Budget 2018 has been read by economic and political observers in at least three ways: a) It is an election budget aimed at target electorates of the BJP; b) Prime Minister Narendra Modi has dared to antagonise the middle class, which is believed to be the traditional BJP supporters, by not announcing tax sops; c) The budget has put the fiscal discipline on the backburner and resorted to “rhetoric” and lofty announcements.
All the above three contentions are valid to varying degrees, depending upon respective observers. There is, however, a fourth way of looking at the Budget 2018. That is, Modi government’s last full budget has given a solid hint about the expected time when the next Lok Sabha elections will take place.
It has been speculated by many political commentators in recent past that Modi would advance the date of the next General Elections by over a year. One commentator Rajesh Jain even predicted last month that the Lok Sabha elections could be advanced even more and be held within the next 100 days.
Writing on his website Nayidisha.com, Jain, who is a technology entrepreneur and one of the pioneers of dotcom revolution in Asia, listed six “primary” reasons and six “inferences” to prove the possibility of advancing the elections by a year. Jain’s view is an interesting read. But looks like he may be disappointed for now as Budget 2018 hints at something else.
In the wake of Modi’s observation that time has come for holding simultaneous Lok Sabha and state Assembly elections in the country, some political observers have went on to speculate that Modi may advance the General Elections by a few months and hold it simultaneously along with the assembly elections in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, which are to go to polls late this year.
Ayushman Bharat Yojana is a path breaking initiative to provide quality and affordable healthcare. It will benefit approximately 50 crore Indians. The scale of this scheme is unparalleled and it will bring a paradigm shift in our health sector. #NewIndiaBudget pic.twitter.com/KA4kpDPVN5
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) February 1, 2018
So, when will the next General Elections actually take place? First, considering Modi’s habit of surprising pundits, it is unlikely that he will go for simultaneous elections with a few states later this year. Secondly, BJP is facing huge anti-incumbency in the three big states that will go to polls this year. Rajasthan by-election results, which came on Thursday, has possibly just given a glimpse of rising anti-BJP sentiments in states.
Modi would certainly not like to risk his personal political capital in the company of BJP state chief ministers who don’t appear to be on a strong ground. One thing is, however, certain that Modi would like to go to polls when he will be at his strongest. But, when will that time come? This is where Budget 2018 has left a big hint.
In the Budget 2018, which was presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the government has announced “world’s largest” healthcare programme that promises to provide Rs 5 lakh health cover to 10 crore families of the country. While the modalities of the programme is still to be chalked out, the scheme in itself has the potential to become a big political tool that Modi would like to utilise to the fullest to seek votes. This can happen only when Modi would take as much time he has at his disposal before the next elections. That means, he would like to stay the full course and not repeat the mistake of his predecessor BJP PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had gone for early elections in 2004.
In the last four years, Modi government has successfully announced big optics projects like Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, Jan Dhan, Ujjawala, Demonetisation, GST and Saubhagya Scheme. With the exception of Saubhagya Scheme, which was launched in late 2017, all other programmes have tasted success, despite criticism. All these projects were not just massive in scale, but also promised huge political returns and Modi exploited them in his election rallies to the fullest.
Along with Saubhagya, the newly announced health cover scheme are two projects that Modi would love to talk about in the next General Elections rally. And for that, he would better wait than hurry.