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State poll results and India’s murky politics

, December 19, 2013, 0 Comments

state polls -MarketExpressThe results of the just concluded state elections have been declared. BJP certainly has an edge over Congress as far as these results are concerned. But this is only an edge and nothing substantial. It is only in Rajasthan that BJP has substantially re-written the arithmetic. It is only here that the so called ‘Modi effect’ seems to be visible. In states such as Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the BJP was already in power and it was the regional factors that moved the electorate and not the ‘Modi factor’.

In Delhi everything had to do with the AAP impact. Former Congress loyalists who were disillusioned by this party decided to give a chance to AAP. This party emerged from nowhere and captured a large chunk of seats in Delhi – even more than what the Congress could muster. At the national level the poll results will have only a minor impact. The net gain for BJP could be only about 10 seats at the national level. It will, however, certainly strengthen the resolve of the secular parties to unite and fight the coming general elections under a common platform. These parties stand to gain if they declare their resolve to unite even if they don’t come to any seat-sharing arrangement.

During the last few years party politics has taken a turn for the worse in India. BJP is desperate to come back to power. They try to obstruct the Congress Party in every possible way. In Parliament they disrupt proceedings. They demand resignation of Congress party leaders at the slightest provocation. Even an honest and upright politician like Manmohan Singh has not been spared. But our PM is made of a different mould and his integrity never came to be doubted.

The Congress party on its side had to face a number of corruption charges. Many of these charges are under investigation. The coal scam has sent the party into murky waters. The telecom scam was the most unfortunate. There is no doubt that the CAG report had grossly exaggerated its findings. It was sad to see a constitutional authority like the CAG  overstepping its limits and bringing allegations on the government which are without any strong foundation.

The telecom industry has still not recovered from the damage done by the CAG report. An industry which was providing services at one of the cheapest rates in the world and had created a record of expanding its subscriber base at an extremely rapid pace is today in crisis. The industry had become a model for inclusive growth in the country. The penetration of mobile services among the poor and in rural areas was a model for the government agencies. Here was an industry operating predominantly in the private sector but contributing more to inclusive growth than any public sector undertaking or government department.

The politics over the food security bill is a class apart. Here is a bill which we believe will lead to more food insecurity than security and which will put severe strain on the government finances at a time when the fiscal deficit and the current account deficits are very high and is leading to a steep decline in the value to the Rupee. People ask why is the Indian economy in such a bad shape when we have an economist PM and very distinguished economists in the Planning Commission, RBI, Ministry of Finance, Economic Advisory Council and so on. The answer is that the role of these economists is advisory and they are unable to cross the red line when political expediency so dictates.

Take the case of increasing diesel prices. Any well meaning economist will advocate a steep increase in diesel price at this juncture but political considerations prevent the government from taking such a decision. Take next the case of the food security bill. It is both fiscally damaging and likely to bring considerable damage to the food economy. One cannot believe that the Government’s economic thinkers are not aware of this fact. But once the UPA chairperson has voiced her support for the food security bill no one has the courage but to fall in line whatever be the private views they hold. Moreover, it is a well known fact that in matters such as the food security bill Sonia Gandhi is guided not by her team of economists but by the National Advisory Council. Even the economist PM has no say in the matter.

The BJP has decided who its PM candidate will be for the 2014 general elections. It is a matter of dispute whether other candidates such as L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitley would have been better candidates as compared to Narendra Modi. But the rank and file of BJP had decided on Modi and there was no going back on this point.

Modi, ironically, is a candidate whom the Congress Party should welcome. This is because the Congress Party has with itself more ammunition which it can use against Modi than anything which the party can use against Advani, Sushma or Jaitley. Modi is going to be only a one year phenomenon for BJP. Every indications show that BJP will, most probably, not come to power after the general elections. Once BJP is defeated everyone will forget Modi. He will disappear from the national scene and go into oblivion. Maybe he will lose Gujarat as well.

Congress is not able to decide on its PM candidate. Rahul Gandhi seems to be a reluctant and ineffective candidate. Rahul appears like a lamb in front of tiger, Modi. There is also no guarantee that UPA will come back to power after the elections. Thus Congress will only be reluctant to project Rahul as its PM candidate.

There are others in the party like P Chidambaram who can aspire to be the Prime Minister of India. Chidambaram has all the qualifications to ascend to the throne and he will certainly make a good PM. But it remains to be seen whether he will be able to muster sufficient support within his party. A person like Shashi Tharoor is another PM candidate in the making. But his days are very far away in the future. He may emerge as Congress’ PM candidate in some distant future. But his time is yet to come. After all the Congress party may decide to give another term to Manmohan Singh. But this may only be a matter of theoretical significance since UPA’s return to power is itself doubtful and Congress may not project a PM candidate before the elections. Other possible PM candidates for Congress include Nandan Nelakani, Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma and Manish Tiwari.

There is virtually no difference between the BJP and the Congress party so far as economic policies are concerned. One wonders why BJP is called a right wing party. Its views on matters such as FDI are more left oriented than that of the Congress. One also therefore wonders why the business community favours the BJP over Congress. In several matters such as FDI in retail trade, increasing petroleum prices, insurance reform, FDI in Civil Aviation, subsidy reform etc.  Congress party’s views are closer to that of industry.

Perhaps Modi’s claim about better governance is what attracts the industry. But Modi’s economic policies are still unknown. He has always spoken in general terms on economic policy without explaining how his policies differ from that of the Congress. BJP criticizes Congress government’s economic policy. But BJP has never ever clarified how they would have tackled the economic situation differently if they were in power.

Narendra Modi is considered to be popular among the youth and among industrialists. At the same time his popularity is highly restricted in South India and in East and North East India. In South India BJP’s popularity was confined to Karnataka, in which state also it has received a beating in recent months. In North India BJP’s influence is more among the urban population while in rural areas it may not enjoy much following. Thus BJP’s command is only over a limited populace and this vote bank will not be sufficient to see it through at winning a majority in the general elections.

In recent months India has witnessed a hostile environment on its borders – both with Pakistan as well as China. While in regard to these border disputes, the BJP was on the forefront in Parliament as well as outside to criticize the Central Government, it never came forward to extend a helping hand to the government in tackling these situations. Such cooperation would have been most wanted in tackling dispute with hostile neighbours. But with BJP’s eagerness to come back to power at the centre at any cost, they forgot to see what was in the national interest but only saw what was it that would give political mileage to the party in its rivalry with the Congress Party.

Such murky politics in the country thus contributed not only to destabilize the economic situation and vitiate the atmosphere in Parliament but also resulted in compromising national security interests of the nation.