As a new year begins today, the tectonic plates of Indian politics have shifted. BJP entered last year on a roll, looking unbeatable and a shoo-in for Lok Sabha polls this year. In 2017 it gained four states in Assembly Elections, retained two and lost Punjab where it was Akali Dal’s junior partner. The scale of its landslide victory in the key state of UP prompted Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) to return to NDA, breaking the mahagathbandhan in Bihar. But in 2018 the tables turned. BJP lost four large states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka and only won three north-eastern states, less significant from a Lok Sabha perspective. At this point of time BJP looks distinctly vulnerable in general elections to be held in a few months, even though it still remains the party to beat.
Perhaps the Gujarat assembly elections held in December 2017 prefigured the shape of things to come. BJP had to struggle hard to hold on to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, which also happens to be the party’s bastion. Political commentary often looks at anti-incumbency as an inevitable factor of Indian politics. But it need not be seen as the unavoidable destiny of any ruling party.
A clue to a better explanation would be the old Bill Clinton slogan “It’s the economy, stupid” – the state of the economy is finally catching up despite today’s hyper-partisan political discourse being about anything but and hinging mostly on identity issues (if not degenerating into plain abuse, invective and name calling). Private investments haven’t really taken off from their peak soon after the Modi government came to power, the bad loan problem remains unresolved, demonetisation hollowed out the economy, an overly complicated and cumbersome GST hasn’t helped, consumer confidence is low, fiscal deficits are rising, there is a jobs crisis, farmers are in distress.
This year, however, can be one of regeneration and turnaround. Unfortunately the election season has unleashed a surfeit of economic populism, a festival of Bad Ideas. One can only hope it draws down soon and a stable government gets elected, which subsequently embarks on a programme of responsible and serious structural reform so that India’s promise begins to be realised. On the specific shape such reform should take the accompanying lead opinion essay – drawing on ideas collated from leading Indian economists – offers plenty of suggestions that are worth serious consideration.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
via TOI Blog
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