BJP’S tally will de­pend on prom­ises kept, not made

Sub­text of 2019 man­date will be the same as for 2014: Not con­ti­nu­ity but change.

The Sunday Guardian - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS - M.D. NALAPAT

While vot­ers pay at­ten­tion to the prom­ises of an Opposition party, they fac­tor in only the achieve­ments of the rul­ing side. India ex­pected Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi to leap to a fly­ing start. After all, in 1992, Prime Min­is­ter Narasimha Rao (as Min­is­ter for In­dus­try), within his first hun­dred days in of­fice, dis­man­tled sev­eral of the hur­dles on ex­pan­sion and in­vest­ment placed by suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments till then. His Fi­nance Min­is­ter, Man­mo­han Singh, went the other way and re­tained most of the ex­ist­ing taxes on cit­i­zens of India and do­mes­tic com­pa­nies, even while slash­ing them on for­eign en­ter­prises. Had Singh given tar­iff cover to In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy hard­ware units owned by his fel­low cit­i­zens, this coun­try may not have wit­nessed the flood of im­ports of IT hard­ware that has char­ac­terised ex­ter­nal trade in India since then, in­clud­ing ex­pen­di­ture on mo­bile hand­sets by a coun­try where Nokia shut down a giant hand­set plant in Tamil Nadu ow­ing to is­sues re­lat­ing to tax­a­tion. In India, it is much eas­ier to shut down a plant than to con­struct one. Most such growth-damp­en­ers have yet to get cleared. Cul­tural val­ues, national se­cu­rity, pro­tec­tion of the weaker sec­tions; these are a few of the ex­cuses of­fered by those who op­er­ate from (im)purely com­mer­cial mo­tives as they block com­pe­ti­tion through min­istries or the courts prevent­ing fresh ca­pac­ity. Sur­pris­ingly, the in­com­ing gov­ern­ment gave a pass­ing grade to its pre­de­ces­sor in the first Eco­nomic Sur­vey of the Modi gov­ern­ment. In­stead, what ought to have been done was to use the at­mos­phere of good­will and co­op­er­a­tion cre­ated by the BJP’S poll vic­tory in hold­ing a Joint Ses­sion of Par­lia­ment to rec­tify sev­eral of the block­ages to growth and so­cial jus­tice that have long lin­gered within the gov­er­nance sys­tem. For starters, there needed to be much more trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity in the civil ser­vice than has been the case since Sar­dar Pa­tel trans­planted the Im­pe­rial Civil Ser­vice prac­ti­cally un­changed into the post-in­de­pen­dence era. The Cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s power to sanc­tion projects needed to get re­duced and much of such resid­ual pow­ers moved down­wards to state and even mu­nic­i­pal level. A more eq­ui­table al­lo­ca­tion of rev­enue than at present needed to get cre­ated as would give greater spend­ing power to the low­est units of ad­min­is­tra­tion, rather than hav­ing vast sums co­ag­u­late at the Cen­tral level. A Joint Ses­sion of Par­lia­ment in 2014 or early 2015 to steer through sys­temic changes would have had an ef­fect even greater than P.V. Narasimha Rao’s reforms dur­ing his ini­tial months in of­fice.

In­stead of us­ing the Joint Par­lia­men­tary Ses­sion method sanc­tioned by the Con­sti­tu­tion of India to get through es­sen­tial busi­ness, the Modi gov­ern­ment de­cided to seek a Ra­jya Sabha su­per ma­jor­ity by mak­ing ev­ery state elec­tion as im­por­tant to the BJP gov­ern­ment as the national polls. Given their zeal over the next three years to take over po­lit­i­cal space to a de­gree not seen since the pe­riod when Jawa­har­lal Nehru was Prime Min­is­ter, Naren­dra Modi and per­son­ally hand­picked BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah made a com­ing to­gether of the Opposition all but in­evitable be­fore the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Even the CBI or the ED, those im­mensely use­ful tools of prac­ti­cal state­craft, will find it a tough slog to sep­a­rate Mayawati from Akhilesh Ya­dav in Ut­tar Pradesh, or to break up the Rahul­lalu combo in Bi­har, the two states re­spon­si­ble for the present BJP Lok Sabha ma­jor­ity. Had the BJP not sought to con­tinue a “Naam­dar” as the Chief Min­is­ter of Ra­jasthan, and had the just passed Con­sti­tu­tion amend­ment bill on reser­va­tion to “for­ward” castes been in­tro­duced be­fore the Mad­hya Pradesh Assembly polls, the BJP may have pre­vailed over the Congress Party in both states. As mat­ters stand, while Ch­hat­tis­garh is likely to see a strong Lok Sabha show­ing by the Congress Party, the BJP is likely to get less than half the seats it had won in 2014 from MP and Ra­jasthan. Should the Shiv Sena sep­a­rate from the BJP in Ma­ha­rash­tra, and the Vi­jay Ru­pani gov­ern­ment keep its present form in Gu­jarat, the Opposition is likely to get more par­lia­men­tary seats than the BJP in both states. The more Rahul Gandhi has been able to fash­ion Congress policy and tac­tics dif­fer­ent from those wit­nessed dur­ing the UPA era, the tougher it will prove for the BJP to hold the Congress Party to a dou­ble digit Lok Sabha tally. Go­ing by present trends, the dif­fer­ence be­tween the Congress and BJP Lok Sabha tally is likely to be be­low 50 seats, in a con­text where it would be far eas­ier for Rahul Gandhi than for Modi-shah­jait­ley (the tri­umvi­rate that has dom­i­nated pol­i­tics and the econ­omy since 26 May 2014) to per­suade a suf­fi­cient num­ber of oth­ers to join them in the for­ma­tion of a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment. It needs to be added that Nitin Gad­kari, were the BJP tally to fall be­low 220, would be able to move about 60 Opposition MPS more to the BJP cor­ner than the party’s rul­ing tri­umvi­rate. If the BJP’S tally falls be­low 220, its MPS may have to choose be­tween sit­ting in the opposition un­der Modi or returning to gov­ern­ment un­der Nitin Gad­kari.

The BJP must have cal­cu­lated that the Congress Party and oth­ers such as the BSP and the SP would fol­low a re­flex­ive policy of opposition and vote against the Con­sti­tu­tion amend­ment bill in the Ra­jya Sabha. In­stead, Rahul, Mayawati and Akhilesh Ya­dav showed dex­ter­ity in back­ing the gov­ern­ment’s move, thereby sub­stan­tially re­duc­ing the po­lit­i­cal ben­e­fits of the leg­is­la­tion to the BJP. Had Modishah-jait­ley used the Joint Ses­sion route to get passed other mea­sures (such as a ban on Triple Ta­laq or the con­struc­tion of the Ram Temple), the BJP may have been able to bet­ter con­vince vot­ers that it was ca­pa­ble of ac­tu­ally ful­fill­ing the prom­ises made to the elec­torate. In­stead, by act­ing since 2014 as though lit­tle could be done un­til the party had a sub­stan­tial ma­jor­ity in both Houses of Par­lia­ment as well as three-fourths of state As­sem­blies, the BJP has dis­ap­pointed those who ex­pected re­sults and not ex­cuses in performance. Should the com­ing Bud­get Ses­sion get cre­atively used to en­sure a more ra­tio­nal tax­a­tion and reg­u­la­tory regime than the present toxic mish­mash, such moves too are likely to see not ob­struc­tion but sup­port from much of the Opposition, but over­all can slow down a BJP slide. The sub­text of the 2019 man­date will be the same as for 2014: Not con­ti­nu­ity but change. The more vot­ers be­lieve change is real un­der the party’s regime, the higher the BJP tally will be. Prom­ises will no longer work, un­like the way they did in the pre­vi­ous elec­tion.

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