In Raj Kapoor’s legendary 1955 flick, ‘Shree 420’, Seth Dharamanand, tells the hero, played by Raj Kapoor himself “Aapko vidya ki nahi, maya ki Jaroorat Hai”! Loosely translated, means you don’t need knowledge (also virtue) anymore, what you need is wealth. Coincidentally, Vidya and Maya are the names of the heroine and vamp in the movie.
We should be thankful to God that he doesn’t present us with such thorny situations, and such stark choices in real life. However for Indian Middle-Class voters time to ‘Also Choose’ someone else along with Narendra Modi is running out.
Let me explain. As BJP, is on the verge of achieving complete domination of political narrative, it needs to face two facts fearlessly. First, it won 2014 on the dual promise of delivering on Hindu Cultural and Economic Agenda. Second, the Indian economy which was not doing great anyway is brutally wounded because of Covid-19.
Looking at the scorecard, one can say on the cultural subjects (370, Ram Mandir, Triple Talaq) this Government has done well. But on the Economic side, its performance has been well below expectations. Disappointing frankly! And the window of opportunity to improve economic delivery is closing fast on Modi Sarkar.
Later this month, NDA 2 will complete one year of its second term. But for core BJP voters, its 6th year of Modi. And expectations are mounting. PM Modi, though cannot be faulted for not trying. He and Late Arun Jaitley initiated numerous small and some daring reforms. To name a few, which I think are pivotal are, Jan Dhan Accounts to deliver direct benefit (DBT) transfers, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), Goods and Services Tax (GST) Deregulate Fuel pricing and open coal mining for the private sector. And though these are laudable, other than DBT transfers, none had an immediate impact on incomes. Contrary, many of them made it impossible for many companies to continue, leading to a surge in unemployment. Also none of these well-intentioned reforms spurred Private Investment, which was already on a downward spiral. All in all, Modi’s reforms have failed to generate additional employment or wealth for the middle class.
So what went wrong? Please appreciate, Modi’s reforms are guided by two overarching objectives, which he inherited from RSS upbringing. Poverty reduction, and inducing behavioral changes into society. For example, DBT is targeted at the first purpose. IBC and GST at disciplining the business community & improving tax compliance. But all these reforms were launched at a later date. To his credit, Modi launched Mother of all reforms, Land Acquisition Bill in 2015. That was the much needed silver bullet for the country. It would have transformed society by lifting millions of farmers out of poverty and reducing land acquisition cost for industries. However, BJP failed to get it through the Parliament because of two reasons. It’s could not gauge the farming community’s mood on the issue of Agriculture, Land ownership, etc. and the opposition’s ability to destabilize the country.
The failure of the Land Bill was a big setback for Modi. This meant poverty reduction will have to be achieved through other means. Because, just on the back of core votes, re-election in 2019 could not be guaranteed. This could be a repeat of what happened to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA-1. Hence he unleashed a series of reforms that will maintain Government revenue, clean the economy of shady businesses, won’t disturb the fiscal roadmap, and keep poor happy.
In hindsight one can say, what Modi did, paid handsome returns. BJP did come back with a bigger majority. And it also meant, there is a wider and deeper acceptance of it’s ‘Hindu’ politics. The Government has also done reasonably well on containment of the Corona outbreak. However, the economy is in bad shape. On the other side of the lockdown, an economic crisis of gargantuan proportion awaits the BJP Government with daggers drawn.
And frankly speaking, do not see Government responding with any major policy initiative (such as Land or Labour reforms) or much on Fiscal front. If the consumption cycle fails to pick up by next quarter, unemployment will wreak havoc with the economy. Core BJP supporters really need to worry here now. To much annoyance of Middle-class for several months now, the party has dropped the ball on the economic front and Congress has picked it up. Now if economic downslide is not arrested immediately, $ 5 Trillion GDP by 2024 will remain only a pipe dream. Not to forget, this can snowball into a political crisis for PM Modi.
Now there is one man who saw hope amongst this gloom and doom. MSME and Road Transport Minister, Nitin Gadkari. He was the first person in the Government to say, let us turn this crisis into an opportunity. Back then on 13th April, when everybody in Government was looking towards Delhi for directions, he came out with a plan to resume Highway construction with a big bang. On 14th April, he announced Corona is not going to affect Road construction. Since then he has been relentlessly pushing the byzantine bureaucracy to the limit. On 23rd April he submitted a proposal to change the definition of MSME. This will add 6 Crore firms to this category, which had only 60 Lacs firms presently. On 24th he submitted a proposal to use ESI funds to pay worker’s salaries. Parallelly he is chasing the Government to reimburse pending MSME payments with interest. And as if all this is good enough, he wants RBI to extend the debt restructuring till 31st Dec.
Nitin ji (as fondly known) is a RSS Swayamsewak, a true nationalist and a visionary. He has been standing firmly besides PM Modi and Amit Shah on CAA and NRC. He feels the law is required as there is no other country for Hindus. None knows how to channel patriotism into economic activity better than him. Even during his health mayhem, he declared, we must turn global hatred for China into an economic opportunity. PM Modi has done a magnificent job in terms of making people (in govt) think big and has showing an intent to back industries and people.
However, most of the other ministries seem to be flatfooted when it comes to taking risks initiative. This has created unnecessary pressure in PMO and hurt economy. In this experience and exposure deficit government, this mass leader from Nagpur stands out as a man with a deep understanding of the economy and realpolitik. His appeal cuts across political biases, religions, castes and class.
Now, for this courageous leader to make an impact at the National Policy level, he needs political clout which will allow him to make a compelling case for the economy. To push BJP to pay heed to its unfinished business of 2014, Middle-class needs to draw lessons from 2013. When the old patriarchs were trying to stop young blood from taking charge, the volunteers and Social Media warriors virtually overpowered them. And road for Narendra Modi was cleared. Today people who don’t want BJP to go Congress way of Religion plus Subsidies, need to push high command to give greater autonomy, more respect and a larger share in power to Nitin Gadkari.