This impetuousness disguised as decisiveness has infected economic policymaking, too. In 2016 Mr Modi abruptly cancelled most Indian banknotes in an effort to thwart money-laun-dering. The plan failed, but not without causing huge disruption to farmers and small businesses. He has pushed through a nationwide sales tax and an overhaul of the bankruptcy code, two much-needed reforms. But the economy has grown only marginally faster during his tenure than it did over the previous ten years, when the Congress party was in government, despite receiving a big boost from low oil prices. Unemployment has risen, breaking promises to the contrary.
Indians hear such criticisms less often because Mr Modi has cowed the press, showering bounty on flatterers while starving, controlling and bullying critics. He himself appears only at major events. He has also suborned respected government institutions, hounding the boss of the central bank from office, for example, as well as loosing tax collectors on political opponents, packing state universities with ideologues and cocking a snook at rules meant to insulate the army from politics.
Mr Modi’s biggest fault, however, is his relentless stoking of Hindu-Muslim tensions. He personally chose as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, a fiery Hindu cleric who paints the election campaign as a battle between the two faiths. Mr Modi’s number two calls Muslim migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh “termites”, but promises a warm welcome to Bangladeshi Hindus. One of the BJP’s candidates is on trial for helping orchestrate a bombing that killed six Muslims. And Mr Modi himself has never apologised for failing to prevent the deaths of at least 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, during sectarian riots in the state of Gujarat while he was chief minister there. The closest he has come has been to express the sort of regret you might feel “if a puppy comes under the wheel” of a car.