Since the historic triumph of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the May general elections, it may have suffered uncharitable defeats in by-polls of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, but that was hardly a revision of Prime Minister and BJP’s tallest leader Narendra Modi’s mandate.
The party needs to worry about the results from Rajasthan and Gujarat, not those from Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. For the past several years, by-elections have been won by parties ruling in the respective States. Besides, big leaders don’t participate in by-poll campaigns, making it unclear how much their charisma worked at the hustings. Vasundhara Raje must explain what happened in Rajasthan. Gujarat is a slightly different story; anybody other than Anandiben Patel who could have followed Modi as the chief minister would have found him an equally tough act to follow.
Otherwise, we have shared with our readers the disappointment over lack of adequate economic reforms, which could have been partly responsible for the downturn. Today’s campaign bugle sounded by Modi and Sonia Gandhi in separate places leaves no room for excuse for either contestant. Modi has begun it with his characteristic style, pointing out cases of governance deficit one by one and asking the audience at his rallies whether or not what he says is true, and whether or not his party deserves to win the coming Assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra to set things right. Better still, he has arrived on stage equipped with what all he brought for the people from his Japan, China and US ‘shopping lists’. A win for the BJP would obviously mean the voters bought the list; it would establish the party’s virtual monopoly over the entire stretch of western-central India from the National Democratic Alliance’s Punjab to BJP’s Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It would be a governance cakewalk, given the country’s federal structure. Jammu & Kashmir would be a bonus, Jharkhand a saffron island in the east. A loss, which is unlikely — or hung Assemblies — would still be partially good for the country. For the better, it would tell the Modi government that incremental improvements do not impress Indians to the extent that makes the momentum of electoral victory sustainable. While electoral setbacks have normally turned Central governments more socialistic throughout the history of polls in the country, the BJP should know better than any outsider that a return to the Indian National Congress’s ‘Government Almighty’ model would be a bigger political disaster and marketing folly that kills brand differentiation. On the flip side, the positives of the NDA Government would hardly see the light of the day, with rivals in the States likely to refuse cooperation in the Centre’s programmes. What does the UPA chairperson and Congress president have to prove? Her party’s reduction to 44 Lower House seats or the rival’s elevation to 288 was fluke. And that, even when her party does not rule at the Centre, it is her party’s policies that rule! That the BJP is merely furthering INC’s programmes has been the mainstay of the latter’s imputation for the past four months.
Several pro-market economists, all of whom had softly marketed Modi during the Lok Sabha campaign, are now saying he is no Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan. Some presume he would be India’s Deng Xiaoping. Unfortunately for Indian ruling parties, provincial elections arrive at a high frequency, disturbing the Centre’s policy thrusts, which Thatcher’s United Kingdom, Reagan’s United States and certainly Deng’s China did not have to face. Unnerving for Modi is the fact that the jobs Indian industry promised at the inauguration of the ‘Make in India’ initiative or those expected from Japanese, Chinese and American investments will not be visible before the people cast their votes. This implies the BJP must rely heavily on public faith in Modi’s intentions. Since an Indian crowd is, after all, an Asian crowd, it can be expected that they trust that a leader can extricate them from their poor lot: if not by offering subsidies and government jobs then at least through state-driven capitalism. The BJP may relax further, given that the Congress’s prospects are far bleaker with anti-incumbency of the last 10 years or more. The most tensed are we, the spectators of this race. We pray the electors realise what is best in the economy’s interest — their interest.