In his victory speech at Vadodara, Narendra Modi asked the voters for 10 years. Many think that given the magnitude of the BJP’s victory and the Congress’s defeat, this is likely. However, whether the BJP can be successful in replacing the Congress as the party synonymous with governing India in the 21st century is up for debate. For the BJP to replace the Congress as the natural party of governance it, like the Congress in the past, has three options — display an ability to govern, develop a national presence and organisation, and either co-opt or eliminate the opposition.
The Congress ruled India for many years because the party was perceived as one that best represented the policy preferences of most Indians — centrist on economic policy and a keen supporter of the rights of the underprivileged. The Congress’s policies floundered amid poor delivery of policy, and corruption that undermined its ability to appear capable of governing. In the 2014 National Election Studies (NES), respondents were asked whether they received benefits from flagship government policies like home loan schemes (awaas yojanas), the MGNREGA, free health benefits and various types of allowances and pensions. Less than 30 per cent of the beneficiaries of any one of these policies gave credit to the Central government for them.
The BJP won the election by presenting Modi as an agent of change — a change in how a country could be governed, with Gujarat put forth as a shining example. Regardless of the debate surrounding the “facts” on Gujarat, CSDS survey data suggest that most people perceive Gujarat as a well managed state. Now that Modi is in power, the image of Gujarat can no longer be used to mobilise votes. Voters will be assessing how the BJP and Modi govern from Delhi. Unfortunately for the BJP and Modi, reforming governance in India is a long and arduous task. Given the demographics of India, especially because so many people need the state for their well-being, no elected government can introduce radical policy changes, especially of the right-wing variety. The BJP also cannot afford to alienate its core supporters, the urban middle classes.
ttempts to appease both groups can only yield incremental policy changes. The maiden budget presented by the BJP government reflects the difficulty of making rapid changes in a large and complex society. The BJP could make its mark by changing archaic laws, making the government work more efficiently and creating a more approachable and open government, but not appearing partisan while doing so. These tasks are difficult by their very nature, as the recent controversy over the appointment of Nripendra Misra as principal secretary to the prime minister shows. To put it simply, major changes in governance that will transform the …continued »