The only election which counts across India will take place in 2019, when the next Lok Sabha polls get held. Should the BJP tally fall below 200 seats, the chances are slim that a member of that party would be the Prime Minister, for most other parties are wary of the BJP settling into the slot vacated in 1989 by the Congress Party, of being seen by voters as the natural party of governance. Sometimes voters seek to administer a slap to the party in power rather than turf it out of office, and are surprised when the latter takes place, which appears to have been the situation after the 1977 Janata Party sweep across North India. To the credit of Morarji Desai, he refused to join in the efforts of followers of Ram Manohar Lohia to banish English from administration and education. Had he done so, India would have been a pygmy in the knowledge economy rather than an aspiring giant. And although the southern states rebuffed his party at the polls, including in Assembly polls held subsequent to the 1977 victory, Desai not only ensured a high degree of representation to officers from the South within the higher echelons of his government, but sought as well to bring in outside talent in several ministries. In 1947, Mahatma Gandhi ought to have ensured that B. R. Ambedkar rather than Jawaharlal Nehru be the first Prime Minister of post-colonial India. Had Ambedkar been in charge during the 1950s, India would have been different, and not at all in an unpleasant way.
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In both the case of Nehru and Desai, national leaders from the “higher” echelons of the caste system chose their “superiors” in the caste hierarchy as Prime Ministers, rather than others considered “lower down”, a process that got reversed with the almost unanimous selection of Narendra Modi as the effective leader of the BJP in 2013, a process in which the much-derided “Brahminical” RSS in fact nudged the BJP to choose as its Prime Ministerial candidate an individual who came from a humble background and was proud of that fact. After his anointment, Modi could have chosen whomsoever he liked as parliamentary candidates and later as ministers, but instead opted for consensus and continuity and tacked close to the party line in both instances, choosing mostly those who had been active in politics for decades and, in the higher echelons of his team, those who had served in the A.B. Vajpayee Council of Ministers. It is now for this team—handpicked by Narendra Modi—to ensure an overall performance such that the BJP as a party again crosses the safety line of 230 Lok Sabha seats and preferably once again breaches the 272-mark. In such a test, the ministries that will play the most significant part are Home, Defence, Finance and HRD.
The Defence Ministry needs to plan for wars of the future rather than the battles of the past, and this can only be through an emphasis on (a) cyber capabilities, (b) drone technology, (c) tactical nuclear weapons and (d) accurate and multirole missile systems.
Instead of continuing with the embrace by the Manmohan Singh government of stifling regulations and restrictive laws that give unlimited discretion to the authorities to intimidate citizens with threats of expropriation and arrest, the Ministry of Home Affairs needs to ensure that a climate gets created in which the rights of citizens in matters of dress, diet, lifestyle and belief are protected. In this context, the Bihar High Court has shown its commitment to the 21st century by striking down Nitish Kumar’s prohibition law. As for freedom of speech, India remains the only major democracy where the exercise of that may lead to a longish jail sentence because of the colonial era law of “criminal” defamation. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will in future give decisions that stand by an expansion of the freedoms essential if India is to evolve into a global knowledge superpower, something impossible unless the chokehold of the UGC gets removed from our universities by the HRD Ministry. As for the Defence Ministry, it needs to plan for wars of the future rather than the battles of the past, and this can only be through an emphasis on (a) cyber capabilities, (b) drone technology, (c) tactical nuclear weapons and (d) accurate and multirole missile systems. The Finance Ministry needs to move away from regarding itself as simply collecting cash for paying the salaries of government officials and transform itself into an engine of growth. Whether it be the Patel or the Maratha agitation, or the coming Ahom and Reddy storm, the foundation for each is youth unemployment. The lack of sufficient additional jobs is creating a bomb primed to explode before the 2019 polls, and the Finance Ministry needs to act on the principle that lower tax rates and gentler methods of compliance lead to higher collections, in contrast to the piffling amounts collected during the external and internal black money mop-up drives.
It will be Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parrikar and Prakash Javadekar who will be responsible for the ruling party’s seat tally in the next Lok Sabha.