[Marxism] Modi Promised Better Days and Bridges. India’s Voters Are Still Waiting.

Louis Proyect 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 
impassable.

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 
billion people.

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 
B.J.P.

 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 
not.”

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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