Huge expectations

Huge expectations

Huge expectations

People have voted for Narendra Modi and the BJP for the promise of an improved economy and better job prospects.

At the time of this writing, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alone – without its allies -- is winning about 280 seats in the Lok Sabha which is above the halfway mark of 272 seats required for a clear majority in the lower house. If the seats of its allies are also taken into consideration, the BJP combine is getting over 330 seats. This is a huge victory for Narendra Modi and BJP and its allies. Modi and BJP may certainly have expected to win, but they themselves may not have anticipated such a landslide verdict.

With such a lucid verdict comes the onerous responsibility of fulfilling people’s wishes. People have voted for Narendra Modi and the BJP, who have promised them an improved economy that provides more money in their pockets and offers better job prospects. Whether it is the farmer in UP or a young job-seeking university graduate from Mumbai or Mysore, Modi has promised them all a far better economic future. The time has now come to start delivering on those promises and quickly.

Modi and his BJP colleagues must be having concrete plans as to how to bring about economic development; although they have not yet made it known or explained the ways of bringing that about. Surely, the stock market has responded very jubilantly to the news of BJP’s victory; the rupee has gained by over 1 per cent against the US dollar. These are welcome signs of goodwill, hope and expectations in the corporate circles; but these are not the methods or process of national economic development. The strategy for the main plank of Narendra Modi’s BJP – the issue of economic development – has not yet been made clear to the public during all these hectic months of campaigning for the polls.

The corporate sector can be allowed expanded opportunities, easier clearances, more land, and perhaps more resources where possible – like water, electricity, roads. More big industry could mean maybe more jobs – directly and indirectly; but that opportunity is limited. Trickle effect is there; but, trickling of benefits even to the other smaller industries takes time. Employment possibilities are the highest in small and medium size industries. The challenge is to have such industries in large numbers and see that this sector remains viable in the long run. India’s manufacturing needs to be revived in a big way. It has withered during the last couple of decades due to problems that it has been suffering from; problems such as lacking in global competitiveness on cost/price, quality and innovativeness.

How do we encourage entrepreneurship? In Gujarat, it may be available in more plentifully than in other regions of India. How will India’s new entrepreneurs provide products and services that could compete globally? One may remember that even if a product is to be sold within the country, it has to compete favourably with international products in its own genre. The difference between an ‘export’ quality product and a product for ‘desi’ consumption is narrowing rapidly.

Rural India’s needs

Also, corporates alone do not constitute India. Slick speaking youngsters in cities and bigger towns alone do not make India. Half of India still lives in the rural regions. How will that India be provided with meaningful work and more basically food, clothing and shelter? India’s agricultural sector has also not been keeping pace with the food needs of the country whose population is growing significantly. Food production, water management in times when the resource has been depleting, and natural renewable resources regeneration and expansion are some of the basic problems.

‘Education for all’ is a necessity; it is not just a programme. Unless every one’s skills are upgraded, increasing urbanisation causes increasing miseries for the crores of people uprooted from their rural backgrounds. People should be fit for employment in enterprises providing products and services. With even the official illiteracy figures at 27 per cent, the problem before any government is huge. The actual problem could be huger.

Health is another important parameter. There is no point in creating large multinationals, when the basic healthcare is absent for a considerable section of the population. India has a lot to do in this direction. We have to drag ourselves up from the bottom half of the world’s nations. It is a tougher problem than encouraging the outside corporate investors to invest in India. Because it deals with social customs, old entrenched beliefs and attitudes and practices. It is tough to even persuade village folks to attend to a ‘nature’s call’ in private – in an enclosed toilet. Whether it is Karnataka, Maharashtra or Gujarat, the story is more or less the same.

Elimination of corruption and good governance are the other explicit expectations made by the electorate. By electing the BJP, the party and its government have been entrusted to fulfill these expectations quickly. But, when corruption becomes a cultural problem, it is so much more entrenched, so much more difficult to extract out. Because, ‘corruption’ has become a faster way, a short-cut, to attaining one’s desires.
BJP and Narendra Modi have not yet come out clear about their foreign policy.

Modi has visited Japan and China. BJP has the article 370 in its agenda with reference to Jammu and Kashmir. Does it mean they will be hawkish to Pakistan and China? Is it possible, at this juncture, to be hawkish with China assuming we garner support from Japan? How do we balance Pakistan and China while tinkering with the policy on J&K? These issues are big and need real introspection and need long term policy initiatives with our neighbours.

A lot of our economic calculations also depend upon these realities. Modi and NDA have a huge mandate and huger work cut out for them. India fervently hopes that they will deliver and meet the aspirations of its citizens.

(The writer is a former professor at the IIM, Bangalore)