First, a note of sanity among all the celebratory pandemonium. The BJP has won two major states. But the Congress has not been decimated: It has won in Punjab and is the largest single party in two other states. But since Uttar Pradesh has more seats than the others combined, the BJP’s stupendous performance there cannot but overshadow the others, and its portent for future national politics has to be considered carefully.
The number crunchers will be at it for weeks, analysing castes, communities, regions, ages, gender and what not. But what is already clear is that Modi’s new syncretic formula of success, an amalgam of aggressive economics and socialengineering, will be hard to beat in 2019. He has delivered little on the economic front so far except demonetisation, but that one strike won him this election on the 8th of November itself because of its pure perception value. The brilliant reverse social engineering of Amit Shah, centred around the pan-India Hindu identity of the BJP, has delivered the coup de grace to the narrower Hindu parties like the SP and BSP by subsuming the sub-identities like Yadavs, Jatavs and Kurmis. The BJP has created its own powerful social coalition. Only this can explain the massive UP victory. Religious polarisation did happen, but is only one part of the explanation. Modi has stormed these hitherto sacrosanct social ghettos and left them in ruins. This is something all Indians should welcome.
Modi is the colossus in whose shadow the BJP exists. As long as his brand equity holds, he needs no CM face. He does not need allies: In Punjab where the BJP fought in an alliance, it lost. For the first time in decades, a PM is acting like a true leader of a nation, setting the agenda rather than following populist clamour. He is not a careful builder of consensus but a risk-loving unilateralist. This election shows this is precisely what today’s India, sick of indecisive vacillation and appeasement, desperately wants.
Where does Modi take the BJP and the nation from here? The reaffirmed mandate comes with heightened expectations. The biggest of his reforms, GST and demonetisation, are done. There is no time left for initiating new reforms. There are plenty on the table languishing: Expect the Centre to get after them with a messianic spirit.
Some are already up and running (and have paid the BJP rich dividends): Jan Dhan, Digital India, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, gas cylinders distribution, UDAY (for State electricity boards), Direct Benefits Transfers, Swachh Bharat and Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana. To sew up 2019, Modi will now concentrate on the big-ticket reforms already announced but hanging fire due to bureaucratic lethargy, stakeholder resistance or non-cooperation by states. His biggest concern has to be creation of new jobs, at least 20 million in the next two years, what with 18 million new voters added every year. This involves tackling the following sectors:
Even though banks are now awash with deposits after demonetisation, the lines of credit are choked and they are reluctant to lend. The reason is the NPAs which have continued to increase and now amount to more than `7 lakh crores. This logjam has to be broken if Make in India is to be a success.
The key to the massive job creation Modi needs to win 2019. Currently stagnating at 16 per cent of the GDP, the target is to reach 25 per cent by 2020; this by itself will create 100 million jobs. But private investment necessary for this is not happening due to credit, land, labour and infrastructural constraints. The Centre has to unravel this Gordian knot.
The most critical aspect of Make in India is the indigenisation of defence production. Our armed forces will need $100 billion of equipment in the next decade, almost all of which is currently imported. The Centre wants to achieve 60 per cent indigenisation by 2020 which will not only create millions of jobs but also conserve foreign exchange. But we are nowhere near this figure. To achieve it, a new policy on strategic partnerships with the private sector is needed. The draft policy has been languishing since 2016. Expect Modi to now crack the whip on this.
This perennial stumbling block to any reform now will have to either change or perish. Modi cannot allow this rusted frame to stand between him and a place in history. They have got the gravy from the 7th Pay Commission and will now have to deliver on both policy and implementation. Modi’s changes so far have been cosmetic, tinkering with appointment procedures and ACRs. He will now wield the broadsword and hack away the deadwood and the undergrowth. This will, however, create a strong pushback.
There has never been any love lost between Modi and the higher judiciary. This uneasy relationship will become more strained and become a battle between the elected and the unelected. This is dangerous ground, a struggle between accountability and independence. With his reaffirmed mandate, Modi will demand more of the former, and people will support him given the dismal state of our criminal justice system.
I foresee some other, not so welcome, reaffirmations by the Centre—a harder line on Kashmir, a determined reiteration of the BJP’s unilateral concept of nationalism, a renewed push for the Uniform Civil Code and a further distancing from the minorities. One unfortunate consequence of the BJP victory will inevitably be that it will feel vindicated for everything it did in the past, good and bad, and pursue it with greater vigour.
The writing is on the wall for the Opposition. They have to find new leaders, move beyond the jaded secular versus communal rhetoric, break out of caste and class silos, campaign on ideas rather than personalities, subsume their individual egos for constructive alliances. They can either hang together or they will hang separately.
The author served in the IAS for 35 years and retired as Additional Chief Secretary of Himachal Pradesh