“I am not going to be the donkey this time to carry the entire burden of campaigning. The responsibility of winning the election rests fairly and squarely on your shoulders” thundered Indira Gandhi to a stunned audience. The well-dressed and well-fed audience (of an impoverished country) who had developed a parasitically symbiotic relationship with the Nehru-Gandhi family couldn’t digest the fact that their leader would be unable to concoct a wave election once again.
Welcome to circa 1984; to be precise, the 17th of March 1984. It was the first day of the three-day ‘computerized mela (gathering)’ of the Congress elite – the 366 elected MPs and 2400 odd MLAs along with various general secretaries and PCC presidents – in the then sprawling Asiad games village of New Delhi organized by ‘Rajiv’s boys’ (a term used for Rajiv Gandhi’s backroom operators). Perhaps Indira of all the people knew that the days of her dynasty ruling India were numbered, as the masses were no longer gullible enough to be fooled again and again. But history decided to intervene through a tragedy of epic proportions that only managed to delay the inevitable by another five years.
One of the immediate fallouts of Rajiv Gandhi’s emphatic victory in the December general election of 1984 came from the southern state of Karnataka. Ramakrishna Hegde, the Janata Chief Minister of the state resigned from his position taking moral responsibility after Congress – which was in the opposition in the state – won a whopping 24 MP seats out of 28. In under four months after the humiliating defeat, Hegde won a massive mandate of 139 MLA seats out of 224 in the mid-term assembly elections of Karnataka in March 1985.
The shock defeat of Congress in the mid-term polls of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in early 1985, following so closely on the heels of a massive Rajiv Gandhi sweep was a rare occasion when Indian voters showed unprecedented depth in exercising their democratic choice. This was also a rare occasion in India’s democracy when voters did not punish the ruling party for an early election (to the state assemblies of Karnataka and AP). Indian voters generally vote for stability and expect the elected governments to last for the full five-year term. Therefore, the latest buzz among the Sangh-BJP circles about winter general elections in 2018 October-November (clubbed together with three state assembly elections) makes so little sense.
The “November Doctrine” of holding early general elections in order to avoid any adverse state assembly verdicts is a potentially disastrous political move that is being floated among the Sangh-BJP circles. The very fact that the top leadership is even mooting this idea is fraught with danger even if it is being given the veneer of “electoral preparedness for any eventuality”. There are four primary reasons why the BJP government should complete its full term despite of all adversities.
Perhaps for the first time since the legacy of freedom movement ended in the late 60’s, India has shown such consistent faith in one leader cutting across caste, regional and linguistic barriers. Prime Minister Modi can singlehandedly win elections for BJP, period.
“Yes, we are extremely inconvenienced by GST, we are angry with the government for bringing this law in haste without considering the consequences” said Bhupa Reddy, “but we are still voting for Modi because he did not do this to fill his coffers or for personal benefit, instead he is trying to do something for the country” he further elaborated. Mr. Reddy is a small time trader owning a shop in the sprawling market of Vijay Nagar in Bangalore. He and his fellow trading community surprised everybody this summer when they voted for the BJP.
A month before Karnataka assembly elections, if anybody within Congress was asked to pick 20 of their strongest seats in the state, Vijay Nagar and Govindraj Nagar would be on top of that list. Both the seats were represented by the father-son duo of M. Krishnappa and Priya Krishna who are both worth a thousand crore rupees each in declared assets. Both father and son have strong hold on their constituencies and are known to have run a corruption-free governance for 5 years. In fact, when Priya Krishna filed his nomination papers a huge crowd of nearly twenty thousand had turned up in support.
Logically, both the seats should have gone to Congress with big margins, but just one Modi rally in the neighborhood changed everything virtually overnight. Mind you, this is a highly localized area with overwhelmingly Kannada speaking population and yet when the PM spoke in Hindi, people listened with intent. BJP took a gravity defying quantum leap of 75000 votes in May last in these two constituencies put together.
If this is the kind of trust Modi enjoys in a non-Hindi speaking state after 4 years of being in government, imagine the power he would have in a national election. All this talk of Modi losing his sheen is empty rhetoric by the media worthies just to build a counter-narrative. If anything, Modi has only grown further into Indian voters’ conscience in the last 5 years. PM Modi has to now complete his full 5-year term and give direct hisaab to the people of India of his performance of the last 60 months and votes would trickle down on their own.
This is a powerful message that can galvanize India as most Indians are weary of non-stop electoral politics. The very fact that India spends tens of thousands of crores of rupees on elections is an issue that needs to be explained in detail to the Indian public, apart from explaining the unnecessary gaps in governance due to constant invocation of the model code of conduct.
Consider this: on an average, each major MP contestant is likely to spend a mean of 30 crore rupees in the 2019 elections and even if one considers an average of 3 major contestants per parliamentary seat, the math would suggest a total market of nearly 50k crore rupees just for the MP elections. As per various non-official estimates, the recently concluded Karnataka assembly elections were one of the most expensive state elections in history with a total market size of over 2 billion dollars!
Thus, reducing election cycles could be as much of a game-changer move politically as demonetization was. For instance, if Karnataka were to go to polls with the nation in 2019, the cost of an MP contest would be literally halved simply because each assembly segment would be taken care of by the respective MLA contestants. Yet, one election for the entire nation may not be technically feasible for now, so what can be done now are two sets of elections – one set with the national elections and another set as a mid-term election with the remaining state assemblies. BJP can in fact play the martyr card by sacrificing its governments in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand for simultaneous elections. At the same time, MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh state assemblies can be put under Governor’s rule for 4 months so that all of these can be clubbed together with the main general elections, for it makes absolutely no logical sense to have different sets of elections at an interval of just 4 months.
There is also an opportunity to convince Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Delhi state governments to go in for early elections so that 13 states (Sikkim, Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand) can go to polls together with the national general elections which leaves another 16 state assemblies for the mid-term elections. Such a move would also give BJP the big opportunity to leverage Modi – the most popular Indian leader today – to the maximum extent possible over both the national as well as regional elections.
In case BJP fails to build political consensus for simultaneous elections, the plan B should still be to face Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh elections first before the national elections rather than repeating the mistake of Vajpayee in 2004 and preponing the general elections. Despite the media/social-media buzz about BJP governments in Rajasthan and MP being in trouble and despite all the adverse bypoll results, the arithmetic of these state elections is probably in favor of the BJP.
“RSS workers are busy with numerous socio-cultural activities throughout the year, election is a very small once-in-5-year-event for them” Mysore MP, Pratap Simha had averred in a discussion a few days after the Gorakhpur & Phoolpur by polls, “our party has a history of bad by election results simply because our core base cannot be enthused to go out and vote on non-nationalistic issues” he concluded. Simha should know, for not only is he a member of parliament but also a keen political observer due to his long stint in journalism. This holds true of Rajasthan too, despite of Alwar-Ajmer by election results, simply because the cushion that BJP enjoys is too large and Congress cannot overcome that vote-share deficit purely due to some anti-incumbency. Indeed, if anything, electoral data suggests that since the advent of Modi, BJP has virtually never lost to Congress wherever they are in direct contest – not even in Karnataka.
The biggest lesson that RSS learned after the 2004 debacle of Vajpayee was that BJP was too focused on urban macro-economic issues while rural India was churning against the establishment, especially due to 3 successive years of drought preceding 2004. Ever since Modi became the Prime Minister, his focus on rural India has been unwavering. Many small steps like building toilets, introducing soil health cards, bringing neem coated urea may not have sounded like the big bang reforms for the chattering classes, but have had deep-rooted impact on Indian villages.
These days there is a lot of clamor for farm loan waivers by powerful agri-lobbies which have forced many state governments (including many BJP ruled ones) to indulge in hara-kiri, but the fact is that these farm loan waivers only benefit the rich farmers and have zero impact on actual voting populace. For instance, recently Karnataka state government announced a whopping 45000 crore farm loan waiver scheme which is nothing but an exercise in futility. 49% of Karnataka farmers are tenants who will get virtually no benefit from this scheme and among the remaining 51%, a large majority are small and marginal farmers who rarely get access to institutional loans.
The real impact on farmers is going to actually come from the virtual doubling of MSP on various farm produce introduced by the Modi government recently. This is a game-changer move in this crucial election year that can potentially increase farm incomes by 30-40% in one go. What is more, this impacts all the farmers cutting across the spectrum – tenant farmers, small and marginal farmers and even the rich ones. This may not be fiscally prudent in the near term, but if Modi considers such a move of introducing MSP for vegetables and fruits too, it would make him a messiah of the rural masses like none before him.
There are two key political aspects to this MSP move by the central government. Firstly, rural masses should be made aware of the fact that the MSP hike was given by Modi government, therefore RSS and BJP workers need to go on a mass campaign regarding this, especially in non-BJP ruled states to harvest real electoral benefit. Secondly, the time frame factor is very crucial because the actual benefit for most farmers will come in only after the harvest season. Even more importantly, the positive impact on rural economy on the whole will need another 3-6 months of latency.
After a long time, this year is likely to be a normal monsoon year across India. What this means is a potentially bumper Kharif season followed by an even more successful Rabi season because of increased ground water due to excess rainfall in many parts of India. Back-to-back bumper farm produce combined with virtual doubling of MSP would mean a year of unlimited happiness in Indian villages which can create a massive positive energy for Modi in the summer of 2019. Therefore, preponing of elections to November should not even be considered as an option.
Since July 10th 2014, the day Arun Jaitley presented the first budget of the Modi government, there has been one raging question asked by everybody – where are the big bang reforms? Almost everybody in the whole wide world believes that Modi has been a disappointment as a classic economic reformer. Yet, the truth is that Narendra Modi has been the single most impactful Prime Minister India has ever seen.
The single biggest achievement of Modi that the future historians will talk about is his untiring focus on formalizing India. Large swaths of India have for so long remained in the informal sector that no amount of big bang reforms can make any difference. The sequential change of first introducing banking to all of India, then unleashing demonetization and finally bringing in GST as a single tax for entire India have had a far reaching impact on India’s informal economy.
The real fruits of these reforms have only begun to appear now. India Inc is likely to show double digit earnings growth for the third straight quarter in segments like Auto, FMCG and Capital Goods. Yet, true broad-based growth is likely to begin sometime from the 3rd quarter of this year. A summer of 2019 election will give Modi at least 2 quarters of top notch growth creating a completely positive atmosphere unlike 2013-14 when everything was gloomy, leading to the Congress downfall.
In his first term, Modi has created a solid platform for Indian economy to truly take-off. The next few years are going to be boom years of unprecedented growth that this great civilization has rarely seen since the British enslaved us. India missed a fantastic opportunity in 2004 when the Vajpayee government had brought in many second generation reforms that could have potentially built a 5 trillion dollar economy because of the decade of decay under Sonia Gandhi. History cannot repeat now. India cannot afford it and one man will not let this happen and he is going to remain the Prime Minister of India come May 2019.