The Modi dispensation still has to contend with the lack of jobs narrative and the growing OBC, SC/ST consolidation over the upper caste quota.
New Delhi: The NDA government stumped its political adversaries with a poll sops-laden interim budget — or “account for vote” as former finance minister P. Chidambaram grudgingly called it — but the euphoria in the ruling camp is arguably over the top at this stage.
The interim budget will help the BJP consolidate its support base, especially among the urban middle class, including homebuyers, and may alleviate angst against it among small and marginal farmers who may be in so much distress that they would welcome the government’s dole of even Rs 500 a month.
But that takes care of only a part of the problem the BJP faces in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. While it continues to largely rely on Modi’s persona to secure electoral victories, the saffron party is today confronted with three broad questions.
Jobs, quota and Modi persona
First, will the BJP be able to change the opposition-woven narrative about the government’s failure to create jobs? It is a subject dear to the youth who had overwhelmingly voted for Narendra Modi in 2014.
Or, to put the same question differently, does the ruling party have enough trust in Modi’s achievements, especially on the economic front, that it can signal to the electorate that it wants a renewed mandate for ‘Vikas’— or ‘Vikas Purush’— and not for the Ram temple in Ayodhya or against the ‘termites’ from Bangladesh? Income tax rebate apart, the middle class will be sensitive to the BJP’s priorities.
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Second, can the saffron party neutralise the ongoing mobilisation of the SCs/STs and the OBCs by its political adversaries over the issue of 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections in the general category?
Even without this mobilisation, state-specific alliances of parties commanding the loyalty of particular castes and communities threatens to unravel the ruling party’s game plan. A substantial section of the OBCs and Dalits had switched their loyalty to Modi in 2014 but are no longer vocal about their support. Their continuing allegiance to Modi is crucial to the BJP’s fate in 2019.
The third question is whether painting the opposition as corrupt and nincompoop is electorally as potent a strategy today as it was in 2014.
Is Goyal’s budget enough?
Finance Minister Piyush Goyal’s speech offered no answer to the first two questions — though he did mention a substantial increase in allocation for SCs/STs. While he did refer to “phone banking”, “transparent auction of natural resources” and transparency in the real estate sector to remind the people of the omissions and commissions of the previous Congress-led regime — and Modi has been at it all through his tenure — unending raids on opposition leaders by investigative agencies may have discredited the corruption plank.
As it is, Goyal’s budget should surely please the BJP and its sympathisers but there remain a few questions about its game-changing impact. That apart, Goyal did succeed in rattling the opposition Congress, with Chidambaram left only to nit-pick, including the minister’s bilingual speech, and to question the constitutional validity of an outgoing government presenting a full-fledged budget. As if the legalese matter to Modi or for that matter the voters.
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