In his first 100 days, Narendra Modi has left no one in doubt about who calls the shots, and his measured and determined approach to governance suggests that change, when it comes, will be significant.
Modi's cabinet list mentioned the phrase “all important policy issues” next to his name. He has been true to his word, running arguably the most powerful PMO in history, one that routinely short circuits decision-making and leaves ministers scrambling to catch up.
The appointment of his right-hand man, Amit Shah, as BJP president has put Modi’s hold on the party beyond doubt. Two troublesome veterans, Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, have been neatly checkmated and dropped from the parliamentary board.
Shah’s ascent is crucial if the party has to build on its compelling Lok Sabha performance and win key assembly elections that will enable it to edge towards a majority in the Rajya Sabha, essential for getting contentious laws passed. Some assembly by-polls have gone badly, suggesting that the BJP cannot take it easy on the ground.
Modi’s Independence Day address from the Red Fort — complete with colourful, flowing turban, in contrast to his taciturn predecessor — was a tour de force. What came through was a real desire to use his mandate to make a difference, and many would settle for just that statement of intent, a few beginnings, and no disasters, in the first 100 days.
In terms of law-making, the government got off to a passable start. A bill on judicial appointments was cleared, and again, there was a sense that Parliament had returned to business after some unproductive sessions. There were some missteps, such as incoherence over the Gaza vote that betrayed inexperience in power.
The National Democratic Alliance's maiden Budget was widely regarded as a safe exercise; fiscal difficulties hamstrung the finance minister and kept bold reform moves for another year. Inflation continues to worry and a poor monsoon will make the government’s job that much more difficult.
Through the election campaign, Modi’s foreign policy credentials were seen as his weakest suit; but he has proved sure-footed in this regard. Right from inviting neighbouring leaders to his inauguration to setting off on a potentially triumphal Japan trip, there is little he could have done better.
On two fronts, his administration has proved intransigent: in denying the Leader of the Opposition post to the Congress and in remembering past differences to torpedo a popular choice for Supreme Court judge. Both have drawn sharp rebukes from the Supreme Court, making a cold relationship between the executive and judiciary a less welcome aspect of the first 100 days.