The choice before India’s electors

One must consider the credibility of the two sides. One offers ironclad guarantees based on robust performance, while the other offers vague platitudes that rest on a legacy
Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.Express illustration | sourav roy

Elections are the ultimate exercise of democratic choice.

India's 97 crore eligible electors are more than the combined registered voters in the last elections in US, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, Japan, and Bangladesh. A stark choice lies before them -- a choice between two contrasting visions of development: the stability and growth offered by the BJP under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi versus the chaos and divisiveness offered by the leaderless INDI alliance. It is a choice that matters: The former shall illuminate the path to prosperity and peace; the latter shall send us back to a time of scarcity and schism.

When the first elections were successfully held in 1951-52, it was inconceivable to our erstwhile colonial masters that a largely illiterate and poor nation would pull off universal adult franchise without any prior experience and no infrastructure for 17.3 crore electors. As is its wont, India defied the odds. Since then, an implicit faith in the power of elections has empowered the historically disempowered, enabling them to shape their own destinies.

It is this faith that is being exercised once again in 2024 against the backdrop of two different visions.

The BJP vision, encompassed in its Sankalp Patra, offers a comprehensive roadmap for development, building on the last ten years of high-trajectory growth. It is codified in the 'politics of saturation' where emphasis is given to delivering basic infrastructure, providing food security, ensuring energy affordability, transitioning to a green economy, and enabling digital connectivity and financial inclusion. In this vision, the claim to public resources rests not only with one community, but all 1.4 billion Indians.

This is the philosophy of 'Antyodaya se Sarvodaya' -- it is not mere welfarism where public resources are considered expenditure; no, they are an investment in the well-being of Indians.

Consider the construction of more than 11 crore toilets under the Swachh Bharat Mission and 12 crore tap water connections under the Jal Jeevan Mission and AMRUT. These remarkable achievements have meant that Indian households have saved nearly Rs 60,000 annually due to better health outcomes. Through the Ayushman Bharat Mission, out-of-pocket expenditure on health has reduced by 25% in the last ten years. For many lower-middle class Indians, a health emergency in the family is what used to spiral them down towards poverty earlier -- not anymore!

There has been a paradigmatic shift in governance in the last ten years. From the days of policy paralysis, we are now seeing an era of transformative policies that has resulted in 25 crore people exiting multidimensional poverty since 2014.

Nearly 4 crore houses will have been constructed under the PM Awas Yojana, with another 3 crore announced for the third term of the Modi government. More than 51 crore Jan Dhan accounts have been opened. Through the JAM Trinity (Jan Dhan, Aadhar, Mobile), more than Rs 34 lakh crores have been transferred directly to people's bank accounts. Schemes such as PM KISAN and PM Fasal Bima have reduced the costs and uncertainties for farmers.

Contrast this with the negative vision of the Congress-led Opposition.

They are hung up on the ‘politics of scarcity’, still harking back to the days of 'Garibi hatao' sloganeering. Someone must educate my friends in the Opposition -- the India of today is very different. Their model of mediocrity and coalitions which did not work until 2014 is now being reframed as a model of equality. Well, when everyone was poor, I suppose there was equality.

They conveniently leave out the fact that only they benefitted during, as the innumerable corruption scandals of UPA-II highlighted. And yet, the Opposition now seeks to rebrand itself as society's Robinhood. A pity that they have been reduced to this kind of vigilante politics. Forgive me, and the majority of Indians, for desiring a mature approach.

The sheer hypocrisy of all this is that the person who is talking about inheritance and wealth redistribution can credit his platform only to his birth and inheritance. For him to say that the government should take away people's property, x-ray their homes and lockers… it is not only very dangerous, it is also ironic. What a colossal waste of legacy!

Simply put, the Opposition lacks an economic vision. It has resorted to making unrealistic promises that will bankrupt the country. Consider their promise of transferring Rs 1 lakh annually to one woman of every household. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that such a scheme would cost approximately Rs 32 lakh crores. The total revenue expenditure of the government for 2023-24 was Rs 35 lakh crores. Where will they get the money from? So much for fiscally responsive politics in the wake of the pandemic. Do they not see the examples of countries around the world which are flirting with hyperinflation or recession due to overspending, and needless subsidies and income transfers?

Much like their false promises of the past, the Opposition reeks of desperation as it makes impossible promises now. The fact that nobody stops you from making empty promises does not mean you endanger the progress of the country altogether. Do we want to go back to the late 1980s when India was on the brink?

Worse still is their demonization of wealth-creators. Why attack those who bring jobs to the country? Those who propel India's manufacturing and production capabilities. Private enterprise is the chief agent in creating employment and building productive capacity. The private sector accounts for about two-thirds of the total gross capital formation in India. Effective partnerships between the government and private sector in critical areas of infrastructure and long-term investments is the need of the hour. It is in poor taste to criticise sincere nation-building efforts.

In contrast to the Opposition's hare-brained approach, the Modi government has demonstrated a business-friendly policy environment. Capital expenditure has increased nearly three times from 2013-14, rising from Rs 3.92 lakh crores in 2013-14 to Rs 11.1 crores in 2024-25. Policy reforms such as GST, IBC, asset monetization, labour law reforms, Start-up India and the PLI scheme have revitalised India’s economy and fostered innovation.

Indians must consider the issue of credibility of the promises made by these two contrasting visions. One offers ironclad guarantees based on its robust performance over the last ten years; the other offers vague platitudes that rest on a legacy of corruption. On the one side is 'Modi ki Guarantee'. On the other is a slew of unrealistic promises that will end up doing more harm than good.

Does the Opposition think we will forget the scarcity of energy their mismanagement caused? In comparison, the Modi government brought a near saturation in LPG coverage, from a meagre 55.9% coverage in 2014. It is the Modi government that ensured the price of petrol and diesel did not rise even when international benchmark went up by 40-70%. Contrast this with the Congress-led UPA-II government when because of their folly of floating oil bonds worth Rs 1.41 lakh crores, the country has suffered as we are now being forced to pay back Rs 3.2 lakh crores in return.

Is the Opposition's political discourse centred only on fearmongering? Do they have anything substantive beyond the social division of a caste census or minority appeasement to bring to the table? They who claim to represent the interest of Muslims have only acted to win the approval of the upper echelons and religious leadership of this community for political gain, and not the general populace for their welfare. It stinks of backroom politics and patronage.

Threatening to break into people's houses and lockers doesn't behove the dignity of the fifth-largest economy. The question that electors must ask themselves is whether or not the Opposition has a vision to build and grow this great country.

On the flip side, the Modi government aspires to make India Aatmanirbhar and a global economic powerhouse. It rests on the pillars of clean administration, responsible fiscal management, enabling start-ups, and high investment in infrastructure and public services.

The proof lies in the pudding. India is already the fifth-largest economy in the world, and soon, will become the third-largest. With a growth rate of 8.4% in the third quarter of the previous fiscal year and expected rates of 7-8% in the coming few years, India is demonstrating that it will achieve its development goals by 2047. Which other leader in the fray is thinking of a long-term vision for the country apart from the Prime Minister?

India lies on the cusp of a demographic transition while most developed countries face an ageing workforce. The size of opportunity is immense. The goal of a Viksit Bharat animates us all. I have never seen such enthusiasm in the country. Many forces, be they geopolitical, economic, social, or cultural, are aligning to make this possible. I have faith that Indians will see through the sophistry of the Opposition's promises.

(Views are personal)

Hardeep S Puri

Hardeep S Puri is a karyakarta of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Union Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, and Petroleum and Natural Gas in the Government of India.

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