In a couple of months, the BJP-led alliance government in India, headed by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will be celebrating three years in office. The general elections of 2014 saw the BJP, a right-wing nationalist formation, receive a historic mandate. The party gained a majority of seats in Parliament for the first time, a feat that had eluded successive governments for thirty years. Given the scale of the victory and a presidential-style election campaign that was led by the charismatic Modi, expectations were sky-high for the incoming government, especially as its predecessor in office was a weak center-left coalition that was dogged by corruption scandals and lacklustre economic growth during its final years.
Given that we are roughly two years away from a re-election battle, it is fair to ask how far the BJP and its alliance partners have succeeded in setting the policy agenda, and what the electoral prospects look like for both the incumbent and opposition parties in a 2019 matchup. The 2014 elections saw the ruling party greatly expand its traditional base of traders and culturally conservative Hindus, picking up significant support from the urban middle classes and lower-caste Dalits, groups that had often voted for the main opposition Congress party, or other regional outfits. Modi’s image as a skilled administrator during his long stint as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, combined with a high-voltage election campaign that emphasized economic development and job opportunities for the bulging youth demographic, resulting in his party winning the bulk of seats in the northern and western regions of the country. The promises made to the electorate prior to the election, along with the sweeping mandate accorded to Modi and his party, led to optimism among many in the country (and the international investor community) the economic reforms process, which has proceeded in fits and starts under successive governments since the early 1990s, would be revived in a significant way.
However, the record of the Modi government thus far has been a mixed bag, particularly on the economic front. There has been a concerted effort on pronouncements about making it easier to conduct business in India, or making the country into a global manufacturing hub on the lines of China. Plummeting global commodity prices since 2014, most notably for oil, have also been favorable to the country’s macroeconomic situation, easing the current account and fiscal deficits that acted as albatrosses on GDP growth in the earlier years of the decade. However, long-term changes to the functioning of the economy have either floundered in Parliament, or else are yet to have an impact on the ground. Rumblings regarding the government’s inability to translate growth rates into demonstrable improvements in people’s lives are increasingly being seen in financial press op-eds. The discontent could possibly spread to the general electorate, many of whom voted for the BJP on the promised agenda of job creation and improvement in delivery of public services.
What then are the reelection prospects for a government elected on delivering concrete outcomes, one that has underperformed on its core promises? The fickle nature of Indian electorates over the past two decades does not augur well for the incumbent regime. At the same point, the state of the political opposition in the country needs to taken into account when answering this question.
To be continued.