About four years ago, the Narendra Modi government rode to power with the promise of ‘Achhe Din’ for all. There were sky-high expectations. As NDA is now preparing to face the electorate in less than a year, the government is gung-ho about its performance.
It has a long list of flagship programmes to showcase – Ujjawala Yojana, Jan Dhan Yojana, Digital India, Make in India, Swachch Bharat and Mudra loans to name a few. Going by the government’s claim, all these schemes are highly successful.
Good news is that the Indian economy is on recovery path with GDP growth rate of 7.7 per cent in January-March 2018, the fastest in last seven quarters. If crude oil again becomes lucky for the NDA government and doesn’t go beyond $70 a barrel, this growth may continue for the whole year.
Now, the big question – Will there be ‘Achhe Din’ for the BJP in 2019 general elections? After all, electorate rewards good performance.
We may get a clue from an earlier NDA regime under Atal Behari Vajpayee. There are many similarities between the governments. Like Modi, Vajpayee was then more popular than his party. Both the governments faced sluggish economic growth during the large part of initial years and GDP started picking up only in last financial year. Stock markets jumped during the last year of the Vajpayee regime.
Both, Vajpayee and Modi, took some bold steps which might not be considered as good economic decisions but helped in building their images.
The Vajpayee government conducted nuclear test. It partially contributed in hampering the economic growth, as the United States and other countries had imposed sanctions on India.
Similarly, the Modi government carried out demonetization that acted like a hammer on the nation’s economic growth. It also implemented GST. Observers are divided over GST’s long-term impact. However, everyone is of the view that it had negative impact on the economy in short term.
When the economic growth picked up under Vajpayee and reached the eight per cent growth rate, BJP leaders became confident of winning elections. The government’s performance was lauded by media. Stock markets celebrated fast GDP growth.
L K Advani and Pramod Mahajan were highly convinced about India’s economic growth story that they unleashed the ‘India Shining’ campaign. The government spent Rs 150 crore for a 120-day-long campaign, one of the highest by a political party. Elections were advanced by six months to May 2004.
Then why did the NDA lose elections in 2004? After all, economic performance has a big impact on election results. It is simply because the benefits of economic growth didn’t trickle down to the common people. They were irritated when they were told how their life had improved, thanks to the NDA government programmes. India Shining was a joke for them. If there was economic growth, it was for the upper class only.
So what can the Modi government learn from the Vajpayee regime? Don’t get swayed by your own slogans. Citizens are the best judges of the government’s performance. They are not influenced by macro numbers such as GDP growth, WPI, and Current Account deficit. If they are not able to see any improvement in quality of life, they will not be influenced by any false propaganda. It would be rather counterproductive.
As less than a year is left for the next general elections. It is high time that the government do a reality check rather than celebrating its performance.
For example, the government may have connected more than 100,000 villages with Optical Fibre Cable (OFC). However, what matters is whether the fibre has been lit—whether there is broadband connectivity in these villages. Fibre without Internet is of no use to people living in rural areas. Next step is whether the government is able to give e-education and e-health services through broadband as promised by the prime minister in his first speech from Red Fort.
In a nutshell, it is important that the Modi government implement its own flagship programmes. It should avoid getting swayed by its own slogans.