On May 16, 2014, the BJP and its leader Narendra Modi were rightfully elated: they had just come to power in the Lok Sabha elections, a result which gave a party a full and undisputable majority for the first time in 30 years.
Two years later, Indian politics looks different: there are surprises, new alignments, and fierce debates on an entire range of issues.
By May last year, the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre had acquired a few headaches: it had been virtually wiped out of Delhi by AAP in the first state election in the calendar year, with only three seats in the assembly and there followed allegations of corruption in the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh and Lalit Modi’s links with Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan that virtually paralysed Parliament.
In terms of policy, vital political capital during the NDA’s first year had been spent on policy proposals which had to be eventually jettisoned. Amendments to the Land Acquisition Bill which promised to make it “easier” to acquire land for industry, despite three ordinances, had to be abandoned because of widespread criticism within the party, the parivar and outside.
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The National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) with amendments giving the Executive a greater say in how judges were to be appointed was struck down by the Supreme Court. In addition, the government has failed in attempts to adopt the GST. Incidentally, it was the BJP which had problems with it while in Opposition but now tom-toms it as the big ticket reform vital for India to progress. It has been unable to convince the Congress to toe its changed line on it, in Parliament.
Electorally, too, it has been a challenging year for the BJP. The full force of the PM-Shah behind the BJP in the Bihar campaign could not battle Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav — both of whom had been been hammered by the BJP in 2014 — the BJP ended up facing a humiliating defeat. Bihar’s electoral defeat was accompanied by a concerted attempt by the BJP to unsettle smaller state governments, successfully in Arunachal Pradesh, with mixed results in other smaller states like Manipur and with a serious loss of face in attempts to destabilise the Harish Rawat government in Uttarakhand. In Gujarat, the BJP lost ground to the Congress in local polls.
In other states where the BJP has an unassailable majority like Haryana, and Gujarat serious questions of law and order and social unrest (the Jat agitation and the Patidar protests) have chipped away at the ‘maximum governance’ image of the Centre.
Major controversies over the BJP wanting to toe the RSS line, resulted in decisions that attempted to regulate personal habits including diets (beef bans). This has unsettled sections who would have otherwise voted against the Congress.
For its part, the BJP claims it has had no major scams – it used the auction route on telecom and mining. Their gains on road-building at a much faster rate are to be lauded, says the Ministry of roads. The BJP speaks of coordinating Jan-Dhan Yojana with Aadhar and the use of the cellphone as its major JAM campaign. The direct benefit transfer or DBT is being pushed as a reform as is the campaign to force middle class to “give up” subsidies on cooking gas. The government has also launched schemes for Make in India, Skill India, and others, as well as crop insurance schemes and the Kisan channel for farmers.
But the biggest worry for the Centre is the state of the economy which has shown signs of worsening decline in the past few months. The promise of two crore jobs each year has been way off target, with job creation actually having come down this year in key sectors. Investment and growth in manufacturing is at a decadal low and exports have continued to fall in the last year. Food inflation is on the rise again with dal inflation about 34 per cent — inflation with such low crude oil prices is a cause for concern.
The killing of two rationalists, the lynching of Akhlaq just a few miles from Delhi where we heard BJP ministers and leaders make statements that exacerbated communal tensions, intellectuals returning state awards, an impassioned debate on ‘tolerance’ are some of the other issues which have diverted the BJP from its ‘governance’ agenda.
Confrontations and sedition charges against students of JNU, the controversy after the suicide of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad University, has riled large sections of young people, who had earlier been successfully wooed by the offer of ‘Achche Din’, jobs and improvements in education.
The PM had spent a great deal of time in the last calendar year traversing continents and countries with ‘personal initiatives’ having replaced traditional diplomacy – the sudden Christmas day visit to Pakistan for a hasty meeting with PM Nawaz Sharif is one such out of the box move. However, there have been flip-flops on the Pakistan relationship with the Hurriyat in Kashmir becoming an obstacle. After the Pathankot attack, relations have been shaky. With other key neighbours such as Nepal (which the PM visited twice) things do not look good — the Nepalese are convinced the recent winter blockade was used by India to make a point. On China too, at multilateral forums and with regard to visas for Chinese dissidents, there have been clouds of confusion on India’s position. India may have agreed to the draft at CoP21 in Paris, but the WTO draft negotiations found India in a corner, almost forced to sign a document which would be detrimental to its interests.
With three years to go, there is much that remains to be done by the BJP-led government. On social media, there is a major PR campaign on — there has been an increase by one-fifth in ad spend– to promote the Centre’s side of the story.
But Achche din still seems to be a distant dream.