Sounding bugle for 2019 well in advance

S. Sethuraman

The Modi-Shah duo are again on intense poll mode, leaving no chances to secure not less than 360 seats for BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. For all one knows, the Prime Minister who claims to be ever ready to take the "boldest Actions", may even call a snap poll at a time of his choosing.
Meanwhile, of course, he would be completing a major shake-up of his Cabinet, also providing places for JD (U) and the battered and bruised AIADMK, though for the latter it would mean becoming an ally in a BJP-led front for the Lok Sabha poll. Bihar Chief Minister happily embraced Mr Modi, who also had no small part in uniting rival factions in AIADMK in self-interest. It is questionable whether the patch-up in ruling AIADMK will hold, with visible defections.
2019 has come to loom large with the growing anxiety of BJP leadership for a stronger and safer return after the perceived slip-ups in governance, notably on socio-economic front over three years at the national level. These had been brazened out with half-truths and assertions of policy measures on the anvil. None of these has begun to reflect positively on growth.
UP, where the Modi miracle worked perfect for BJP rule, has become the State of maximum embarrassment for the Modi Government, whether one looks at the cow-related lynchings, the Gorakhpur tragedy with scores of children dying in hospitals lacking oxygen supplies or the spate of rail disasters with heavy casualties in parts of UP in quick succession.
For the past three years, Railways had seen hardly any dramatic improvements in the functioning of this vital infrastructure, and all that Railway Minister Mr Suresh Prabhu could claim was the intention to make massive investments, such as had not seen in decades before. Sadly, he had only to watch meekly inter-state fast trains rolling off the tracks killing scores of passengers.
Railways had seen no "betterment" that Mr Prabhu talks of, but he has offered to step down for moral responsibility, something he should have done much earlier. In any case, Mr Prabhu had little to with Railway planning or finances, the railway budget having been woven into the General Budget as one of the revolutionary reforms of Modi Government, like a change in the fiscal year itself.
Whatever be the new image that Prime Minister Modi may seek to create, with a Cabinet reshuffle, the country has gone through an unsettling chain of events, so much that the Indian political landscape hardly differs from what it had been for some years now. Mr Modi's undiminished popularity as the strongest leader apart, he himself would readily concede that all the development mantra he has been sedulously preaching has not hit the ground, in terms of benefit to the common people, even if some well-to-do classes and big business could have walked away with part of it.
The charismatic Prime Minister Narendra Modi was understandably on low key at the Red Fort on August 15, disappointing his boisterous supporters.  Neither the economy is doing well, let alone job creation –indeed more job losses in the MSE sector after the great cash deprivation – nor any early harvests from his reform agenda.
The muddled implementation of multi-rated GST apart, there is no other reform in sight till 2019. Fiscal 2018 is likely to prove a fizzle out. Government and RBI are struggling to bring the banking crisis to manageable proportions. Even with hair-cuts (writing down dues to it), banks would need new capital much more than currently provided for, putting fiscal policy strategy at risk.
The NDA Government, while blaming the Congress-led Governments of the past for all ills of the country at present, has virtually followed its policies and programmes in several areas, with redesigning and certain modifications.  The Prime Minister has been trying to energise his supporters by recalling the "Quit India" Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi in 1942 and the "do or die" spirit that was invoked in those times.
Though Mr Modi dissolved the Planning Commission with a fiery approach within a few months of his ascent to power, he seems to have resurrected the five-year plan, going by his launch of the "New India Movement (2017-2022), which also in a way under-plays the mechanism of NITI Aayog he had created as substitute for the Planning Commission. Not all the targets he has set for 2022 would seem realisable with the current outlook for growth over the medium term and external uncertainties, regional as well as global.
What would make for confidence for BJP to return with strength is the pitiable state of fragmented opposition which, while struggling to keep alive democratic norms and values and defend the Constitution under threat, has not so far been able to coalesce into a credible alliance at a national level. Initiatives taken by the Congress for non-BJP parties getting together had been set with limited objectives like the Presidential election.
Hopes are now centred on new initiatives that the experienced politician Mr Sharad Yadav, is taking, with tacit support of Congress led by Ms. Sonia Gandhi and Mr Rahul Gandhi, and reaching out to all other non-BJP parties, at national and regional levels, in defence of India's "composite culture".  He thinks it is possible with some effort to build a grand alliance comprising not only the Congress, the Left, Trinamool Congress, NCP of Mr Sharad Pawar, but also other leading non-BJP parties including regional majors like SP, BSP and RJD.
These are still early days for the Opposition efforts to crystallise into meaningful approaches toward a formidable alliance with clear-cut objectives but the parties have to act with a sense of urgency and not let themselves overtaken by unforeseen events designed to frustrate the ongoing moves to fight to safeguard India's secularism and other constitutional objectives and principles. (IPA)

Sunday, 3 September, 2017