A revived BJP needs a revised policy plan

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Published: May 28, 2016 7:38:43 AM

The government must flatly state its objective to make India more of a market economy

Narendra Modi had little national political experience in dealing with the opposition parties. His administrative experience was in running one cohesive state in which his success was exaggerated. Narendra Modi had little national political experience in dealing with the opposition parties. His administrative experience was in running one cohesive state in which his success was exaggerated.

The Modi government had a spectacular victory in the national elections of 2014, a total failure in the subsequent Delhi and Bihar elections, and seems to think that it has, after the five assembly elections in May 2016, acquired a national footprint. Meanwhile it has had a turbulent two years in Parliament with major economic legislation (land and goods and services tax) being stuck. It is yet to announce an economic policy framework that is different from the UPA. It seemed to be like a headless chicken, not knowing how to revive itself.

In government, Modi and his party’s dealing with the opposition and particularly Congress, has been arrogant, dismissive, and inflexible. The BJP’s lack of political experience made them ignore their need for opposition support to pass legislation in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP is in minority.

Modi had little national political experience in dealing with the opposition parties. His administrative experience was in running one cohesive state in which his success was exaggerated. Most of his party MP’s also had little experience at the Centre (except Sushma Swaraj). There are only a few capable Ministers in his cabinet (Piyush Goyal, Nitin Gadkari, Suresh Prabhu, Manohar Parrikar and a few others). Sushma Swaraj had for years been at the top echelons of the party nationally, and in its central cabinet under erstwhile NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But Modi marginalised her. Modi determines foreign and policy and its execution at the highest levels. The flip-flops particularly with Pakistan and China reflect this. The experienced old guard was sidelined. Lack of political experience and political finesse stalled legislative support from the opposition parties. Unchecked aggressive Hindu nationalists painted the BJP as a party intolerant of other religions and continued unproven charges against the PM for his role in Gujarat riots of 2002 enhanced this perception.

The political inexperience led to the drubbing in Delhi and Bihar elections. Serious mistakes in Delhi were the projection of an unsuited chief ministerial candidate; and not projecting one in Bihar, despite having a leader who had been an effective Deputy CM for eight years.  There were no alliances with local parties. Nor were local leaders given prominence in electioneering. Electioneering wasdone by the PM and Amit Shah. Their focus was on national and not local issues.

The battle in four states and a union territory (West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry) is projected as a victory of a new BJP strategy. Project a known face to be chief minister, build alliances with local parties, let local leaders do the intense electioneering, not use communal overtones, was the “new” formula. Yet BJP’s total share in all five states, of votes and seats won, is less than that of the decimated Congress. BJP did not win a single seat in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, while it won 3 in West Bengal and 1 in Kerala. This is  not a national footprint but the beginning of a little toehold.

Assam victory gives the BJP a commanding role over the northeastern states. With the  improvement in ties with Bangladesh and the emergence of a cheap riverine route, they will experience significant economic growth and exploitation of their rich natural resources.

With Congress, all but, dead as a national- or even a regional-party, the sizeable TDP and AIADMK in Parliament might veer towards supporting the BJP, and help pass important legislation. They could also be the prospective allies in the 2019 national elections.

The Congress, on the other hand has ceased to be a national party. It is a “B” team to local parties in state governments.  It may not indulge any more in Rahul Gandhi’s strategy of a “scorched” economy which he used in the last two years by obstructing legislation. But the dynastic leadership might remain, since it is the glue that has held the Congress together. It will take many years, party splits and much bloodletting for new leadership to emerge and make Congress relevant. So, BJP is now the only national party.

Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa rule heavily indebted big states. Their votes in Parliament will be wooed by BJP with financial and even legal help on pending cases. It also seems unlikely that SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav would be the partners that they might want to have. Hence the “Grand Alliance” which won Bihar for Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav may be a fading dream. The next elections might see them allying with the BJP. We can expect the BJP legislative agenda, including the GST, to pass soon.

The BJP will probably lose Punjab because of misgovernance by its ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal and AAP may take over. Uttar Pradesh may be a hung election without any grand alliances to unite the vote. If this leads to the President’s rule for some time, that will help the BJP.

What does the BJP as a party and the Modi government need to do to consolidate and win the 2019 election? It must concentrate on development. It cannot dither any more. Perhaps the Prime Minister might become more active in Parliament and the media.

The government must announce its ideology and policies. It cannot be “Congress with a Cow”. It must flatly state its objective to make India more of a market economy, but with independent regulation to ensure competition and protect consumer interest. It must distance itself from the public sector and its dominance. Independent Boards and management, with transparency, must be the objective. Just as it has abolished old legislation, there must be a wholesale cleaning up of controls in all ministries, and departments of the government. The freedom of enterprises to innovate and grow must not be subject to second guessing. While the GST is welcome, the direct tax code must also be implemented. Foreign and Indian investors must have confidence in the country’s tax regime. Nationalised banks must function under supervision of RBI, not the government.

The government should initiate an integrated national agricultural and water policy. Irrational pricing of power by states, and pricing for water that does not even cover running costs, have led to India becoming the largest user of ground water. Poor propagation of water conservation and harvesting, crops selection in relation to water and soils, have kept water usage high and productivity low. Neglect of lakes and rivers has been a criminal failure of governance at all levels. Genetically modified seeds have been caught between aggressive environmentalists and timid governments. There is a need to use science to take decisions that can greatly improve agricultural productivity. There are other areas in which clear policies must be put out. In many cases, state governments must be taken along. A consultation system must be in place.

Modi’s government, has set off actions that could reduce black money. But it still needs to substantially speed up investigations, increase penalties on all participants, get speedy trials, and not misuse these for political blackmail.
The last two years of the government and the assembly election results could mark a watershed for the BJP government. It could become more open, intelligent in policy formulation and execution. Or it could continue to be like the Congress was for decades.

The author is former director general, NCAER, and was the first chairman of the CERC Views are personal

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