The bye-election results are a signal for the ruling combine for changing its economic policies. The results are not mere reflection of the strength of a united opposition. It also speaks of the mood of the people for their overall well-being.
The results coincide with the IMF projections for India at 7.4 percent, government’s announcement of 7.7 percent GDP growth in the fiscal 2017-18, bank non-food credit growth of 10.4 percent and agriculture credit growth rise by 5.9 percent.
The inflation at 4.58 percent is the only aspect that is inching beyond the RBI tolerance limit of 5 percent. The other concern should be floundering rupee which had gone beyond Rs 68 to a dollar to recover to around Rs 67 during the last one week
It is not that the government has lagged anywhere in its people-centric policies. The four-year achievements are significant almost in every sphere – 31.58 crore are part of financial inclusion through Jan-dhan accounts; 431 schemes enriching 20.14 crore people, the world’s largest, with Rs 3.66 lakh crore of direct benefits; MNREGA women beneficiaries increasing by 5 percent; 82 percent connected through prime minister’s rural roads (PMGSY), 5.22 crore families covered by low-cost Jan Suraksha insurance; the working class has 42 percent increase in wages and increase in workers’ enrolment in organised sector as the government funded their 12 percent employers’ contribution.
There are apparent actions to curb black money. Three lakh shale companies were closed. There are many other achievements the government showcased.
It is impressive. It needs to be pondered where the government lagged in attracting voters. Or is it sheer arithmetic? Partly it may be so. But the overall performance – including the retaining of an assembly seat in Karnataka by Congress, losing the prestigious Kairana Lok Sabha and Noorpur assembly seats in UP by BJP; NCP wresting Bhandara-Gondia from BJP in Maharashtra and BJP trouncing Shiv Sena in Palghar – speaks a lot. TheBJP wins one Lok Sabha and one Assembly seat of total 14 seats – 10 assembly and four Lok Sabha.
That is intriguing. A party that was sweeping every election is thawed. It cannot be just electoral politics though that certainly plays a significant role.
There are other aspects also. There is a feeling that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on a delivering spree but overall happiness of the people are not rising. Why is it so? The figures discussed above shows that the government has tried to deliver through 431 schemes – is it too stretched? It has benefited a large number of people. It has benefited the farmers as well through the credit cards and other benefits. But the sense of losing remains among the farmers and the rural populace despite growing consumer goods sell.
In Kairana, the ganna (sugarcane) won against Jinna (religious card). The UP sugarcane growers have over Rs 16,000 crore dues to be paid by the sugar mills, according to Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA). Farmers – potato, onion or wheat – are unhappy as they are not getting remunerative prices, despite government announcements of 150 percent MSP.
This needs to be analysed. Both UP and Maharashtra have higher sugarcane production as also higher dues. The RLD victory in Kairana, the heart of sugar belt, and NCP in Bhandara-Gondia represent that discontent apart from the combined arithmetic. At Palghar it did not work. But could the BJP have retained the Bhandara-Gondia had the Shiv Sena contested as a partner? Not unlikely.
So the election is not mere mathematics. There are many social and economic issues that mark it.
Despite IMF and government projections; on May 30, Moody’s Investors Service cut India’s 2018 GDP growth outlook to 7.3 percent from 7.5 percent, citing higher oil prices and tighter financial conditions. The risks are currency slump and faster inflation.
Angst is growing against hike in petrol and diesel prices despite a far lower international price, which had touched over $ 80 and again falling and its consequent impact on transport and commodity prices.
The bypoll in Bhandara-Gondia had been necessitated because BJP MP Nana Patole had quit the Lok Sabha membership as well as the party after publicly criticizing the government’s style of functioning.
Patole’s anguish apparently is shared by the voters. This needs to be taken seriously.
Another revelation of the polls is that Hindutva is now the common denominator for all parties. The BJP needs to look beyond. It has to be more inclusive. It should try to win back allies like TDP and Shiv Sena. It also has to make the alliance more broad based. It was success mantra of NDA-I of Atal Behari Vajpayee with 24 allies.
Political and economic course corrections are a must. India is a social coalition and it is beyond religion. The BJP-RSS has leaders who have penetration in the minority communities. They need to be brought into the forefront. Minorities are not unwilling to sail with BJP but they need a reassurance from Kashmir to Kerala. Projection of such leaders and freehand to them to create an inclusive society might pay significant dividends over simple arithmetic.
The BJP should reconsider its strategies.
On the economic front, the party needs to remove the sentiment that it favours profiteers be it some houses or the faulty policies like dynamic rail fare, rising bus fares, high taxes on petrol, highway, local bodies tolls, coercive identity linking, high income tax and the rise of tax terror that hits its core supporters.
The government has to come out of the blackmail of environmentalists-oil lobby on diesel. It should junk it and lower diesel prices to refining cost of around Rs 20-24 a litre. High diesel prices and high tolls are impacting farmers and transport sector. They are drifting away.
It has to re-strategise vis a vis Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. The youth despite everything is being attracted towards him.
The bye-elections have given the signals at the right time. It requires course correction at many levels and involvement of all for a revival. The opposition having tasted the blood is likely to up their ante. It is however too early to say that a dynamic Modi would not be more than a match for them.
The road to 2019 is becoming interesting. With more pro-people economic measures on the cards and BJP re-strategising, the sailing for the opposition may not be that easy either.
(By Shivaji Sarkar, views expressed are personal)