Given the drubbing the BJP got in the capital, many are arguing it is time to present a more ‘people-friendly’ budget, and go slow on ordinances like the land acquisition one—one argument is that since the AAP’s left-of-centre policies clicked, the BJP should take heed. That would be a bad idea since, above all, too much is being read into the Delhi verdict; of course, the BJP completely got it wrong, but given it retained its vote share, projecting the defeat to other states involves assuming there will only be two-way contests which doesn’t happen that often. More important, since prime minister Narendra Modi got elected to jumpstart economic growth and provide jobs, this is what he needs to ensure he does, and cutting subsidies and taking other harsh measures are part of this process. In the case of agriculture, for instance, there is enough evidence to show that food and fertiliser subsidies have distorted cropping patterns; and in the case of food, just around 40% of subsidies actually reach the target population. Which is why the budget has to announce a big package to move from food subsidies to cash transfers, and to start winding down the FCI process—the money saved can then be used to invest in agriculture which will do more to reduce poverty and increase growth.
Similarly, the land ordinance needs to be passed since this has become one of the biggest hurdles to growth. According to a CMIE analysis of the top-100 stalled projects in the country, land acquisition is the major problem in a third of the projects. While the BJP was always finding it difficult to pass Bills in the Rajya Sabha, at least immediately, chances are Opposition parties will be even less inclined to support the BJP given how they feel the prime minister has just been dealt a big blow. While the BJP should continue to try and strike deals with different parties, especially since it is giving a lot more powers to states, it is advisable to have a back-up plan. As finance minister Arun Jaitley said at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, the government can call a joint sitting of Parliament to clear the important Bills at the earliest. Calling a joint sitting requires that the Bill either be defeated in the Upper House or that it remains unpassed for six months after its introduction. Since the NDA has enough members—336 in the Lok Sabha and 59 in the Rajya Sabha—to pass the Bills in a joint sitting, the strategy should be to try and pass them in the Budget session; since this won’t happen, promulgate another ordinance and then call for a joint sitting in the monsoon session of Parliament.