The general elections in India are a year away, but preparations for it have already started.
The recent state election in Karnataka was dubbed as its precursor or ‘the final before the final’. The situation is identical to how it works in the corporate sector. In a Business to Business (B2B) relationship, one party will usually be the client – and the other its vendor or service provider. If such a contract is created for, say three years, the vendor will not wait till the end of the period before trying to extend the contract. By the halfway mark, the vendor will start their preparations – and by the end of the second year, they will initiate discussions with the client.
They have a single critical objective, which is to ensure that the client does not start evaluating other vendors. If the client starts evaluating other vendors, it means that the client is not satisfied with the current vendor. The most likely outcome will be that the contract will not be renewed and will instead, go out into the market. This is all about perceptions, and the vendor needs to ensure that the perception the client has about them is a favorable one. The game of politics is also about perceptions – and especially so in India, since it is governed by religious, caste and community- based vote banks.
In my opinion, the tone of the 2019 election was set during the 2014 edition itself. The 2014 election was dominated by two factors – the scams that happened, and were subsequently unearthed, during the 10-year-rule of the UPA, and the rise of Modi and his ‘Gujarat model of development’. The UPA government’s tenure was also plagued by the financial meltdown of 2008 and it’s aftereffects. The Indian economy did not experience the full-blown effects of the situation like other countries, but overall, the growth of the economy came to a grinding halt. The GDP tanked, inflation and unemployment flared up – and when the scams came out in public view, discontent against the government soared to an all-time high.
The BJP did not have a prime-ministerial candidate until 2012. It was a headless party back then. However, Modi’s team took advantage of both these situations and used the ‘Gujarat development model’ as the premise upon which he would project himself as a national leader. This worked remarkably well.
But as the trail towards the election heated up, I realised that the projections about Modi and Gujarat weren’t hunky-dory after all. From my neighbours who had moved to Gujarat, I learned that except in some cities like Ahmedabad, nothing much had changed. Ravish Kumar of NDTV ran extensive coverage of some of the major cities and villages of Gujarat where there were no signs of development. Most importantly, the perception that Modi, as the PM, will get rid of all the problems and bring the economy back on the path of growth did not sit well with me.
This fear was explained by his ‘Gujarat development model’, whose effects weren’t quantified or validated by facts and figures. This, especially since the country’s economy and stock market were being affected even by the slightest variations in the valuation of US government bonds. Modi’s much-vaunted plan to bring back the flushed-out black money also sounded hollow. As Arvind Kejriwal mentioned in a televised interview, the more urgent need was to first stop the flow of black money before chasing the money which had already been funneled out of the country.
To summarise, for me, the Modi chant never rose high enough to become a wave. The country’s GDP no longer seems to reflect the economic conditions at the ground level. According to Investopedia, a country’s GDP and inflation are related in five ways. Yet, none of these conditions seem to match India’s present situation.
When crude oil prices were falling globally, India’s fuel prices were still going up – and along with it, the inflation. Yet, the GDP was being portrayed as if it was growing – and that made no sense at all. High GDP growth can trigger inflation, but inflation can never affect GDP positively. Also, GDP and unemployment cannot rise together.
Furthermore, two major initiatives of the government, demonetisation and GST, have completely failed in achieving their stated objective of curbing the black money menace. Money laundering and loan defaults by big time corporate players like Vijay Mallya, which started during the UPA rule, has continued unabated during the last four years as well. All the banks are struggling to cope up with the increasing number of non-performing assets (NPAs). Possession and auction notices of houses and properties, along with auction notices of pawned gold items, throng the daily national and local newspapers. These tell the sordid story of how common people are suffering from the lack of employment and earning opportunities. To add to the woes, farmers across the country are taking their lives.
But, the rich have been getting richer despite all this. Over the course of the last four years, India has emerged as a nation where 73% of the wealth is under the control of 1% of the country’s richest.
The deeper impact of what transpired in 2014 is only becoming apparent now. The BJP did not seek the support of too many political parties to fight the 2014 election. Instead, they chose to go on their own with Modi as their face – effectively making him a single point of success or failure. Given the circumstances under which the 2014 election was conducted, I am inclined to assume that the Congress perhaps did not want to win the election, because they were helpless to stop the downward slide of the economy. They did not want to continue taking the blame for the economic conditions.
I had realised in 2014 that if Modi won and then failed over the next five years, the Opposition would unite – and it would become a battle between Modi and the rest of India. The country has already seen the fiasco that unraveled in Karnataka after the state election last month. The Congress and JD(S), which had fought against each other, joined hands to form the government. Then, they started bickering over the allotment of portfolios. So if the condition arises that so many regional and national parties unite to form the government in 2019, bickering among them over portfolios would rise to preposterous levels.
For political parties in India, elections have always been more about seizing control over power and money, and less about governance. In the supposedly ‘fastest growing economy in the world’, election manifestos are still filled with empty promises to provide clean drinking water, electricity and education. How can a country’s economy grow when a large part of its population still does not have access to clean drinking water, electricity and education? These are the fundamental rights of every citizen of the country – and it is the primary responsibility of the government to ensure that people have access to their basic rights, irrespective of the party in charge of the government.
I don’t think people should be swayed by party-promises that solely guarantee their basic rights only. Arvind Kejriwal and his government claiming success in transforming the lives of the people of Delhi with cheaper electricity, access to water and improving the education and healthcare sector actually reflects poorly on the country in the world arena because in spite of Delhi being the seat of the country’s government, the sordid and miserable condition of it’s population for such a long time is getting exposed.
The probable events of the 2019 election and its aftermath already seems like a nightmare to me. Modi and the BJP had assumed (in 2014) that governing his home state for 12 years had given him enough credential to govern the world’s most-diverse country. The spectacular change in their fortunes over the last four years have proved that they do not have the firepower to govern the country.
The alternative to this is a united Opposition – possibly with the Congress at the helm – united only with the intent to grab power. However, when it comes to Arvind Kejriwal and his party, all other parties seem to unite against them because they are terrified of his people-oriented governance agenda. So, they will probably keep him bottled up in Delhi itself. Five more years of uncertainty definitely seem to be in the offing.