Modi has delivered more than growth and low inflation—no previous government prioritised cleanliness/sanitation or a cleaner alternative to burning coal/wood for cooking that affects women’s health.
The recent poll of polls revealed no surprises. It was predictable before Pulwama that BJP would get around 230 and NDA would retain power. It was also likely that Congress would get at most half as many seats as BJP, and perhaps only a third as it has abandoned the Grand Coalition strategy. Actually, Narendra Modi can repeat the feat of Manmohan Singh, and have two full terms, if not three. BJP is about to become the ‘natural party’ of government.
This journey of the BJP, from being an obscure right-wing “Hindu nationalist” party relying for its support on urban small traders to the leading national party, has been ignored by most analysts. Words like fascism are frequently used for a party which has inched its way vote by vote, seat by seat across India. Still, an air of incredulity hangs among the social scientists. How could a party which can field very few top-class leaders who can boast an Oxbridge education or a decent (foreign-sounding) English accent rise to be the leading party?
And why not? When the BJP became the largest single party in 1996, it was a severe shock. Rickety coalitions were put together with forgettable faces thrust into prime ministership. It did not help, and in 1998. Vajpayee came back with a coalition. It was robust enough to survive a no-confidence challenge and came back in 1999. The BJP showed that it could rule India with a coalition. It delivered decent growth and infused hope and modernisation in the citizens of India. Vajpayee did not just explode the bomb, he introduced mobile telephony which was the more revolutionary step for India.
BJP slipped in 2004. Congress came back, but lacked the humility of realising that its seat score was quite modest. It won more seats in 2009, but wasted these in its arrogance. The senior leadership did not credit Manmohan Singh as the agent of the success in winning those extra 60 seats. They treated his second term as an insult, UPA-2 was mired in indecision, corruption, scams and a failure to claim the Rao-Singh reforms of 1992-1996 as a Congress triumph. Instead, the NAC reintroduced a socialist agenda. The high growth of the previous ten years was turned into a bumpy growth and rampant inflation. Congress was punished severely by the voters.
Modi came and resumed the Vajpayee formula of continuity with neoliberal policies which had delivered success. Modi’s triumph is indicated by the fact that now, a 7% growth has become the default scenario. Even the Financial Times calls the forecast of 6.6% growth as slowing down. It may be the highest growth rate in the world.
Modi has won the political ideological war outright. Congress has abandoned Nehruvian secularism and adopted liberal Hindutva. Rahul Gandhi could have boasted about his rainbow ethnicity—quarter Hindu, quarter Parsi and half Christian. But he chose to be not just a Hindu but a Brahmin. Congress finds Modi difficult to take seriously as he is an OBC. What it has not noticed that its old policy of patronising the lower castes while keeping a Brahmin monopoly of leadership will no longer do.
India has changed. The majority in Hindu society has always been OBC plus Dalit. This majority is young and capable of holding power. It wants its own place, not just patronage. Modi has grasped this and focuses on Dalit entrepreneurs with his Mudra loan facility. He has also played up his financial support for women entrepreneurs. Congress had patronised the Dalits while keeping power in Brahmin hands. It created elite jobs and called it socialism for decades.
But Modi has delivered more than growth and low inflation. No previous government prioritised cleanliness. No one talked about the health-destroying effects of outdoor defecation. No previous government seriously worried about the deleterious effects women were suffering from cooking with coal or wood fires. Swachh Bharat is perhaps the most radical change India has seen. Now, there is rural electrification close to 100% , toilets almost everywhere, pucca housing in rural areas. While critics go on about demonetisation (at most, a 0.5% drop in growth rate of GDP), or the initial problems with the launch of GST, it is good to contrast the inflation rate during UPA-2 and BJP/NDA-2. If he wins one more term, Modi will become the architect of a new India. Five years of 7% growth plus moderate inflation have not been enjoyed for decades. The economy has been modernised, digitised and the young know of start-ups and unicorns. Thanks to neoliberalism, poverty has been reduced to record low. The young have seen the start-ups and the unicorns. They know that much more is possible. Modi has delivered, but he must continue to deliver.
The author is Prominent economist & Labour peer.