Despite the negative surround-sound Modi is on track
Why BJP needs to form government in Uttarakhand and Jammu-Kashmir
Even some avowed Narendra Modi supporters were surprised by BJP’s apparent desperation to form governments in Arunachal, Uttarakhand and, now, Jammu & Kashmir. While in Arunachal and Uttarakhand they seemed to be in an unseemly rush to topple incumbent regimes, in J&K they eschewed pride to put up with months of obdurate posturing by Mehbooba Mufti hoping to reach an understanding. The reason is not far to seek. After decimation in Delhi and Bihar and dim prospects of in West Bengal (Assam is still an open book) – Modi-Shah combine need to pocket as many Rajya Sabha seats as possible to get out of the parliamentary stalemate.
Travelling through Uttar Pradesh last week – though it is early days yet to make any predictions no matter what sundry ‘Mood of the Nation’ polls might have to say – it is absolutely clear that neither Samajwadi Party or Bahujan Samaj Party are going to be a push over in 2017 unlike in 2014 Lok Sabha Polls. While Mayawati and BSP are understandably banking on the anti-incumbency factor, in recent months Akhilesh Yadav has been working hard at not only retaining SP’s core-constituents but also winning back the disenchanted voters by some ‘visible’ efforts at governance and development. Prashant Kishor and Priyanka Gandhi may not work magic with Rahul Gandhi – but in an alliance Congress can fetch some incremental seats, as it had arguably done for MGB in Bihar. But, by present reckoning, Lucknow pundits don’t give BJP more than 80 seats in the Assembly – unless miracles happen between now and 2017.
The interesting phenomenon in all this is - while BJP’s stock is floundering and RSS continues to be ambivalent towards the government – Modi’s own rating remains high. Sure, people don’t rule out the possibility of a compromise choice of PM emerging (for example, Nitish Kumar) if a third “secular” front has the numbers in 2019 – but there is still no single challenger to Narendra Modi at the national level. For all the hype built around Rahul Gandhi V 2.0 – he will be at best a supporting cast if Congress is not the largest party in a coalition. And, much as Arvind Kejriwal may try to position himself as the already anointed ‘PM-in-Waiting” – no seasoned politician – like Lalu, Nitish, Pawar, Mulayam and even Mamata - will trust him in the PM’s chair.
The silver lining in all this is – BJP is showing a new resolve not to allow the economic agenda to be stalled by Congress’ perverse obstructionism. Modi and Amit Shah know – rhetoric won’t carry them beyond 2016. The cash registers – both for business and the public have to start ringing sooner than later – if Modi is serious about winning a second term in 2019.
Many believe Budget Session 2016 will be the turning point for Modi Sarkar. For the first time it is showing signs of getting the act together in Parliament with a strategy in place. Arun Jaitley presented a non-spectacular budget but with both economics and heart at the right place – which even the opposition found difficult to critique (barring the EPF proposal that in hindsight appears was a red-herring deliberately planted to divert attention from more substantive provisions). Apart from getting the Aadhar Bill passed - arguably by procedural gamesmanship – and with other important legislations like the Real Estate Bill slipped under the radar – BJP’s floor managers are beginning to look almost savvy .
Placing the Mining and Minerals Development and Regulations Act Amendment in Lok Sabha the government has shown the will to bite the bullet on policy bugs that are tripping the economy. The acid test will, of course, be GST – but there too Arun Jaitley is exuding greater confidence than he was even a few weeks ago.
It is clear Modi is proceeding as per a plan. That the scripted “angry-acts” of Rahul Gandhi and the surround sound of ‘tolerance’ and FOS has not rattled the Prime Minister was obvious from his speech at the BJP Conclave – where he asked the members not to get distracted by “opposition propaganda” and carry the message of development (Vikas) to the masses.
Now with greater alignment between the RBI Governor and the Finance Ministry and BJP’s increased strength in Rajya Sabha reforms can go through the economy should finally get rolling, as predicted by many. The Budget signaled a significant course correction towards “Bharat”. As increased spends on MNREGA with focused and leak-proof digital disbursement through Aadhar backed Direct Cash Transfer Schemes start reaching the target population and Social Security Innovations like Jan-Dhan and Fasal Bima Yojnas begin to bear fruit – the “Acche Din” slogan may not sound like “Jumla” anymore and put fresh wind into BJP’s sail.