Challenge after New Narrative

The government needs to unfold an economic and social policy that strikes a balance between growth and equity

Published: 19th May 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th May 2014 12:14 AM   |  A+A-

The election mandate of 2014 has shown that if politics is about possibilities, democracy is about hope and aspirations of the people. If we look at the trends in the 2014 elections, a few firsts can be seen.

Firstly, the extent and level of democratic participation witnessed an unprecedented surge; voter turnout was close to 66.4 per cent, highest ever in the history of Indian electoral democracy. Secondly, the levels of democratic participation signalled a desire for change and hope of an aspirational Indian. The dominant electoral narrative of 2014 is the voter’s preference and yearning for change, which can be seen in the BJP’s sweeping performance in 2014, or the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party in such a short duration at the national level. In this electoral party, whoever played the music of change or provided an alternative development narrative made the voters dance to their tunes. Interestingly, this aspirational Indian is a creation of the policy of liberalisation initiated during the Congress regime in 1991 and economic growth experienced during UPA-1. So, in a sense the Congress’s own creation has come back to haunt the party in the 2014 elections. The BJP’s 2014 campaign was successfully able to plug into this yearning and desire for change of the aspirational emergent Indian.

Thirdly, the 2014 verdict is also about stability versus tentativeness. This is evident from the fact that people have decided to vote in favour of a strong and stable government at the Centre, rejecting and perhaps showing distrust for the coalitions. After a long time, a single majority party has come to the Centre which in many senses would remove significant roadblocks in policy decisions. The coalition compulsions were often cited as an alibi for policy paralysis that plagued UPA-2. NOTA constituting for 1.1 % of the total voting share establishes the fact that voters were clear about their preference for a stable and strong centre. This was also perhaps a desire which the BJP was able to clearly tap into.

Fourthly, the primacy of development issues over other usual suspects such as caste, religion and language have been another of the firsts in this election. Overplaying of secularism by the Congress and its allies backfired on them, and on the other hand the talk of Hindutva by the BJP initially did not cut much ice with the voters either. It was the clear message of proposed development agenda, where Modi, time and again enticingly served the Gujarat model of development, especially in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which attracted the voter. Repeated talk of growth, job creation, infrastructure, investment and agricultural growth convinced the voters. It is being wrongly argued and debated that communal polarisation helped BJP in states like Uttar Pradesh and Assam. In my opinion, it was the alternative which the BJP was successfully able to portray and provide to the voters that clinched the verdict in their favour. The communal polarisation argument cannot explain trends in other states such as Bihar.

Fifth, this election was as much about the parties as about the personalities and leadership, which played a crucial and perhaps decisive role. What did the Congress have to offer in this regard? An indecisive, ignored and often undermined prime minister, especially during his second term. The scams and corruption, which plagued UPA-2, worsened the situation further. Rahul Gandhi, who was projected as a leader and perhaps the future prime ministerial candidate for the Congress, came across to the voters as tentative, undecided and unclear about future goals and strategies. The rights-based legislations enacted during the UPA’s first term were often cited by him in his speeches, but he had nothing significantly new to offer. Modi on the other hand brought statesmanship, powerful speeches and clear and decisive goals and strategies for the future. That BJP declared its prime ministerial candidate well in advance and Congress playing a waiting game to formally declare Rahul Gandhi as its own prime ministerial candidate was also seen in an indecisive light. Lastly, the extensive role of mainstream and social media in Election 2014 has been unprecedented, perhaps the biggest and most aggressive media campaign ever in electoral history. Reaching out directly to the voter through extensive campaigns across India by both Rahul and Modi was also an instrumental part of the election. Take for example Modi, who addressed more than 400 rallies and participated actively in more than 5,000 public interface programmes across the country. In addition to this, forums such as “chai pe charcha” where Modi interacted directly with the voters were organised all over India. The new party on the bloc—AAP—also effectively used the media in its election campaign. The method and sheer madness of the scale and scope of reaching out through media, rallies and people’s interaction in 2014 has perhaps changed the entire election campaign narrative forever.

However, as soon as the new government forms in the Centre, it is faced with policy challenges on at least five counts. Firstly, it needs to unfold a new economic and social policy which strikes a judicious balance between growth and equity. This entails continuing with some of the existing rights-based legislations along with a robust economic and monetary policy. One hopes the new government does not initiate a process of undoing the previous policy measures as has been the usual practice when there is a change of guard. Second, a related point is of adopting a multi-pronged policy approach that addresses multiple policy challenges. Balance is the key word for this government. Thirdly, considerable prudency needs to be shown by the core group in selection of its cabinet as well as the advisers and bureaucrats. Fourth, Modi and his key aides come from a state’s perspective, being at the helm of affairs at the Centre necessitates the ability of the current government’s leadership to scale up to that level. Fifth, in my opinion, the governance has to move forward gradually, decisively but not tentatively with an eye on longevity. I sure hope that with a majority party, it will have in mind this gradualism, which always addresses the bigger picture.

The author teaches at the National University of Singapore and can be reached at himanshuj.jha@gmail.com

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