(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The elections for the next Lok Sabha are just a few weeks away. A lot of political activities are being generated by all and sundry in the run up to the elections. The political parties, both national and regional, have become hyper-active, with the field emerging to be wide open this time around, and no clear visible winner, at this point in time.
The NDA alliance and more particularly, the BJP had earlier projected itself to continue to be in power at the Centre for next 50 years and even talked of “Congress-mukt” India. The BJP juggernaut was on a roll, with the party winning assembly elections, one state after the other, mostly with alliances. It got a massive mandate in its favour in Uttar Pradesh, a state having, by far, India’s highest population, and the biggest representation in the Parliament. This came just after the demonetization exercise of November 2016. The party was also very nimble, and formed governments in states like Manipur and Goa, though Congress had won more seats than the BJP in these States.
It also experimented in Jammu & Kashmir, by forming a government there with Mehbooba Mufti of PDP as Chief Minister. Even a seasoned politician like Nitish Kumar switched sides, though his party, the JD(S), had won Bihar State elections with RJD and Congress, its pre-poll alliance partners. Mr. Kumar had publicly claimed that none can stop Narendra Modi getting re-elected as Prime Minister in 2019.
However, things became turbulent for the BJP from the fall of 2017, when it failed to successfully form a government in Karnataka. The Congress outsmarted the BJP in Karnataka by offering the Chief Minister-ship to JD(S), its post-poll junior partner. Thereafter, the Congress could wrest power in the Hindi heartland States of Chattisgarh, MP, and Rajasthan, from the BJP. Obviously, the BJP, inadvertently or otherwise, made certain errors.
It claimed that the economy was growing at a high pedestal, yet, apparently, the fruits of growth were not inclusively shared. A large percentage of the populace was left out of the growth story, and the rural and agricultural sectors were in distress. Jobs were not getting generated; rather the jobs got contracted, as reflected by the CMIE data for 2018, that reveals that 11 million jobs were lost in 2018 itself. Women took the maximum hit, and accounted for 8.80 million job losses in 2018.
The BJP had started to make tall promises of “achche din” before the 2014 elections that included unearthing of black money, generation of 20 million jobs every year, deposit of Rs. 15 lac in each bank account, etc. The ill-thought demonetization exercise and hasty implementation of GST, almost certainly, took its toll on the economy, and certain sections of the society, especially in the informal sector, suffered. Of late, the Rafale controversy made some dent on the clean image of the Prime Minister, though the party and the government have strongly defended the deal, and there is nothing concrete in the public domain that proves about the deal being murky. A few alliance partners have also left the BJP, and the Shiv Sena, off and on; have attacked the Governments at the Centre and in Maharastra.
Some right wing elements are also aggrieved with the BJP for its failure to initiate construction of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya. A few erstwhile leaders of BJP like Yashwant SInha, Arun Shourie, and Shatrughan Sinha are attacking the Government in public, which seem to have some traction. The RBI and CBI affairs have also raised doubts, specially among the urban middle class, about the Government’s efficacy of handling these issues. The recent assembly election results have also put some spring in the opposition camp, and frantic, but certainly not unified, attempts are being made to form alliances. Moreover, the fact that the BJP has become a duopoly of Modi and Amit Shah combined has also angered some sections, even within the party.
To retrieve the lost ground, the BJP led NDA Government at the Centre has made a series of announcements, and hurriedly passed some bills in the Parliament, including a Constitutional amendment reserving 10% jobs in the government and government-owned organizations, and reservation of seats in higher education. Observers feel that big bang announcements are expected in the next few days, before the model code of conduct comes into force.
These may include Universal Basic Income scheme. Only time would reveal whether these last moment announcements would be politically and economically expedient: short term and long term. Not to be left behind, the Congress is playing on the game of loan waivers to farmers in different states. Shortly, other political parties, and alliances are also expected to be making their own announcements and proclamations. Before the actual parliamentary elections, manifestos would also be made by all political parties. K Chandrasekhar Rao played, successfully, the card of welfare schemes, including Rythu Bandhu, to telling effect in Telangana. Naveen Patnaik, on 25th January, 2019, launched the KALIA welfare scheme aimed to include 50 lac farmer families. At 6 or more members per family, the scheme would project to cover around 30 million people – potentially a big vote catcher.
Making poll promises is one thing, but the challenge would be to implement these in a time frame, and within the limited financial resources. GST collections continue to be uncertain and an area of concern. Political expediency may not be economically prudent. Indians appear to be growing anxious about their future, in what appears to be that only a section of the society is pocketing the rather limited growth story. The voters would also be impatient this time round, especially when the majority of voters is young. Implementation of 10% reservation for the economically weak is likely to be an Achilles heel, for any political formation that comes to power. Reservations in jobs may be restrictive, if sufficient jobs are not created. Involvement of the private sector for creation of jobs with enabling initiatives like labour reforms continues to be among the key demands of the industry.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill has already caused a lot of turmoil, especially in States of the North Eastern parts of the Country. People would become restive if the bill is passed in the Rajya Sabha. Creation of job opportunities would likely to be a problematic area. Putting forward an inclusive and growth agenda would be a major issue to be addressed by the next Government, as the lack of it would make demands for reservations, loan waivers, etc. inevitable. Maintenance of communal harmony would be an issue, when one observes majoritanism making an imprint. All in all, implementation of pre-election laws passed in the Parliament, and fulfilment of tall poll promises would need sagacity and manoeuvring, and the new government at the centre is likely to be tested time and again.