be preserved.
“The train hasn’t changed since the British built it,” says Suridender
Pal, 50, a tailor. “Modi promised better days. We haven’t seen better
days. Those who are rich have seen better days. Those who are poor have
Later that day, in the nearby city of Mandi, Mr. Modi would address some
30,000 people at a rally, asserting that his government “is doing
unprecedented work on the infrastructure here.”
Down at the train station, an engine rumbles to life for its noon run.
A 68-year-old army veteran climbs aboard and settles into a hard-back
seat, headed back to his village after his monthly medical treatment at
a military hospital.
Sapna Devi, 32, wrapped in a fuchsia sari, takes a seat next to her
teenage daughter. They are bound for a Hindu head-shaving ceremony for
her cousin’s newborn son.
The whistle sounds, and the train pulls away. It crosses a
boulder-strewn river, passing a group of shirtless men who are bathing
and washing their clothes. It rolls past women taking refuge from the
sun under a leafy tree.
The carriage rocks back and forth, its cruising speed slightly faster
than a cow ambling across a road.
“It’s pretty slow,” Ms. Devi says. “I wish it was faster.”
A version of this article appears in print on May 17, 2019, on Page B1
of the New York edition with the headline: India Awaits the Revival It
Was Promised. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
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