If the fight against black money seems half hearted, the same is not the case with gau raksha, says Subir Roy.
To take a view on how well has Narendra Modi done as the prime minister of India, it may be more useful to look forward rather than look back.
Going by his three-year track record, what are the chances that he will be returned to power with a comfortable majority in 2019? Right now, one of the biggest things going for Mr Modi is the stock markets scaling a historic high. This should enhance the feel good factor among all those who have anything to do with the financial sector, including ordinary shareholders.
But it is useful to remember that the stock market had climbed a high in anticipation of a victory by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2004, propelled by the ‘India Shining’ campaign. However, it fell sharply after National Democratic Alliance’s unexpected defeat.
From a peak of 5,925 in April 2004, the Sensex fell 1,500 points to a trough after elections in May. So, good vibes from the stock markets are useful but not a sure guide to the popular mood.
In the same category would fall the overall performance of the economy.
After the 2008 global financial crisis, there was a decline in economic performance during 2011-14, as measured by the gross domestic product growth rate. But recalculating the growth rate for 2012-13 and 2013-14 using 2011-12 prices added a percentage or more to the figures resulting from using 2004-05 prices, cited in earlier discourse.
What is more, during the 11th Plan (2007-12), farm wages grew by an exceptional 6.8 per cent in real terms (Ashok Gulati), fuelled by the construction boom in the country and the rural employment guarantee programme.
So the numbers should have created a sense of well-being which should have carried the United Progressive Alliance through in 2014, but they did not.
Correspondingly, we do not know whether the marginally better economic performance in the past three years will create a sense of well-being among the electorate in 2019, helping the NDA return to power.
If economic data is not a good guide to what the voter may have in mind then what does politics tell us? (Caveat: High inflation invariably hits ruling parties and now inflation is low.)
As of now, the Indian electorate has endorsed Modi’s rule solidly.
After the 2014 victory the NDA went on to win a historic victory in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand earlier this year. These are even more noteworthy because they happened after notebandi! The dramatic demonetisation initiated in November 2016, without a parallel in its scale in Indian history, has followed an entirely unpredictable path.
None of the economic gains which were forecast to result from it materialised.
Additionally, poor people who dealt entirely in cash suffered the most as a result of the economic disruption. Yet, the Bharatiya Janata Party won handsomely in the elections that followed.
This has been attributed to the willingness of poor people to suffer hardships and still support a party and a leader who promises to hit the rich with loads of black money. This is plausible but do we need to look around more to understand why people voted the way they did?
Let us remember that after the spectacular 2014 victory, the leader and the party suffered serious setbacks in the assembly elections in Delhi and Bihar. The performance in the assembly elections early this year actually marks a reversal. What could have caused this?
After the defeats in the Delhi and Bihar assembly elections, there appears to have been a clear change in strategy.
With a very poor record in creating jobs which alone could have delivered on the sabka vikas (development for all) promise made in the 2014 campaign, the BJP’s campaign straightforwardly went in for Hindu consolidation, spearheaded by the gau raksha campaign.
After a strong condemnation of the excesses of gau raksha in August last year, Modi has been silent on the issue even as excesses have continued.
Today, the twin dominant themes of the BJP are gau raksha and fight against black money.
As the income tax department announces more and more steps to tighten the noose around black money, a dissonance is emerging between this drive and the way politics continues to be conducted in India.
It still remains very easy, despite minor tweaks in the rules, for black money to legitimately enter the books of political parties and so continue to play a critical role in electoral politics. If politicians come to power using large sums of unaccounted money, how serious will they be in initiating a regime that does not tolerate unaccounted or black money?
If the fight against black money seems half hearted, the same is not the case with gau raksha.
Momentum on this front is being kept alive, the latest act being the rules created by the environment ministry to ban the sale of cattle for the purpose of slaughter.
Simultaneously, sabka vikas is not happening, and jobs are not being created in any meaningful way.
BJP president Amit Shah seems to have gone back on the issue of jobs, saying that jobs will have to come from self-employment.
Religious and nationalistic fervour (the latter generated by rising tensions with Pakistan) do well for a time but are not sustainable in themselves in the absence of a feel-good factor.