The UPA left the economy in a looted shambles in 2014, and the NDA has nursed it back to health now.
It is the vainglory of ambition that provokes an ailing Sonia Gandhi to stubbornly project her electorally incompetent son as the next Prime Minister. He will, she asserts, and her servile party echoes it, head an elusive and as yet non-existent Mahagathbandhan. As if this is a contagion contained in a northern silo, Mamata Banerjee, a provincial satrap in the East, is attempting to make Kolkata the epicentre of Opposition unity. There are more aspirants in the east besides Banerjee, in Odisha, and Bihar, for example, though they haven’t declared their intentions so far. In addition, there are kings and queens without crowns making up at least two contenders in Uttar Pradesh. One—or is it two more?—comes from Maharashtra in the West, and a couple from the South too. There are, at last count, two elders eyeing the main chance if the numbers throw up the opportunity after the votes are counted. The would-be Gathbandhan or Mahagathbandhan—will there be one, two, or none—may not have much of a policy position, besides getting rid of Narendra Modi, but is certainly bristling with prime ministerial contenders.
There may well be two formations, if eventually there are any, because some like K. Chandrashekar Rao’s TRS want to maintain “equidistance” from both Congress and the BJP. And in order to assert their claim to the top job, each aspirant is determined to contest as many seats as possible, outside of their native power bases. This naturally sets up inherent stress and strain over the seat-sharing, and makes it very difficult for the loose partnerships in the making to produce results in the electioneering. The much cited byelection successes of unity may not work across the board.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is watching all this carefully, but is also getting on with its business at hand. This includes as much governance as possible in the remaining time, and also the sensitive matter of seeking and probing the political space for new allies. It is, however, being careful not to ruffle any fresh feathers. PM Modi is clearly not interested in triggering any sympathy wave for those in the Opposition today.
Will the forthcoming Assembly elections in three important states queer the pitch, and breathe fresh life into Opposition efforts at unity? This particularly if the BJP loses any, though it may well churn its state leadership to stave off anti-incumbency blues.
Can we give credence to the reports that suggest that the general elections may be brought forward to the winter of 2018, thereby possibly clubbing, some, if not all the similarly scheduled Assembly elections alongside? The Election Commission has indicated, several times, that it may be in favour of holding simultaneous elections. This would tend to merge the regional and national narrative, and forge a more unified perspective, while losing nothing of the local focus in the bargain. However, some would argue that it will be difficult for regional parties to survive under this dispensation.
Today, there is only one truly national political party extant, because the Congress neither rules significantly in the states, nor has a large presence at the Centre. Others are indeed one-state regional parties, virtually ignored outside their home states. Though it is often argued that a vibrant Opposition is essential, judging from the present composition of Parliament, this does not have to necessarily go hand-in-hand with significant national presence. For decades, Congress ran a virtual one-party rule, because the Opposition was both weak and fragmented. When Congress stopped obtaining majorities, it leaned on the Left to both promote a mutually accepted brand of socialism and to give itself much needed stability in government. And then came the coalition era, arrested by the Modi win after 30 years.
NDA policies have retained the emphasis on uplifting the poor, as in the socialist past, and indeed millions have been lifted out of abject poverty. In fact, with healthy GDP rates obtaining from the mid-1980s onwards, the process has been accelerated to the extent that despite a population of over 1.3 billion, India no longer houses the maximum number of the very poor.
In a policy departure from the Congress ruled past, however, the nature of help given to the poor has changed from massive, if leaky, subsidies and handouts to a more sustainable form of development. This includes facilities and infrastructure in areas that have been neglected for long years, and yes, better targeted subsidies.
The BJP is working hard, with some good results so far, on an updated version of self reliance, which is encapsulated in its Make in India initiatives. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi never tires of listing his government’s many achievements in almost every speech he makes, the important takeaway is that the NDA has a policy line and is doggedly implementing it.
The Opposition has little beyond a desire to remove Modi in particular and the BJP/NDA/RSS combine in general. This is a tremendous weakness. It makes it very difficult for the voter to entrust the government to it. Why the Opposition does not realise it needs a policy vision is a mystery. It considers its job is done by issuing a dozen or more manifesto documents before the elections and a common-minimum programme after, in the event it is in a position to form the government. The logic that is being applied is that of the compelling arithmetic of their strength in combination. But surely it realises that election voter behaviour is an emotional response from the people to the options before them.
Modi is much better placed than the disparate or combined Opposition to sway the voter in his favour. This despite the fact that the Opposition has a large number of well-known leaders. They are almost all seen to be power-hungry and corrupt.
Modi is much ahead because of his personal popularity and integrity, despite his government’s failure so far to deliver on many of his promises. The pulse of the people seems to suggest that they are willing to give Modi more time so that he can implement more of his vision for the country.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is getting on with its business at hand. This includes as much governance as possible in the remaining time, and also the sensitive matter of seeking and probing the political space for new allies. Today, there is only one truly national political party extant, because the Congress neither rules significantly in the states, nor has a large presence at the Centre.
Today, in a neat reversal of fortune, it is the so-called secular Opposition which is seen to be divisive and violent, anti-national and seditious, deeply frustrated to be out of power. It is trying very hard to create trouble, exaggerate and highlight negatives, and portray the government as inimical to the “Idea of India”. But at the centre of its psyche, it is terrified of being relegated into insignificance, or land up in jail, should Modi win again.
Though what we have is a thriving democracy despite its pitfalls, in an era of relentless 24×7 media coverage, combined with a very savvy social media, no artificial construct can withstand immediate scrutiny.
More than a billion cell phones, many of them smartphones, keep people informed on the move, and the Indian voter, traditionally well-informed even in the old radio only days, is able to make up his own mind. He is also less amenable to being herded and intimidated, though perhaps easier to bribe. Elections today are enormously expensive affairs for more reasons than one.
Apart from domestic policy, in which “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas” has been the Modi leitmotif, despite propaganda to the contrary, Modi’s foreign policy success is something the nation is justifiably proud of. After the somnambulism of the past UPA decade, India is very much on the map once again at the forefront of nations.
The UPA left the economy in a looted shambles in 2014, at its lowest growth point in a decade, and the NDA has nursed it back to a measure of health now. However, the massive NPAs in PSU banks are an advertisement for what could happen once again if a rapacious Mahagathbandhan get their hands on the loaves and fishes of office!
Let us assume there are two kinds of politicians—those who seek power in order to make money, and those who genuinely want to serve the people. While the BJP/NDA cannot be viewed in terms of absolute probity, it is clear where the bulk of the crooked reside. The Opposition may be good at fooling itself about its prospects, but cannot do very much to fool the public. Modi will win again in 2019.