What Narendra Modi’s massive victory means for us
Since there is always subjectivity, risk aversion works against taking contrarian positions, whether in the matter of parliamentary seats or GDP growth.
There are several strands that can be explored. First, as any map will show, BJP is no longer a Hindi heartland party. It is a national party, with an increasing presence in south, east and northeast. Within traditional strengths, witness the sweep in Gujarat, Goa, Rajasthan, Himachal and Uttarakhand.
Within non-traditional, isn’t it remarkable that BJP should become such a force in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal?
Second, surely, semantics over wave, ripple and tsunami are irrelevant. As a counterfactual, despite anti-incumbency against Congress and UPA-II, had anyone other than Narendra Modi been PM candidate, how many seats would BJP have got? Not more than 180, perhaps even less. A 100-plus seat contribution to a parliamentary tally is no mean feat and can’t be dismissed as media hype. There was clearly a message that sold.
Compared to expectations, the only place where that message didn’t get much traction — at least measured in terms of seats — is Odisha. Even in UP, identified with caste/religion calculations, 72/80 is phenomenal. The electorate evidently knows what it wants and rural/urban differences blur. It is some segments of the aspiring political classes that are out of synch with reality.
Third, AAP is here to stay, for the moment restricted to in and around NCR, including Punjab.
But since euphoria is bound to be muted, AAP will presumably go through churn, as should Congress. The few Congress MPs who have won have done so on their own steam, not because of proximity to the Gandhis or 10, Janpath. Indeed, Rahul Gandhi campaigns have been calamities and his individual foray in Amethi came perilously close to turning into a catastrophe.
It’s not Congress culture to blame the family. Had that not been the case, there was scope for culpability in earlier assembly elections. For a party like the Congress, it’s non sequitur to suggest it has no political future. But is that a political future severed from the family’s apron strings? And since the Congress’ and AAP’s economic positions are similar, will such a convergence between the two occur, post the churn in both, perhaps not in 2019, but beyond? Some such ch urn is desirable.
A government with a decimated opposition in Parliament isn’t desirable either.
Numbers for the present NDA and BJP mean outside support — BJD, AIADMK and whoever else — is no longer indispensable and requires no price to be paid. Therefore, Mr Modi has not only received a massive mandate, he has far more degrees of freedom to choose his Cabinet and economic policies. Cabinet formation is constrained by lack of people with requisite seniority and expertise, compounded by Arun Jaitley’s loss. But talent exists lower down and in states.
In the process, a desirable outcome may well be some rationalisation/harmonisation of ministries and a leaner Cabinet.
Unfortunately, there is an impression doing the rounds that with Mr Modi as PM, all ails will vanish overnight. That’s logically impossible. The usual litany of woes often involves areas that cannot be addressed without serious discussion with states.
This is also a government that has to immediately present a Budget, with little time for preparatory work, beyond what the outgoing government left as legacy. A more reasonable expectation is that policy paralysis will be corrected and signals conveyed for decentralisation/devolution and reforms, not to be implemented in 2014-15, but 2015-16. However, whatever be the definition of reforms, priority should be determined by what is important for the Indian canvas and not dictated by expectations of capital markets or foreign investors.
As long as citizens are convinced there is a government that governs, unlike the last five years, some negative sentiment will automatically vanish, and purely from the point of view of economic variables, the incoming PM will be somewhat luckier. This should be enough of a window to chalk out the agenda.