Complex challenges

Complex challenges


A shopkeeper poses with political parties' campaign materials ahead of Lok Sabha elections 2019, in Jabalpur. PTI

The upcoming Lok Sabha elections will witness a key contest for power between the BJP and the Congress with a host of regional parties throwing their hat in the ring in the form of the Third/Federal Front. For the BJP, the supreme objective is to retain power under the leadership of Narendra Modi while for the Congress, imbued by the recent successes in the Hindi heartland, now is the time to wrest power from the BJP.

Firstly, let us examine the challenges faced by the Modi government. After more than 20 years of coalition governments, the BJP came to power on its own in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections under his leadership.

Modi became the beacon of hope for the youth who largely voted for him. His support base comprised of upper castes, sections of the SC/STs and a large section of the OBCs. He was hailed as a transformational leader who promised jobs and large scale economic reforms. His government enjoyed the advantages accruing from the falling crude oil prices.

But nearly five years down the line, Modi has disappointed the youth, specially in job creation. It would not be a surprise if a big chunk of the youth decide not to vote for BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. Retaining their support would be a big challenge for Modi, though it is being argued by Modi’s supporters that the first time voters, who are as yet not affected by unemployment, may vote for him.

Some of the other challenges faced by the government pertains to the agricultural distress resulting from failure of crops, mounting farmers’ debt leading to large scale suicide by farmers. Agricultural distress was one of the prime reasons for BJP’s electoral reverses in the recent Assembly elections.

Realising the enormity of the problem, the NDA government resorted to directly transfer to farmers’ bank accounts Rs 6,000 a year in three instalments starting from December 2018 itself. This is too little too late. At a more serious level, farmers’ woes need to be handled by the government through guaranteed remunerative prices for crops and setting up a Commission to recommend an acceptable income guarantee scheme for farmers.

On the economic front, the government has not done well. As a result of the ill-thought out demonetisation, the GDP growth rate declined to 5% from 8% which is reported to have reached 7.2% recently. That 99% of the black money returned to the banking system speaks volumes of the bankruptcy of the demonetisation narrative.

Politically, the BJP has not been successful in creating and sustaining a pan-Indian support base while a big chunk of its Hindi belt support base has shrunk in recent times. Its relations with Shiva Sena in Maharashtra is under strain, though it has repaired it temporarily by seat sharing arrangement to face the Lok Sabha polls.

The image of the government has taken a severe beating by the way it has dealt with institutions like the RBI and the CBI. Pressures on the RBI to part with huge sums of its reserves to help the government implement its populist programmes led to Urjit Patel’s resignation as Governor. The removal of CBI chief Alok Verma even after the Supreme Court had reinstated him showed the utter disregard of the government to the Supreme Court.

As for the Ram Mandir issue, the Supreme Court’s proposal for a court-monitored mediation on the Ayodhya dispute is realistic and worth pursuing. The government should stop pandering to the elements bent on constructing the temple. As prime minister, Modi has a constitutional obligation to protect the secular character of our polity.

The 10% reservation for the economically backward (EBCs) among the upper castes was introduced by the government recently through a hurriedly brought about Constitutional amendment with an eye on gaining electoral dividends.

At a larger level, keeping in mind Modi’s declining charisma and the lukewarm support of his NDA allies, the BJP leadership has entered into a pre-poll alliance including seat sharing arrangement with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. 

The party may also try to bring in TRS in Telangana to the NDA fold after the polls. The YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh and BJD in Odisha may be wooed to the NDA to add up to its numbers.
As for the Congress, though Rahul Gandhi’s stock has gone up politically following the party’s victory in recent Assembly elections, he should reveal his policy alternatives to the national problems.

Priyanka Gandhi

Bringing his sister Priyanka Gandhi to the political mainstream may be a good move, but it remains to be seen what electoral dividends it will bring as she is still an untested ‘leader’. The party faces the uphill task of regaining its support base among the SC, STs and OBCs across the length and breadth of the country.

The recent decision of Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu to enter into a pre-poll seat sharing arrangement to fight the BJP is realistic. It remains to seen whether the leaders will set aside their prime ministerial ambitions and inter-party differences in their bid for power.

National interest demands that the Modi government refrains from taking political mileage from the successful air strikes in Balakot, terrorist organisation JeM’s key terrorist base, in the aftermath of Pulwama terror attack.

State BJP president B S Yeddyurappa’s observation that the air strikes would help his party win 22 of the 28 seats in Karnataka and Modi’s recent campaign speeches lend credence to the hidden objective of the BJP to use the air strikes to derive electoral benefits. Lok Sabha polls will be a hard fought battle.

(The writer is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and Senior Fellow, ICSSR)

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