The ecoN­omy will de­cide 2019

The Sunday Guardian - - World -

Af­ter suc­ceed­ing in May 2014 in get­ting a Lok Sabha ma­jor­ity for the first time in the his­tory of the party, the BJP has acted as though a sim­i­lar per­for­mance in the 2019 polls is cer­tain, while so is that of its per­for­mance in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah, who was per­son­ally cho­sen for the pres­ti­gious post by Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, is known for his am­bi­tious tar­gets, and he has de­clared that the rul­ing party will get “even more LS seats” in 2019 than in 2014. Much of that hope comes from the ex­pec­ta­tion that the Prime Min­is­ter is as for­mi­da­ble a cam­paigner as Jawa­har­lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were for the Con­gress party in their prime. That six weeks of in­ten­sive cam­paign­ing across the coun­try by Prime Min­is­ter Modi will in­evitably turn the wheel of destiny in favour of the BJP. Cer­tainly, it was the Modi blitzkrieg and not the lack­lus­tre choice of B.S. Yed­dyu­rappa as the Chief Min­is­te­rial can­di­date of the party that en­sured a re­spectable show­ing for the BJP in a con­test where the two other ma­jor par­ties were fight­ing against each other. Even in such cir­cum­stances, the BJP had to con­tent it­self with be­ing in the op­po­si­tion, even as once bit­ter foes (the Con­gress and the JDS) joined hands to hold power. De­spite some strains and ego clashes, the H.D. Ku­maraswamy gov­ern­ment has fared well in the state, and the two par­ties to­gether will pose a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge to the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls. In Ut­tar Pradesh, the Sa­ma­jwadi Party and the Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party are aware that if they do not hang to­gether, they will hang sep­a­rately. The shadow of the in­ves­tiga­tive agen­cies and the dam­age th­ese can do (although lit­tle seems to have been done from 2014 to the present) seems poised to en­sure a BSP-SP al­liance in 2019 that would aim at se­cur­ing around 55 Lok Sabha seats from the state, at the ex­pense of the BJP. In Tamil Nadu, the com­edy of er­rors that is the AIADMK and its three fac­tions is mak­ing it likely that the DMK will do very well in the polls to­gether with the Con­gress party. Over­all, the 2019 Lok Sabha polls seem far from the cake­walk that was en­vi­sioned by the BJP in 2014, when it sought to rule not merely at the Cen­tre but in all the states as well, a tar­get that was sub­stan­tially achieved by Amit Shah.

Naren­dra Modi was cor­rect to place em­pha­sis on the econ­omy and the cor­rup­tion dam­ag­ing it dur­ing the 2014 cam­paign. How­ever, thus far his gov­ern­ment has not even been able to send for­mer Union Fi­nance Min­is­ter P. Chi­dambaram to prison, or keep Karthi Chi­dambaram be­hind bars for any sig­nif­i­cant length of time. The ev­i­dence pre­sented by the ED and the CBI has proved in­suf­fi­cient in per­suad­ing the courts that both fa­ther and son need to be sub­jected to cus­to­dial in­ter­ro­ga­tion. Over and over again, pos­si­bly be­cause of lapses in the pre­sen­ta­tion of ev­i­dence, Chi­dambaram has been res­cued from hav­ing to go to prison by ju­di­cial ver­dict af­ter ju­di­cial ver­dict. Un­less at least a few VVIPs from the Man­mo­han Singh pe­riod (termed dur­ing that time by the BJP as the most cor­rupt gov­ern­ment ever) face ac­count­abil­ity, to make UPA-era cor­rup­tion a cam­paign strat­egy would fail to con­vince the elec­torate. Af­ter four years, if so lit­tle ac­tion has been taken, what is the guar­an­tee that the next few years will be any dif­fer­ent? More wor­ri­some for the NDA, CMIE data show that un­em­ploy­ment is at 6.9%, a level last reached af­ter the 8 Novem­ber 2016 with­drawal of 86% of the coun­try’s cur­rency. Those seek­ing em­ploy­ment rose from 21.6 mil­lion a year ago to 29.5 mil­lion now. As for De­Mon, cash in cir­cu­la­tion (Rs 19.6 lakh crore) is higher this week than it was in the pe­riod when the Prime Min­is­ter per­son­ally an­nounced the big­gest eco­nomic mea­sure that has been taken in In­dia for a long time, when it was Rs 17.9 lakh crore. At the same time, the growth of both bank branches as well as ATMs have been un­sat­is­fac­tory, es­pe­cially in small towns and vil­lages, they still be­ing al­most non-ex­is­tent in sev­eral ru­ral ar­eas of the coun­try, with the con­se­quence that farm­ers are put to im­mense hard­ship. To­gether with that is a pub­lic spat be­tween the Min­istry of Fi­nance and the very lead­er­ship of the Re­serve Bank of In­dia that was ap­pointed by it. More than be­ing on the cam­paign trail, it would as­sist the BJP bet­ter in the 2019 polls were Prime Min­is­ter Modi to fo­cus on the anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign and on eco­nomic pol­icy more gen­er­ally. Those who are still with empty purses and stom­achs are un­likely to vote for the BJP once again, no mat­ter how many the party ral­lies and road shows there may be.

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