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Lead Story

It will need a miracle to stop a Narendra Modi-led NDA from coming to power in 2
Outlook Group chairman Vinod Mehta delves into an outcome that could well be inevitable.

Vinod Mehta

Elections have always been an edge-of-the-seat affair in India. What, however, heightens the drama in the general election this time around is the Aam Aadmi Party’s spectacular victory in the Delhi Assembly polls, and the drubbing the ruling party got in other recent state elections. Does this prevailing mood of anti-incumbency, then, portend a one-way contest? Outlook Group Editorial Chairman Vinod Mehta delves into an outcome that could well be inevitable.

It will need a miracle to stop a Narendra Modi-led NDA from coming to power in 2014. And it will need an even bigger miracle for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to avoid a rout in the general election. This is the clear message conveyed by the results of the four state elections, even if the BJP is unable to form the government in Delhi. As a part-time Congress sympathiser, I believe that for Manmohan Singh and all the other Congress ministers five years of serious contemplation of follies (mainly corruption) and sitting on the Opposition benches will do their souls an enormous amount of good. It might even get rid of the arrogance courtesy which the Congress assumes it is the natural choice for the government.

So, what kind of India will emerge under the leadership of Narendra Modi? That is the question uppermost in the mind of the citizens who may have voted for Mr Modi but are unsure about what kind of prime minister he will make. I am one of those journalists who are somewhat sceptical about the Gujarat chief minister’s ability to run this vast and diverse nation, given his record and style of governance in his home state. Yet, we must give Mr Modi a fair chance to prove the sceptics wrong and demonstrate that he is capable of transforming himself into a person conscious of the fact that India is not Gujarat.

Without a doubt, Narendra Modi is an intelligent individual. I understand that he is getting some sane advice from people who have a vested interest in his success. Which is? To wear the Vajpayee mantle. His style is not that of the moderate, middle-of-the-road leader, but he could surprise us, if for no other reason than to keep his job. He knows he will not remain prime minister for long if he persists with his old ways. What the country is looking forward to is Narendra Modi Mark II.

The corporate world, which has invested both faith and money in Mr Modi, can hardly contain itself. We got a glimpse of the enthusiasm when the exit polls revealed a BJP sweep — as a result of which the stock markets went crazy. Since then, the markets have continued with their madness, convinced that Mr Modi will usher in a business-friendly government. The confidence may not be misplaced. But to be sure, Narendra Modi carries the burden of some very heavy expectations.

The BJP prime ministerial nominee has given every indication that reform, building of infrastructure and making investments (both domestic and foreign) easy is high on his priority list. Single-window clearance, a policy long desired but never implemented, might yet see the light of day.

Pulling in the numbers 

The BJP won higher seats in most states in the recent 2013 elections

Corporate India, which has been distinctly unhappy with Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s social sector and pro-poor handouts, will be justified in expecting a reversal of the politics of ‘sops’. For the aam aadmi and the underprivileged section of society, Mr Modi is going to have to devise ways and means of assistance that do not include the doling out of cash.

Not surprisingly, hopes are high. Mr Modi will come to office amidst widespread euphoria in the middle class. The business community, especially, has pitched its optimism up. The Gujarat CM is being perceived as some kind of ‘miracle man’; a strong leader who can provide decisive leadership that puts an end to the current ‘policy paralysis’. Reading the pink papers, one can’t escape the conclusion that the new prime minister will have to cope with a variety of pressing demands. It is in the interests of the business community to be pragmatic so that Mr Modi is not asked to do the impossible.

For the mood of hyped expectations across the nation, Mr Modi has only himself to blame. He has time and again smugly offered the example of Gujarat, or shall I say ‘Vibrant Gujarat’, where decisions are taken at lightning speed to facilitate the entry of new business ventures and generally to make life comfortable for industry. This is not going to be easy on the national stage, where civil society groups representing tribals sitting on mineral-rich terrain have powerful allies with access to courts. It will be interesting to see how Mr Modi tackles this issue — one that Mr Chidambaram attempted but quickly gave up, blaming people such as Arundhati Roy.

In the coming five months, meanwhile, the policy paralysis will continue. We have a lame-duck government engaged in the unlovely spectacle of licking its wounds. It will also be engaged in finger-pointing and passing the buck. Mrs Sheila Dixit has already begun the process and as I write, the Congress party is doing something it never had the guts to do: challenge, albeit politely, the leadership of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. This kind of ‘introspection’ may be necessary for the party but is of not much use to the citizen. At any rate, for the country it would be more useful to discuss the nature of the obstacles and pitfalls the Narendra Modi-led BJP government is likely to face.

I offer this cautionary caveat because Mr Modi has more enemies inside his party than outside. The result of the state elections in the recent past shows that there is no Modi ‘wave’. However, there certainly is a Modi ‘effect’. Will this ‘effect’ turn into a ‘wave’, or will the general election throw up a verdict that suggests that Mr Modi was not a decisive factor in the NDA’s victory? From the business community’s perspective, it would be much better if Mr Modi comes to office without such questions being raised.

 The size of the obstacles in his way will depend on the kind of mandate Mr Modi receives in May 2014. All bets are off if his party’s numbers fall short of the target. Narendra Modi has been going around telling the country that the BJP will comfortably win close to 220 seats and its allies about 50-plus. If this proves to be true, it will give the NDA a simple but comfortable majority to implement its policies.

 

Chalking up a majority 

can the Modi 'effect' transform into a Modi 'wave' in the next election?

However, we need to maintain a sense of perspective. In the southern and eastern parts of the country, Mr Modi’s party is virtually invisible. Consequently, the BJP has to do exceedingly well in the north and the west to get a tally of over 200 seats. For this to happen, two states — Bihar and Uttar Pradesh — hold the key. If Mr Modi is to move residence to 7, Race Course Road, the BJP needs to increase its tally in Uttar Pradesh from the current 10 to around 50. That is not an impossible task, but it will take some doing.

In Bihar, where the BJP’s long partnership with Nitish Kumar has not merely ended, but ended in mutual bad blood, forecasting the results is a pollster’s nightmare. There are too many caste, religious and state-specific imponderables to allow any meaningful speculation. The pundits, nevertheless, maintain the BJP will give the JD(U) a thrashing in Bihar. Mr Nitish Kumar’s body language seems to confirm the prognosis.

On the other hand, if the Modi-led NDA just scrapes through with support from allies such as Jayalalithaa or Chandrababu Naidu or Mayawati or Mulayam Singh Yadav (do not rule that out, given Mr Yadav’s talent for U-turns), prime minister Modi will live a day-to-day existence and the dreaded policy paralysis may continue. Because the leaders mentioned above are so capricious, have so many personal agendas and are neck deep in so many court cases, Mr Modi will be kept busy keeping them happy rather than ruling the country.

Corporate India should perform some havans. While a Modi-led government appears inevitable, there is no inevitability about its comfort level. For the new prime minister to perform and fulfil at least some of the promises made to the business community, he must have a degree of breathing space. A lame-duck Narendra Modi struggling to keep his parliamentary majority would be a repeat of Manmohan Singh.

The RSS could be another problem. It was with some reluctance that the old gents of Nagpur finally agreed to announce Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial nominee of the BJP. Consequently, they will demand their pound of flesh. What that pound will consist of, we have a pretty good idea. In its economic orientation, the RSS and the CPM have much in common. ‘Swadeshi’, which the RSS favours, springs from a deep distrust of foreign capital, foreign expertise and multinationals. How Mr Modi will deal with the RSS and its pressures is a tantalising question.

No prime minister, whatever his parliamentary majority, has an easy ride in today’s turbulent and unpredictable global environment. Nor will Mr Modi. From the Indian industrialists’ point of view, the Gujarat chief minister’s centre-right ideology is good news. Mr Modi needs to show ingenuity, the spirit of compromise and patience to get some of his policies through.

Who will be Mr Modi’s finance minister in the new government? The BJP is not devoid of talent. There is Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Jaitley to choose from. No one can predict what kind of choice a person like Modi — who is known to play favourites and not known to forget and forgive — will make. As long as it is not his faithful crony Amit Shah, Corporate India should be satisfied.

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