Economic re-statregy must

Arithmetic Vs Welfare

By Shivaji Sarkar

The byelections results are a clear signal for the ruling combine for changing its economic policies. The results are not mere reflection of the strength of a united Opposition, but also speak of the mood of the people for their overall wellbeing.
Incidentally, the results coincide with the IMF projections for India at 7.4 per cent, Government’s announcement of 7.7 per cent GDP growth in the fiscal 2017-18, bank non-food credit growth of 10.4 per cent and agriculture credit growth rise by 5.9 per cent. Inflation at 4.58 per cent is the only aspect that is inching beyond the RBI tolerance limit of 5 per cent. The other concern should be floundering rupee which had gone beyond Rs 68 to a dollar to recover to around Rs 67 during the last one week.
It is not that the Government has lagged anywhere in its people-centric policies. The NDA’s four-year achievements are significant almost in every sphere – 31.58 crore are part of financial inclusion through Jandhan accounts; 431 schemes enriching 20.14 crore people, the world’s largest, with Rs 3.66 lakh crore of direct benefits; MNREGA women beneficiaries increasing by 5 per cent; 82 per cent connected through Prime Minister’s rural roads (PMGSY), 5.22 crore families covered by low-cost Jan Suraksha insurance; the working class has 42 per cent increase in wages and increase in workers’ enrolment in organised sector as the government funded their 12 per cent employers’ contribution.
There are apparent actions to curb black money. Three lakh shale companies were closed. There are many other achievements the Government has showcased. All this is impressive. However, one needs to ponder where the Government lagged in attracting voters. Or is it sheer arithmetic? Partly it may be so. But the overall performance, including the retaining of an Assembly seat in Karnataka by Congress, losing the prestigious Kairana Lok Sabha and Noorpur Assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh by the BJP; NCP wresting Bhandara-Gondia from BJP in Maharashtra and BJP trouncing Shiv Sena in Palghar, speaks a lot. The BJP wins one Lok Sabha and one Assembly seat of total 14 seats – 10 Assembly and four Lok Sabha.
This is intriguing. A party that was sweeping every election is thawed. It cannot be just electoral politics though that certainly plays a significant role. There are other aspects too. There is a feeling that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on a delivering spree but overall happiness of the people is not rising. Why is it so?
The figures discussed above show that the Government has tried to deliver through 431 schemes — is this too stretched? These have benefited a large number of people and the farmers as well through credit cards and other benefits. But the sense of losing remains among the farmers and the rural populace despite growing consumer goods sell.
In Kairana, the ganna (sugarcane) won against Jinna (religious card). The UP sugarcane growers have over Rs 16,000 crore dues to be paid by the sugar mills, according to Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA). The farmers are unhappy — be it over potato, onion or wheat, as they are not getting the remunerative prices, despite Government announcements of 150 per cent MSP.
This needs to be analysed. Both UP and Maharashtra have higher sugarcane production as also higher dues. The RLD victory in Kairana, the heart of sugar belt, and NCP in Bhandara-Gondia represent that there is discontent apart from the combined arithmetic. At Palghar it did not work. But could the BJP have retained the Bhandara-Gondia seat had the Shiv Sena contested as a partner? Not unlikely.
So the election is not mere mathematics. There are many social and economic issues that mark it.
Despite IMF and Government projections, on May 30, Moody’s Investors Service cut India’s 2018 GDP growth outlook to 7.3 per cent from 7.5 per cent, citing higher oil prices and tighter financial conditions. The risks are currency slump and faster inflation.
Angst is growing against hike in petrol and diesel prices despite a far lower international price, which had touched over $80 and again falling and its consequent impact on transport and commodity prices.
The bypoll in Bhandara-Gondia had been necessitated because BJP MP Nana Patole had quit the Lok Sabha membership as well as the party after publicly criticising the government’s style of functioning. Patole’s anguish apparently is shared by the voters. This needs to be taken seriously.
Another revelation of the polls is that Hindutva is now the common denominator for all parties. The BJP needs to look beyond. It has to be more inclusive and should try to win back allies such as the TDP and Shiv Sena. It also has to make the alliance more broad based, as it was the success mantra of NDA-I of Atal Behari Vajpayee with 24 allies.
Political and economic course corrections are a must. India is a social coalition and it goes beyond religion. The BJP-RSS has leaders who have penetration in the minority communities. They need to be brought into the forefront. Minorities are not unwilling to sail with the BJP but they need a reassurance from Kashmir to Kerala. Projection of such leaders and freehand to them to create an inclusive society might pay significant dividends over simple arithmetic. The BJP must reconsider its strategies.
On the economic front, the party needs to remove the sentiment that it favours profiteers be it some houses or faulty policies such as dynamic rail fare, rising bus fares, high taxes on petrol, highway, local bodies tolls, coercive identity linking, high income tax and the rise of tax terror that hits its core supporters.
The Government has to come out of the blackmail of environmentalists-oil lobby on diesel. It should junk it and lower diesel prices to refining cost of around Rs 20-24 a litre. High diesel prices and high tolls are impacting both the farmers and transport sector. They are drifting away. Further, it has to re-strategise vis-a-vis Congress President Rahul Gandhi. The youth despite everything is getting attracted towards him.
The byelections have indeed given the signals at the right time. It requires course correction at many levels and involvement of all for a revival. The Opposition having tasted blood is likely to up their ante. It is, however, too early to say that a dynamic Modi would be more than a match for them. The road to 2019 is becoming interesting. With more pro-people economic measures on the cards and BJP re-strategising, smooth sailing for the Opposition may not be that easy either.—INFA