This article written by me was first published by swarajyamag.com here On May 16, 2016
The Modi government will complete two years in office this month. Modi won a massive mandate in 2014 because he was ahead of his critics and opponents who were still living in a cynical past.For last two years he has shown that he is several steps ahead of his supporters and critics. On economy, he has delivered handsomely while confounding both the Left and the Right He has ‘turned screws’ (to use his own words) on corruption, big crime, and anti-national activities causing discomfort and howls of protests by those affected.
The optimism he generated is still very much intact. Yet, BJP lost Delhi and Bihar badly. The current state elections aren’t likely to improve BJP’s standing much, except in Assam.
For UP elections next year and for the elections in 2019, Modi’s opponents are going to regroup better because they have tasted success in Delhi and Bihar. They believe that in absence any national issues causing a wave, their chance will be quite good.
To win in 2019, PM Modi will need to be several steps ahead of his opponents. His track record suggests that this what he will try do.
What are the factors that can help or hinder Modi’s chances in 2019?
If Modi delivers on creation of jobs and livelihoods on a massive scale he would fulfill his most important promise. For ordinary people development means jobs and livelihoods and not just highways, airports, and malls.
There are massive levels of infrastructure investments taking place. Programs like Make in India, ease of doing business, Start up and Stand up India, are making headway. This is Modi’s top priority. These programs will boost economic growth, and earn global praises but they won’t be enough to create required levels of jobs and livelihoods by 2019.
Even with economic growth , life in cities is terrible due to housing shortage and woeful public transport. If Modi Sarkar makes a big dent in these core urban problems he will have a far better connect with urban masses.
Large parts of India still depend on agriculture. Rural economy and agriculture are in doldrums. Growth in industry , services and urbanization will not cushion effects of an exploitation-ridden agriculture sector. The massive Jan Dhan Yojana platform will help in directing subsidies better, but these are ameliorative. Modi sarkar has woken up to this now. Investments in irrigation, rural electrification, broadband and roads connectivity, national market are being planned. Crop insurance scheme has been re-launched. Unless rural economy grows well, rural distress will continue.
The anger against Congress wasn’t just because of lack of development. It was also because of the huge systemic loot by the top leadership through various scams. There is also anger about the black money problem. No previous government did anything about it. Many people believe that when it comes to the crunch, the political class helps each other to cover up and escape law. This cynicism still exists even among Modi’s supporters. When Arvind Kejriwal dared Modi to put Sonia Gandhi in jail for her involvement in Augusta Westland scam, he shrewdly played on the above cynicism. People are keenly watching whether the big corrupt fishes are being brought to book. Punishing corrupt politicians and businessmen will be a key factor that will set apart Modi Sarkar from all the future contenders.
Modi’s core support base is restive because of continued anti-national activities by Maoist insurgencies, Jihadi terror and Christian evangelism. It is also upset about the discriminatory RTE law and interference in matters of Hindu temples’ traditions by Government and Judiciary. This is an area of risk for Modi Sarkar in next elections.
Bureaucracy, institutions, and judiciary are going to pose hurdles in implementing PM Modi’s development agenda. A lot depends on how he overcomes them.
BJP governments at Center and in states are doing good work in many areas but this isn’t being converted in votes. BJP is still being politically out-maneuvered by Congress. Despite a strong organization and a committed cadre, BJP’s poor performance will place more hurdles in Modi’s track. Undoubtedly, PM Modi will act on many of the above areas. There are signs that he has shifted gears. Gone are those conciliatory gestures towards Congress to get bills passed.
What will be the risks for Modi in 2019?
If we look at all the aforementioned factors, we can be reasonably confident of India’s economic growth and a revamped subsidy regime that will reach the needy people far more effectively.
However, we may not see major successes in agriculture. Creation of jobs and livelihoods may fall short of requirements. Housing and mass transportation issues are unlikely to be resolved. Given the weaknesses in investigating agencies and glacial judicial processes, we may not see many convictions of the corrupt people. Modi’s core supporters may not feel assured about their concerns mentioned above.
There may not be a Congress that is big enough to be angry with, but voters won’t be that angry with other Congress like parties which will look to fill in the void left by Congress.
This is not a criticism of the Modi Sarkar. PM Modi’s government will do a far better job than any previous government has done, but it will be seen as an incumbent in 2019. Moreover he has raised people’s expectations to unreasonable levels. Therefore Modi faces risks in winning a normal election devoid of emotional factors of national dimensions. In such situations, voting behaviors are influenced by identity politics and freebies. Despite his excellent work Modi risks falling behind his opponents who will operate at their strengths mentioned above.
How might Modi stay ahead of the curve?
Modi needs emotional factors in addition to the rational ones. The BJP hasn’t managed to connect with voters on an emotional level. The Pakistan problem provides one such opportunity. As a hub of Islamic terror and a nation with nuclear arsenal, Pakistan is world’s headache. It has kept India bleeding through thousand cuts. Whether it is cricket or war, anger towards Pakistan unites all Indians. A defanged Pakistan is good for India and the world.
This isn’t as farfetched as it seems. Given Arab states’, particularly Saudi’s, pre-occupation with economic problems due to low-oil-price-shocks, terror funds are likely to be squeezed. Further squeeze will come through global black money hunt. This process is gathering pace. Whether Pakistan becomes a truly secular welfare state or it fragments into independent Sindh, Baluchistan etc. remains to be seen. Right from the beginning of his tenure PM Modi’s foreign policy aimed to circumscribe Pakistan through diplomatic means. His moves gave him an opportunity to be ahead of the curve.
If Modi facilitates and hastens the global processes to defang Pakistan there will be very strong emotional factors in addition to the rational ones like development his favor.