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Opinion

In defense of Modi's corruption record

India's leader deserves credit for battling graft and pledging to keep up the fight

Modi seeks not just to fight corruption but to give it a deadly blow.   © Reuters

James Crabtree, in his columns published on May 15 and May 23 underestimates Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's success in fighting corruption and his determination to reinvigorate the battle in his second term.

Crabtree's prediction that the election would produce a weak Modi-led coalition government been laid to rest by Modi's resounding victory. His forecasts were based on the mistaken assumption that Modi's efforts to tackle corruption on the ground would fail to cut much ice among the voters.

Modi's reelection confirms that the government will stick to its overall commitment to fight corruption at all levels. He seeks not just to fight corruption but to give it a deadly blow.

The formation of the Special Investigation Team for probing corruption cases was the first decision taken by the Modi's cabinet when it first assumed office in May 2014. Since then, it has taken stringent steps to stop the generation of black money as well ensure that economic offenders are brought to book.

The Prime Minister's website notes that, thanks to government effort to curb corruption, so-called black money -- funds that have not been properly declared to the tax service or other authorities -- totaling more than $10 billion has been identified. This includes $2.3 billion in offshore accounts.

Before 2014, under previous governments, poor management and regulation allowed the massive accumulation of bad and doubtful loans at state-owned banks. The Modi government's Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code has helped banks and creditors recover approximately $38 billion, says the prime minister.

The Government targeted corruption by public servants, by nominating the first Lokpal (Ombudsmen) of India to check on public servants, with the passage of the Lokpal Bill in 2013.

There is no doubt that the Government faced criticism for its 2016 demonetization operation, in which high-value bank notes were canceled without warning. The move temporarily reduced economic growth. Yet it would be naive to dismiss it as failure as the state elections conducted soon after the event gave Modi a resounding victory in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state.

"No cash" sign is displayed outside an ATM counter in Kolkata on November 29, 2016: demonetization disrupted India's huge black market.   © Reuters

Demonetization disrupted India's huge black market, hurt the funding infrastructure for terrorists, invigorated tax payments and boosted the growth of the digital economy. A study by professor Sumit Agarwal of Georgetown University noted a dramatic spike in debit card usage of 84% after demonetization.

The latest Transparency International corruption-perception report, for 2018, showed a rise of 3 ranks for India to 78th position, up from 81st in 2017 and 94th in 2013. Transparency International noted, "Although low-level graft has remained pervasive, the end of 2017 marked three and a half years of generally scandal-free governance under the Modi administration."

The argument that Modi was inactive on curbing corruption does not hold much weight.

Punit Saurabh is an assistant professor at the Institute of Management at Nirma University, Ahmedabad

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