Sunday June 1 2014

India polls: Modi’s government now needs to look at equal growth

By Tushar Dhara

Narendra Modi was sworn in as the 14th Prime Minister of India last Monday in the country’s capital, New Delhi. He took the oath of office along with other members of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a right-wing Hindu nationalist party that was elected by a landslide by India’s voters. The party will form a federal government after 10 years of sitting on the opposition benches.

It is the first time since 1952 that a party other than the Indian National Congress, which led India’s anti-colonial freedom movement, has got a majority on its own in India’s 543 seat Parliament.

The BJP, led by Modi, won 282 seats in an election that they fought on the issues of “development” and “good governance”. The Congress party, which ruled India in the 10 years to 2014, was reduced to 44 seats. The mandate gives the Modi-government a free hand to implement its agenda.

Narendra Modi, a three-term leader of the Western Indian state of Gujarat, is a highly polarising figure, who is considered decisive by some and divisive by others.

He is wildly popular among India’s middle classes for his perceived no-nonsense attitude to governance and for turning his home state Gujarat into one of the best economic performers.

Critics allege that the so-called “Gujarat model” of development is a corporate-led model with generous help from the state in terms of tax breaks and land acquisition. They also say that Gujarat lags behind in human development indicators.

The incident that cemented Modi’s reputation as a hardliner was an outbreak of violence in 2002 where a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was burnt, allegedly by a Muslim mob. The reaction to that was a violent rampage by alleged Hindu mobs. More than 1,000 people died and critics allege that the government did nothing to control the fury. However, his supporters point out that government and judicial committees appointed to investigate the riots have found no evidence against Modi.

Modi was declared the Prime Ministerial candidate by his party last year and led an energetic campaign targeting the Congress party for its alleged corruption and mismanagement of the economy. He addressed over 5,000 public meetings and travelled 300,000 km during the campaign. By contrast, the Congress campaign looked listless and confused.

Modi’s message of Hope and Change (one of his campaign slogans was “Good days are upon us”) resonated with India’s nearly 850 million voters who were angry about inflation, lack of jobs and corruption. Multi-trillion rupee corruption scandals involving Congress and coalition ministers cemented this feeling. From the issuance of telecom licences to coal mines and from the commonwealth games preparations to government appointments, it seems everything was up for sale.

It was this deep vein of discontent that Modi and the BJP targeted with a relentless campaign promising “Development”. The campaign was so effective that voters in the Northern heartland of the country, which sends the maximum number of MPs to Parliament, voted for Modi’s vision instead of the usual trend of voting along caste and community lines. The BJP gained votes from almost all sections: low income groups, the youth vote, urban and upper caste votes.
So what will the immediate priorities of the new government be? Kick starting economic growth, creating jobs and reining in prices, especially food inflation, will figure at the top of the list. Boosting manufacturing and creating the infrastructure to support it may be part of the plan to revive the economy and create jobs for the estimated 10 million people who enter the Indian workforce every year.

Reviving confidence in a stalling economy will be utmost on Modi’s mind. However it will have to ensure that the fruits of growth are shared by all sections of society, and not just by those at the top, if it hopes to be elected for a second term in five years.

The author is an India-based journalist and writer who lives and works with rural communities on issues of Right to Information.