Eating my words on the future course of India

The people’s verdict has given Modi 3.0 limited space to manoeuvre. Winds of change are sure to blow across many policy terrains. Even the Finance Commission may not be immune.
The image is used for representational purposes only.
The image is used for representational purposes only.Express Illustrations

A few weeks ago, I had written on the unstoppable Modi juggernaut and the impotent resistance from the opposition in the form of an INDIA bloc that was splitting at the seams even before it got a chance to demonstrate its ability to fight. I underscored Modi’s supreme confidence in his ability to win the battle by himself, with the BJP and the NDA merely applauding from the sidelines.

PM Modi exuded confidence in responding to the motion of thanks for the president’s address in the previous session of parliament. Not only would the BJP and the NDA cross past majorities, but the former would win 370 seats out of an NDA tally of 400, he claimed. I felt that the miscalculations of the Congress and their inability to bring together the INDIA bloc could well presage a long period of uninterrupted BJP rule, the break-up of the Congress and the emergence of a Congress-mukt Bharat, the final destination the BJP wishes to reach.

I now have to eat my words. So does PM Modi, who suddenly finds himself with not even a majority for his party. To form a government, he needed the support of two seasoned warriors with long experience of political fights—sometimes winning, sometimes losing—knowing full well that nothing is static in politics and that today’s enemies can become tomorrow’s friends. As chief minister and as PM, Modi has never faced a strong opposition. He was convinced that ‘Modi ki guarantee’ alone would win the election.

He was so self-assured that he asked his officers to prepare a 100-day plan well before the election, so that he could hit the deck running. The expectation was that Modi 3.0 would be a seamless continuation of Modi 2.0, with the PM in a stronger position than ever before. The campaign became a glorification crusade.

Yet, the people chose to pull him back. This will have implications on policy and action. Further action on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the National Register of Citizens and the uniform civil code must be carefully considered by the new government and parliament before the next step is taken. India’s second-largest community is no longer voiceless; it cannot be bulldozed into submission everywhere.

Significantly, the first file Modi handled after assuming office a third time related to farmers. The farm laws, hastily introduced as part of a “stimulus package” during the pandemic, cannot now be imposed on farmers without discussion within the coalition and with the states and other parties. The sudden imposition of farm laws frightened farmers, who now insist on legal guarantees for enforcing minimum support prices. This is not easy, as MSP covers a wide range of crops and the exchequer will not be able to sustain this burden.

In 2026, the time will come for parliament to look afresh at the question of delimitation of constituencies. If 3.0 had been a mere continuation of 2.0, delimitation would have gone through like a breeze. The current elections have made three changes, which makes this less facile. One, the BJP’s presence in the north has declined, while they grew in vote share in the south and the east. Two, within the government, while JD(U) supports delimitation based on population according to the latest census, TDP stands to lose. And three, the government does not have a two-thirds majority and hence cannot push through a constitutional amendment on its own.

The postponed census may have to be redesigned to include a caste census. The ‘One Nation, One Election’ report of former President Ram Nath Kovind could enter the ranks of government reports gathering dust.

On the economic front, changes will become inevitable. Nirmala Sitharaman’s heavily corporate-oriented economic policy—with some sops thrown in for the very poor—will have to be moderated. There will be and should be, more demand-side economics focusing on the middle classes and the bottom half of the pyramid. The finance minister’s firm conviction that growth can only trickle down from the top will have to be reviewed. Interestingly, this could lead to higher GDP growth, as increased demand will generate higher capacity utilisation, production, and significant investments from Indian and foreign firms. Besides, higher incomes will mean lower household debt and possibly eliminate a lurking danger to the banking system.

Modi 3.0 should also lead to greater synergy between the Centre and the states. Modi started in 2014 with grand ideas of building ‘Team India’. This fell by the wayside. Instead, ministers proclaimed that a BJP-led government is a “double engine” that would get special deals from the Centre, while other states would have to fend for themselves. BJP leaders used this logic even in the recent Odisha assembly elections too.

The Centre will now have to find ways to continue discussions with states on critical issues to design and implement schemes, as successive governments did so effectively in the case of GST. This should also impact the work of the 16th Finance Commission. Chandrababu Naidu has, in the past, been an excellent finance minister. The Finance Commission will be constrained to look at the existing imbalance between the Centre and the states realistically and find ways of balancing them, particularly now that the use of Article 360 to “discipline state financial profligacy” has been rendered impotent by voters.

I also expect significant changes in law enforcement and the judiciary. Perhaps the central agencies will be used with greater discretion. The bulldozers and encounter specialists may have to take a back seat in light of the clear message sent by the people of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. The judiciary, particularly at the lower level, was confused during Modi 2.0 and was subjected to immense political pressure in some cases on which the Supreme Court and high courts commented adversely later. Now the line of command is clearer. The Supreme Court will hopefully prioritise scrutiny of such laws as the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the laws enacted to emasculate the Delhi government and the vexing issue of Centre-state financial relations.

In short, governance will change. If it does not, there could be early elections.

(Views are personal)

K M Chandrasekhar

Former Cabinet Secretary and author of As Good as My Word: A Memoir

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