New Delhi: In six months of power, the Narendra Modi government has had little to show on the ground. Food prices may be stable but they stay high. Indian business sentiment remains gloomy while foreign investors are mysteriously upbeat. In some areas of business-consumer intersection, the transaction continues to be skewed in favour of business. For example, a friend of this writer has been held to ransom by a supposedly reputed builder of NOIDA, who has taken half the price of a flat but refuses to document it. The builder is in cahoots with a public sector bank which is eager to disburse the entire home loan without proper papers. A real estate regulator would help but the Narendra Modi government shows no anxiety and urgency to establish one. “This government is as mixed up with the real estate mafia as the previous one,” this writer’s friend exasperatedly declared.

That may not be so; but it is becoming increasingly hard to defend the Modi government. Indeed, key sections of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are becoming restive; private criticism of the administration is strong there. The harshest party criticism is directed against perceived economic stagnation. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s first budget is derisively called P. Chidambaram’s budget. “They simply trundled out what he had prepared and passed it as their own,” said a senior member of BJP’s think-tank. Anger is also reserved for the parlous state of public sector banks saddled with bad loans. “Most of these bad loans benefitted persons associated with the previous Congress regime,” said a BJP official. “I see no action being taken to recover the monies and punish errant bankers.” The case with this writer’s friend is adequate testimony to the truth of what the BJP official says.

Nobody doubts Prime Minister Modi’s motives or his zeal for hard work. But it is not reflected on the ground. To be sure, change will come within a year or two; too much has gone rotten. But confidence in long-term change will only come if short-term measures prove successful, and successful short-term measures are difficult to locate. Has the government been able to persuade the Reserve Bank to lower interest rates to kick-start the economy? No. Has the drop in oil and gas prices been passed on to consumers? No. Is Delhi, the capital, safe for women? No. A young executive was raped in an Uber cab by the driver who had a criminal history of rape. Uber was providing unregulated services to unaware consumers. Who is responsible? How did the Department of Transport and Delhi Police permit such illegality to flourish? It leads to a stark question. Is there a government at the Centre, and does it work?

With regard to governance, politicians fall in three broad categories, and this is especially true of South Asia, where governing institutions are unformed or weak. There is the politician who is terrific on the campaign trail and hopeless in governance. Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharief, etc, readily come to mind. Then there is the type which is excellent in administration and bestowed with vision but rarely a vote-getter. You could put P. V. Narasimha Rao in this category. Finally, there is the rare leader who is brilliant in campaign and administration. This writer placed Narendra Modi in this category. But it appears the prime minister is straining his luck and talent. He doesn’t seem to be able to devote enough time to prime ministry caught up in the endless cycle of state elections. A stage would come when the prime ministry would slip out of his grasp and it would be impossible to regain control.

Apart from Manohar Parrikar, this writer does not see anyone else in Narendra Modi’s council of ministers that makes the grade. It is too early to judge Parrikar’s performance in the Union cabinet but he has left his mark on Goa where this writer last fortnight spent ten days. Villages are electrified, well-connected and possess the creature comforts of a big city without the downsides. But the rest of the prime minister’s team at the Centre shows no shine. Sushma Swaraj is less keen on foreign policy-making than on making the Bhagwad Gita a national scripture, which can only sully its timeless greatness. Arun Jaitley has shown no elan as finance minister; he is hell-bent on copying his disastrous predecessor. Smriti Irani has proved a complete non-starter in Human Resources Development. She has provoked needless controversy over Sanskrit and German. Nitin Gadkari and the remaining ministers give no confidence.

The writing is on the wall for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Public patience is wearing thin. The public is willing to give him six to eight additional months to show results; it is unfair to expect it to be more generous. Narendra Modi should know that he is dealing with the combustible young who demand instant gratification. They have no political loyalties. If the government does not deliver soon, the youth will shift their political mass to another formation. The rape of a girl by an Uber cab driver will become the test case for the Narendra Modi government. Banning Uber is not enough. It must secure all night travel. The Nirbhaya tragedy contributed to the destruction of the Sheila Dixit government in Delhi. History could repeat itself with vengeance.