The ecoNomy will decide 2019
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.