Why Arvind Kejriwal Still Has The Edge In Delhi Polls

As Delhi goes to the polls on February 8, and campaigning by the three main political parties hots up, there is much speculation over who could win this key election. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which runs the central government, has been recently bruised by defeats or weak performances in other state elections. It would want to regain its position by winning Delhi. But Delhi’s incumbent Aam Admi Party (AAP) government, currently in its second term, enjoys popularity and is largely not beset by anti-incumbency factors. Many believe, however, that the recent student protests in Delhi, which led to unprecedented violence across the city, particularly in university campuses, will have a bearing on the outcome of the elections.

Delhi is not a full-fledged state. Its government, no matter which party or alliance gets to form it, has limited jurisdiction over its administration. For instance, the state, home to nearly 30 million people, is policed by a force that comes under the central government’s home ministry and not the Delhi government. Likewise, matters relating to the state’s land come under the central government and not the state. The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), which administers the central part of Delhi, including what is known as Lutyens’ Delhi, is under central government’s authority, while the three other municipal corporations for the rest of the state are governed by elected councillors but has blurred reporting lines—they report to the central government-appointed Lieutenant-Governor but are also partly funded out of the state government’s budgets.

When the government at the Centre and the government of Delhi’s state are politically aligned, the system works better. However, for the past five years, Delhi’s government has been led by the Aam Admi Party (AAP), headed by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, which has been at loggerheads with the central government and the Lieutenant-Governor. The Kejriwal government has been rooting for full statehood for Delhi as it feels, and probably rightly so, that its powers are hobbled by constraints.

During his two tenures—the first one lasted 49 days—Kejriwal has formed governments that have been remarkably transparent and largely untainted by corruption or any other scandals. His schemes, aimed at the poor and lower middle class segments of the population, have included free bus services for women, and reduced electricity and water bills, which have found great favour by ordinary voters. Besides, he has burnished his reputation as a representative of the common man by not eschewing his original activism. Kejriwal’s AAP gained popularity before he won electoral victories by staging protests to back citizens’ needs. Even as a sitting chief minister of Delhi, he has continued to build that image. He sat on a dharna in front of the Lieutenant-Governor’s office when the latter was not clearing files related to some schemes. And he continues to be the rallying point for anti-BJP voters.

It is true, however, that Kejriwal’s party turned in a poor show in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when he failed to win a single seat in Delhi. But in following months, he has recalibrated his position. When the NDA government brought the bill to bifurcate Jammu & Kashmir and scrap Article 370, Kejriwal promptly supported them. Kejriwal’s decision to support abolition of 370 comes from the understanding that in the Lok Sabha polls, a large number of Muslim voters had voted for the Congress. So, if Kejriwal cannot depend on a section of the Muslim vote, he would rather woo the wider Hindu vote-base. It’s a political gambit based on chasing electoral numbers. Whether it will work or not depends on how the BJP woos Delhi’s voters.

While Modi’s popularity among voters remains high, the BJP’s chief ministers can’t take their popularity for granted. This is evident from the string of losses the BJP has suffered in the assembly polls during the past year. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra have not seen continuation of the BJP government. So, at the state level, the BJP looks vulnerable. Moreover, in the forthcoming Delhi elections, the BJP has not anointed anyone as the party’s contender for the chief minister’s post. Many voters will likely see the contest in February as a “Kejriwal vs. Who?” fight. It is likely that they could opt for the sitting chief minister as their preferred choice.

In all of this, the Congress’ position is the most vulnerable. In Delhi, the Congress is disadvantaged as it has no clear face to lead its charge. Its organisational disarray at the national level can also impact its fortunes in the elections. Kejriwal, on the other hand, has been quick to grab any opportunity to create an edge for himself and his party. The questionable conduct of the Delhi Police during the current student protests—in one instance, it entered a university campus and used violence against unarmed protestors; in another, it stood as passive bystanders while hooligans entered and laid siege in another campus and unleashed violence against students.

Delhi’s urban youth voters have rallied with student protestors and their collective disposition towards the BJP government has been changing. Urban youth in India have begun viewing the BJP and its recent efforts to change the Citizenship Act as discriminatory actions that go against the fabric of secularism that the Constitution of India guarantees. In Delhi, which has been the hotbed of student protests, this is most pronounced. Willy nilly, this could work to provide further advantage to Kejriwal and his party. Delhi’s youth who form a significant proportion of the electorate could prefer AAP to the BJP or the Congress. And, along with the poor and lower middle class voters, they could steer Kejriwal to a third term in the race for Delhi.

Deconstructing India’s New Citizenship Law

In an impassioned speech to mark the launch of his party’s campaign for the Delhi elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly assured Indian Muslims that the recently enacted Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAA) or the proposed roll-out of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) would not discriminate against those who were born in India. This comes in the wake of widespread protests, mainly by urban students, across India. The protests, including violent incidents leading to destruction of public property and clashes with police, spread across India, before being quelled.

What were the reasons for the sudden and spontaneous uprising by students? Mr Modi and his colleagues in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attribute it to their political rivals, chiefly the Congress party, who they claim have provoked the agitations by the students in order to gain electoral advantage in the forthcoming state elections, notably in Delhi, which goes to the polls in early 2020. But Mr Modi’s critics and the student agitators believe that the CAA and, potentially, the NRC, discriminate against Muslims, while they favour almost all other religious minorities. The Act and the register, critics feel, will further marginalise India’s population of 200 million Muslims and turn the country into a majoritarian state, dominated by Hindus, which is contrary to the secularist tenet of the nation’s Constitution.

What exactly does the CAA intend to do? Primarily, the Act amends the existing Indian Citizenship law, which prohibits illegal migrants from becoming Indian citizens. The old law prohibits illegal foreigners who enter India without valid visas or travel documents from staying in the country and denies them Indian citizenship. Under the new Act, which Mr Modi’s government has formulated, there are exceptions to that law. Now, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, and jains (notably not Muslims), if they have genuinely immigrated from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan, will be allowed to stay in India and can be eligible for citizenship if they live or work in the country for six years. The government believes that this will provide sanctuary to those who have fled other countries because of religious persecution.

What then is the controversy surrounding the CAA? The Modi regime’s critics argue that the new Act discriminates against Muslims and, therefore, goes against the secular principles in the Indian Constitution. By separating Mulsims and non-Muslims, the Act, critics feel incorporates religious discrimination into a law and that runs counter to India’s long-standing secular principles. If illegal immigrants from other religions are allowed to seek refuge legally in India, why not also the Muslims who are persecuted in other countries. People belonging to certain sects in Pakistan (Ahmadis, for instance) or in Myanmar (Rohingyas) face oppression and persecution in their countries. Why should they be denied sanctuary? they ask.

What is the controversy over the NRC? The NRC is a register of people who are able to show proper credentials to prove that they came to India before March 24, 1971, the eve of the formation of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), which neighbours India. Initially, the register was introduced in Assam, which has for decades faced a problem of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Before the register was published, the BJP government had rooted for it but after it was found to be ridden by errors—millions, primarily Bengali Hindus, were excluded—it was scrapped and could now be re-framed. The CAA and the NRC are interlinked. Now, non-Muslims who were exclude from the register could seek citizenship and not face deportation, particularly in states such as Assam.

The Modi regime, led by Home minister Amit Shah, now wants to roll out the NRC across all Indian states. This would mean illegal immigrants would have to prove their credentials in order to be entitled to permission to stay on in India. Critics believe that coupled with the CAA this could discriminate against Muslims who have migrated to India and have been staying in the country for a long time. Non-Muslims who are not on the NRC could be protected by the CAA and, hence, seek citizenship by naturalisation, while Muslims who are on listed on the register would be denied the right to stay.

What is the provocation for the protests? The student agitation—which Mr Modi and his colleagues in government say is a movement by “urban Naxals” (a reference to the ultra-Left Wing violent uprisings that peaked in the 1970s)—is fuelled by the view that the new law would discriminate against the largest minority community in India (the 200 million Muslims in India make it the country with the largest Muslim population outside of countries that are Muslim dominated) and , therefore, not only violate secularist principles but drive in the wedge further between the Muslim minority and the Hindu majority. A citizenship law that is based on religious affiliation destroys the secularist fabric of India, critics argue. But the student protests have to be viewed from a broader perspective.

The trigger point for the recent agitation by students was the CAA and NRC and the first protests took place in or around the campuses of two Muslim-centric universities—Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh and the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi. They quickly spread to other universities in India where students empathised with the protesters and organised their rallies, marches and assemblies. However, there have been other build-ups to the actual protests. The Modi regime is viewed by students as being intolerant and non-secularist. In particular, students have been apprehensive about recent developments that have demonstrated discriminatory trends.

The crackdown in Kashmir where leaders were put under house arrest, and communication was blocked after the government repealed special status for the Muslim-majority state is one provocation for the restiveness that has come to prevail on Indian university campuses. The Babri Masjid verdict, which, in essence, gives the go ahead for Hindu activists to gain control over a plot of land where an old mosque stood (it was demolished by Hindu activists in 1992) and build a temple dedicated to the mythological figure, Rama, is yet another point of discord.

India’s students are a significant force. As much as 50% of Indians are below the age of 25 and in recent years many of them feel insecure both economically as well as socially. Unemployment rates are high (although authentic data are difficult to access in India); the economy has been slowing down; consumer demand and, as a consequence, investment by industry is at its nadir. Increasingly, this is making India’s youth disenchanted with the establishment. The recent protests could, thus, be a foretaste of more serious agitations. It is time the Modi regime took note of the stark writing on the wall.

Massive Economic Costs Of India’s Pollution Problem

As many as 15 of the world’s most air polluted cities are in India. Together, these cities are home to more than 700 million people who are exposed to the ill effects of bad air. But what is the economic impact of the deteriorating air quality that afflicts India’s cities? The most recent assessment of that relates to 2013. A World Bank study shows that in just that one year, India lost more than 8.5% of its GDP owing to pollution.

More recent studies have shown that if India could manage to cut the level of pollution, its economy could benefit by many billions. An Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) study says if pollution is brought down to levels where it is not a health hazard, the economy could benefit by $300-400 billion a year. India wants to be a five-trillion-dollar economy in the next few years but reaching that target could be slowed down because of many economic factors but also the environmental crisis that the country faces.

The problem is pollution levels spike to alarmingly hazardous levels during the colder months in India when suspended particulate matter tends to remain in the air close to the ground. The outrage, shock, and protests also spike seasonally. But when things get better as the warmer months approach, all the noise winds down and the concerns about pollution get dissipated.

Air pollution in India ought not to be viewed as an environmental problem. It is an economic problem that comes with huge costs—both in terms of health as well as economic efficiencies. China, another huge country with a large population and densely inhabited cities, has had severe pollution problems but it has coped with them far more sensibly. That is because China looks at tackling pollution as a national economic problem and not merely one that is environmental. India must do the same.

Let’s take Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) as an example. Every year, the NCR has notoriously high levels of pollution in the winter months. Air Quality Indices shoot through the roof; respiratory ailments among its population reach nearly epidemic proportions; dense smog leads to vehicular and air traffic snarl-ups; and, consequently, economic losses mount.

Delhi and the NCR region is home to more than 25 million people. Vehicular emissions, and emissions from power plants and other factories contribute to Delhi’s poor air quality. But so does the practice of stubble burning by farmers in the adjoining states of Punjab and Haryana. Farmers prefer to burn the post-harvest stubble of crops as they see it as a cost efficient way of preparing the land for re-planting of crops. The problem is the smoke and emissions from burning blow into the NCR zone, spiking pollution levels.

Many attempts have been made to find alternative solutions for farmers and to educate and make them aware about the hazardous consequence of stubble burning. Unfortunately, none of these has made significant impact in curbing the practice. The reason is that many of the alternative approaches to getting rid of crop stubble are expensive.

But there is hope. Scientists at the National Centre of Organic Farming have reportedly found that “waste decomposing” could be a reasonably priced option for farmers to get rid of the stubble without the pollution hazards that burning leads to. According to media reports, for as little as Rs 20 per acre, stubble can be decomposed without toxic side effects. What is more, the organic decomposer is also believed to enhance the soil fertility of the land on which it is used. It also increases the level of organic carbon in soil and, may even have benefits to fight some pests.

At least one state—Haryana—has been offering subsidies to farmers to encourage them to adopt the waste decomposer and there has been some encouraging response from them to do so. Such innovations need to be introduced in other states, notably Punjab, too. However, there are other problems. Agriculture accounts for the livelihood of nearly three-quarters of India’s population of 1.3 billion. It is also a political sensitive arena. India’s farmers have been facing a crisis in recent years. Farm produce prices do not compensate them enough. Farm holdings are predominantly of small sizes and small and medium farmers have been burdened by debt.

Political parties, particularly in the more agrarian states do not think it is wise to meddle with farm practices that have traditionally been in use for decades if not centuries. Farmers are a huge vote bank for most parties and political motives come in the way of persuading them to adopt new practices that are sometimes perceived by them to be alien. That has to change with the times and as the pollution problem aggravates, there are few alternatives than to usher in practices that are more environment friendly.

Crop stubble burning, however, is just one of many new practices that have to be adopted by India. Vehicular emissions can be controlled by stricter norms on vehicle operation. Delhi has tried the “odd-even system” of allowing cars and other vehicles on its roads. Under that system, on alternate days vehicles with odd and even numbered registration plates are allowed to ply. That met with protests and had to be canned.

The NCR area is also largely free of restrictive zones for manufacturing industries that emit toxic particles. Strict enforcement of zones to ensure that residential areas and industrial areas do not conflate and that factories are pushed outside of the urban areas have to be adopted. Governments have to realise that fight against pollution is an all-round, all-year fight and not one that causes concern only in the winter months when air quality levels become hazardous.

Is It A Wake-up Call For The BJP?

The laddoo is a ubiquitous Indian confection. Made primarily of sugar, fat and flour, it is as calorific as it is celebratory. Distribution of laddoos is a common form of celebrating success or victory. Last Wednesday, a day before the assembly elections results were declared in Maharashtra, India’s second-most populous state, the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders were so confident of winning the elections that they ordered 5,000 laddoos that they would distribute in celebration.

That over-confidence was dashed when the results came out on Thursday. Similar smug confidence about a BJP victory in Haryana, the other state that went to the polls along with Maharashtra, was shattered as well. In both states, the incumbent governments were BJP-led (in Haryana, of the 90 seats, the BJP had won 48 in 2014; and in Maharashtra, of the 288 seats, the BJP had 122 and its ally the Shiv Sena had 63). When the results came in on Thursday, the BJP’s tally in Maharashtra shrank to 105 and the Shiv Sena’s to 56. In Haryana too, the party saw its fortunes dip and managed just 40 seats, six short of a simple majority.

In both states, there is a scramble on to garner numbers and form a government. Independent elected representatives are being wooed to strengthen numbers by both, the BJP and its opponents who have, incidentally, fared better than they did in 2014. Interestingly, most exit polls appeared to suggest that a BJP-led victory would be a no-brainer in both states. The pre-ordering of laddoos suggests supreme confidence on the part of the party as well.

The BJP’s confidence—disproportionate or otherwise—has been spurred chiefly by the party’s overwhelming victory at the national levels. Last May, Mr Narendra Modi and his government were re-elected decisively in parliamentary elections and their main Opposition party, the Congress, was decimated. Such a victory certainly boosts confidence but it can also lead to hubris.

In both states that went to the polls, voters demonstrated that they decide who to elect based on local issues and what an incumbent state government has delivered during its term. In Maharashtra and Haryana, the results indicate quite clearly that the people are not overly satisfied by their respective state government’s performance. Moreover, in both states it has also been the rise of regional parties that has eaten into the BJP’s support base. In Maharashtra, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), led by veteran politician Sharad Pawar, has scored gains in the recent elections; in Haryana, a debutant regional party, the Jannayak Janta Party has not only garnered an impressive number of seats but it now calls the shots as a possible kingmaker as the BJP and its rivals scramble to form a government.

The BJP, either on its own or together with allies, rule in 14 of India’s 29 states (16 if you assume that it will form governments in Haryana and Maharashtra). The Congress rules in just five states, while in the rest, regional parties hold sway. Ever since its surge to power at the Centre in 2014, the BJP has avowed that it will free India of Congress and spread its control over all of India. That has not happened. In southern India, the party has been largely unable to garner support in local as well as national polls; in Odisha and Bengal, regional parties have continued to rule the roost; and, as the two latest state elections show, regional parties and local issues can dominate in assembly polls. Two states will head to the polls in coming months—Jharkhand (where the BJP leads the incumbent government), and Delhi (where a feisty local party, the Aam Aadmi Party, is in power). These two elections, due in January and February, will be test cases to watch whether BJP can turn its confidence into votes at the state level. In any case, it would be wise to hold the order of laddoos. As the party’s possibly chastened leaders have realised, those sweet confections can quickly turn bitter.

That over-confidence was dashed when the results came out on Thursday. Similar smug confidence about a BJP victory in Haryana, the other state that went to the polls along with Maharashtra, was shattered as well. In both states, the incumbent governments were BJP-led (in Haryana, of the 90 seats, the BJP had won 48 in 2014; and in Maharashtra, of the 288 seats, the BJP had 142 and its ally the Shiv Sena had 75). When the results came in on Thursday, the BJP’s tally in Maharashtra shrank to 105 and the Shiv Sena’s to 56. In Haryana too, the party saw its fortunes dip and managed just 40 seats, six short of a simple majority.

In both states, there is a scramble on to garner numbers and form a government. Independent elected representatives are being wooed to strengthen numbers by both, the BJP and its opponents who have, incidentally, fared better than they did in 2014. Interestingly, most exit polls appeared to suggest that a BJP-led victory would be a no-brainer in both states. The pre-ordering of laddoos suggests supreme confidence on the part of the party as well.

The BJP’s confidence—disproportionate or otherwise—has been spurred chiefly by the party’s overwhelming victory at the national levels. Last May, Mr Narendra Modi and his government were re-elected decisively in parliamentary elections and their main Opposition party, the Congress, was decimated. Such a victory certainly boosts confidence but it can also lead to hubris.

In both states that went to the polls, voters demonstrated that they decide who to elect based on local issues and what an incumbent state government has delivered during its term. In Maharashtra and Haryana, the results indicate quite clearly that the people are not overly satisfied by their respective state government’s performance. Moreover, in both states it has also been the rise of regional parties that has eaten into the BJP’s support base. In Maharashtra, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), led by veteran politician Sharad Pawar, has scored gains in the recent elections; in Haryana, a debutant regional party, the Jannayak Janta Party has not only garnered an impressive number of seats but it now calls the shots as a possible kingmaker as the BJP and its rivals scramble to form a government.

The BJP, either on its own or together with allies, rule in 14 of India’s 29 states (16 if you assume that it will form governments in Haryana and Maharashtra). The Congress rules in just five states, while in the rest, regional parties  hold sway. Ever since its surge to power at the Centre in 2014, the BJP has avowed that it will free India of Congress and spread its control over all of India. That has not happened. In southern India, the party has been largely unable to garner support in local as well as national polls; in Odisha and Bengal, regional parties have continued to rule the roost; and, as the two latest state elections show, regional parties and local issues can dominate in assembly polls. Two states will head to the polls in coming months—Jharkhand (where the BJP leads the incumbent government), and Delhi (where a feisty local party, the Aam Aadmi Party, is in power). These two elections, due in January and February, will be test cases to watch whether BJP can turn its confidence into votes at the state level. In any case, it would be wise to hold the order of laddoos. As the party’s possibly chastened leaders have realised, those sweet confections can quickly turn bitter.

How To Pull Indian Economy Up By The Bootstraps

Boosting consumer spending; incentivising investment in manufacturing; and pro-active wooing of foreign capital are three things crucial to jump-starting India’s economy

When former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made some dire observations on the state of the Indian economy recently in a video statement, it wasn’t surprising that a Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson would quickly label him as being “a puppet” who was being used by people behind the scenes (read: Congress leaders). Such facetiousness is not unexpected of BJP spokespersons whose flippant one-liners serve little purpose than to make a mockery of the very people who utter them. Dr Singh is an accomplished economist with a distinguished career—besides being prime minister for two terms, he has been India’s finance minister, governor of India’s central bank (the Reserve Bank of India) and has headed the erstwhile planning commission. When Dr Singh speaks (and he rarely does) on the economy, it would be wise to listen.

In his statement, released to the press and aired on news TV channels, Dr Singh attributed the Indian economy’s travails—slow growth; lack of investment; demand, and jobs—to an “all-round mismanagement” by the Modi government. In the last quarter, GDP growth had sputtered to 5%; the manufacturing sector’s growth had dropped to an abysmal 0.6%; and companies had to resort to large-scale lay-offs (in the auto sector alone, an estimated 350,000 people are estimated to have lost jobs).

Dr Singh called the poor state of the Indian economy a manmade phenomenon and blamed a number of decisions that were taken by the Modi regime during 2014-2019 for the economic debacle, particularly actions such as demonetisation and a haphazardly-implemented Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime.

While the Modi government, now into its fourth month in power after it was re-elected should heed voices such as Dr Singh’s, here is a road-map that could significantly help in getting the economy back on tracks.

Reviving consumer demand. There are no sure-fire quick-fix solutions to boosting consumer spending but a number of factors can be made to act together, complementarily, to increase consumer confidence (currently at a low level in India) and make people fork out for consumer products. Chief among them is the interest rate. India’s monetary policy has in the past six years been weighted towards tackling inflation, which spiralled out of control in 2013. However, inflation rates in recent years have been moderate—and they now hover at levels lower than the 4% that the central bank thinks are normal. This could be a cue to reduce interest rates in order to boost demand and consumer buying.

Selective tax cuts on goods and services, property, and other indirect forms of taxation could also help in boosting spending and, thereby, mitigating the resulting loss in revenue from tax cuts by the increased volume of transactions.

Increased government spending is yet another factor that can have a multiplier effect on the economy and lead to a rise in overall spending. The government has recently been handed a windfall of Rs 1.76 lakh crore by the Reserve Bank of India but as of now there is little public awareness of what it plans to do with that. Could it not be channelled into government spending and, therefore, create ripples of upbeat consumer confidence all-round?

Increasing domestic investment. One of the Indian economy’s biggest problems is that its manufacturing sector has remained sluggish for a prolonged period. Industry contributes less than 30% of India’s GDP, while the services sector contributes nearly 55%. During the Modi regime 1.0 several big plans, including the “Make In India” scheme, were flagged off. But this has led to little in terms of outcome. Partly the decline in the manufacturing sector’s growth is on account of the travails of small and medium sized enterprises, which were hit hard by demonetisation and the complexities of the new GST system. While demonetisation cannot be reversed, it is possible for the government to take a close look at GST and see whether it can be further simplified.

Lower interest rates too will obviously boost manufacturing as will the measures to increase consumer demand. The central government could also work with states to see how each of them could incentivise domestic investment in manufacturing—either by proffering tax reliefs or other incentives. Japan’s manufacturing boom in the post-World War II era was catalysed by its powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), which worked closely with different Japanese industries to grow markets for Japanese products—both domestically as well as globally. India has the NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Ayog. It replaced the earlier Planning Commission and works mainly as an advisory think tank. It may not be a bad idea to make NITI work like MITI did in Japan during the 1960s and 70s.

Encouraging foreign investment. India liberalised its policies on foreign direct investment (FDI) in 1991 and since then, in absolute terms, FDI has increased year-on-year. But in recent years, despite the government’s attempts to attract more foreign investment—both direct as well as through equity infusions—the growth rate of FDI has faltered. A good measure of FDI growth is by looking at foreign investments as a percentage of gross fixed capital formation (GFCF). And here’s the bad news. Gross FDI as a proportion of GFCF has actually dropped sharply in India: from over 32% in 2008-09 to a little over 8% in 2018-19. The government may tom-tom the “success” of its Make In India and other incentives but the numbers speak volumes.

Recently, foreign investment was opened up for the coal sector. And foreign investment limits were relaxed for retail businesses and for online media. However, those may not be enough to boost FDI significantly. India’s coal has lower calorific value than in many other countries; besides, although India has the world’s fifth largest coal deposits, global concerns about fossil fuel and its environmental effect have dampened the enthusiasm of multinational energy giants in expanding their coal businesses.

The need of the hour could be to actually form industry-government alliances in India that could target specific groups of foreign investors by way of roadshows where the objective should be to seal deals and hammer out incentives such as tax rebates. What India needs now is more than a flurry of announcements. The government-industry alliances could be sector-wise, or even as initiatives by separate state governments with leading businesses in their respective states. What India needs now to boost the economy is not a flurry of announcements at hyped-up press conferences, but focused and single-minded action.

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Three Disturbing Trends That Could Derail India

Several disturbing trends have emerged in the country that do not bode well for the idea of India and the democratic values it has cherished for long

In a recent cover story, a leading Indian newsmagazine published an opinion poll, which found that a large majority of Indians think India’s Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, towers above all other politicians and how for many of them, he evokes a sense of blind faith. The magazine’s cover headline blared: “Modistan” with a tagline that read “The nation is in the grip of Modimania. Indians believe he has all the answers.” According to the poll, Mr Modi’s approval ratings are sky high among respondents, making him the most popular Indian prime minister ever.

That cover story could indeed reflect the mood of the nation three months after Mr Modi and his party were re-elected in a sweeping electoral victory, but it also reflects the mood of much of Indian media, which has (with a few rare exceptions) been overtly effusive with its plaudits for the government and the Prime Minister. To keen observers of India’s current affairs, this could seem incongruous. While Mr Modi and his party decimated their political rivals—the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies won 353 of the 543 seats in the crucial lower house of Parliament—and for that they deserve the requisite accolades, several disturbing trends have emerged in the country that deserve sceptical analysis. Let’s look at just three of them.

The Indian Economy Is Ailing

In her first Budget recently, India’s new finance minister, Ms Nirmala Sitharaman, declared that India’s GDP would touch USD 5 trillion by 2025 (or double the current level of USD 2.7 trillion). If India has to achieve that target in six years, its economy has to grow at a nominal rate of 12% a year beginning now. Even to the gushiest supporters of India’s government that should look like a very tall order. Let’s view it from another angle: In order to achieve a GDP target of USD 5 trillion, India would require investments to the order of ₹100 lakh crore over the next five years.

Recently, India’s largest corporation, Reliance Industries, which is a massive conglomerate with interests in oil refining, petrochemicals, telecoms, retail, and a host of other major businesses, indicated that it was applying brakes on its investment spree and, presumably, consolidating its position across its businesses instead of expanding. An important rationale for corporate investment decisions is linked to the outlook that companies perceive for their businesses. If a large corporate entity such as Reliance decides to go slow on further investments, could it mean that it senses dark clouds on the horizon? And if Reliance decides to play it safe, could it mean that other, relatively smaller organisations may also follow suit?

Gloomy economic trends have already begun to show up. The Indian auto industry, which is often a good indicator of economic activity, particularly in the manufacturing sector, has already reported a slowdown in sales. Last month car sales declined 30% on a year-on-year basis, a sharp drop and the worst that the industry has seen in nearly 20 years. What is more, this is the ninth consecutive decline in monthly sales that the industry has witnessed. This could lead not only to a cap on further investments but also lay-offs and soaring inventory. Mr Modi’s “Make in India” scheme, which he launched in his first term as Prime Minister, aimed at increasing the share of the manufacturing sector from 16% of GDP to 25% by 2022 and at creating 100 million jobs in the sector. But thus far, the track record of job creation and investment has been far from encouraging, and if the auto sector’s travails are any indication, things could get worse.

The Rise Of Nationalism Is Alarming

Now, turn the focus to the trends emerging in Indian society and the cause for concern may seem serious. One of the hallmarks of India’s democracy has always been its pluralism. Few nations are as heterogenous—ethnically, religiously, linguistically, or culturally—as India is. Peaceful co-existence has always been cited as the glue that keeps a nation of 29 diverse states together. Of course, there have been separatist movements in India—in Kashmir, in Punjab, and in the demands (often acceded to by the government) for separate states based on different factors. Yet, the bedrock that has enabled India to fight Balkanisation of the kind that many other regions of the world have experienced, often accompanied by violent upheavals, has largely remained unmoved.

Such pluralistic values could now be at risk. These concerns stem from recent developments in two states—Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), and Assam. Mr Modi’s government recently decided to revoke the statehood status of J&K and converting it to a Union Territory, which, for all practical purposes, means that it will be governed not by an elected state government but by a governor acting as a proxy for the central government in Delhi. Further, the special status that Kashmir has enjoyed under Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution, will now be revoked. Since India’s Independence in 1947, Kashmir has been an area of dispute between India, Pakistan and China. The special status that it enjoyed thus far allowed Kashmir to have a separate constitution, a state flag and autonomy over the internal administration of the state, including things like granting citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights.

Since 1989, Kashmir has witnessed a surge in militancy, much of which, India believes, is fuelled by cross-border terrorism from Pakistani territory, with benign or even active support of that neighbour-country’s military. Several wars have been fought with Pakistan over areas in the region that it occupies. And there have also been skirmishes with China over territory that the latter wants to appropriate. However, the special status to Kashmir is something that the largely Muslim population of that state has supported and would like to be continued. Currently, in the wake of the decision to revoke statehood and rescind the special status, Kashmir has been under what could be called a “communication curfew”—telecom links have been nearly completely blocked and local unrest is being tackled by the Indian military force.

While the rest of India’s largely Hindu population (80% of Indians are Hindus and 14% Muslims) may seem ambivalent about the goings on in Kashmir, bigger repercussions in the rest of the country could be imminent. Mr Modi’s party, the BJP, and his government are unabashedly pro-Hindu. In his first term (between 2014 and 2019), communal tensions, fuelled by instances of alleged cow slaughter by Muslims, or over disputed religious sites, sharply increased, sometimes culminating in violent confrontations and even a series of incidents where Muslims were lynched by members of the ultra-right-wing Hindu organisations. There is no guarantee that tensions in Kashmir will not spill over to the rest of India.

In Assam, on the eastern border of India, the government has imposed a registry of citizenship ostensibly to check illegal immigrants (mainly Muslims who have entered the country via Bangladesh). All residents of the state have to prove their Indian credentials before they can be allowed to stay in the country. This has led to a serious unrest, primarily because the implementation of the new law can be easily abused. Millions of Muslims risk being stripped of their Indian citizenship and being detained in camps as migrants, prior to possible extradition.

The gnawing fear is that such laws could be imposed across India in other states as well where the government believes illegal migrants have settled. If that happens, it could lead to explosive consequences. First, the implementation of such laws could be abused wantonly, and many legal immigrants could suffer. Second, it could further fuel already rampant anti-Muslim sentiments among sections of India’s majority community and lead to an undesirably hostile environment that would threaten the very idea of a pluralistic nation.

The Opposition And Media Are Neutered

In any democracy, a strong Opposition is as essential as a free press. Opposition parties keep a healthy check on governments, particularly those that are electorally as powerful as Mr Modi’s so that institutions such as the judiciary, the central bank, and other market regulators function fearlessly and independently. Likewise, a vibrant democracy deserves a free press that can ask questions of those in power and scrutinise the quality and fairness of governance. Unfortunately, in India, particularly after the past two parliamentary elections, the biggest Opposition parties have been decimated. The BJP’s main rival, the Congress party, which could win only 52 seats (a paltry percentage of the total of 543), is hobbled. Its president, Mr Rahul Gandhi, has resigned and signs of rebellion in its ranks have already emerged. Other political opponents of the BJP and its allies are mainly ones that have regional clout but not a national influence that could make a difference.

The Indian mainstream media, which has traditionally enjoyed freedom of expression, now appears to be a laughable caricature of itself. Leading newspapers, magazines and TV news channels have embraced sycophancy instead of objective scepticism when it comes to covering the government and its affairs. The government, which is a big advertiser providing revenues to media groups, has tacitly (and sometimes overtly) used this to influence editorial strategies. Such a trend is not just harmful to the quality of journalism but, eventually, to the core values of a democracy. And while “Modistan” makes for a catchy, eye-ball grabbing headline, it doesn’t really bode well for the idea of India and the democratic values that the nation has cherished for long.

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Press Freedom In India Is A Myth

The latest spate of restrictions on journalists may lead to other forms of control on media’s ability to report and comment fairly on government affairs

“Freedom of the Press,” George Orwell famously said, “if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.” In the current context and events that appear to affect the Indian media that quote is most relevant. India’s press freedom is often touted as being high and its media landscape is described as being vibrant and versatile with print, news TV channels, and a burgeoning breed of online publications.

However, if you scratch beneath the superficial layers, the story is quite different. The newest developments are the biggest eye-openers. Recently, shortly after India’s new finance minister, Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, presented the Union budget for 2019-20, she also announced a restriction on accredited members of the press on their access to her ministry’s officials in its New Delhi’s North Block offices. Journalists now will not be able to move around freely in the corridors of the ministry unless they have prior approved appointments.

Traditionally, accredited journalists have been allowed entry to government buildings and offices. At the finance ministry, as in most other government ministries, accredited journalists have for long been allowed entry to facilitate building contacts, developing vital sources among officials, and meeting their sources. A ban on such movements is tantamount to a serious curtailment of India’s press freedom. Ms. Sitharaman’s diktat was soon followed up by the announcement of restrictions on access to several other government buildings and offices in New Delhi.

In response to the finance minister’s directions, many publications first decided that they would boycott her official post-Budget dinner, a ritual that has been around for decades. However, it’s a reflection of Indian media’s current state that the boycott, for the most part, never actually happened. Journalists and editors from most of India’s largest publications and TV channels eventually attended the event and the Indian press has largely restrained itself from commenting on the restrictions in publications although the Editors Guild of India has called for their withdrawal.

These recent government directives are yet another blow to India’s press freedom, which has already been under siege. India’s press is not as free as it may seem. In the annual rankings for freedom of the press across the world, a well-respected list by Reporters Without Borders, a non-partisan, non-profit organisation, India ranks a lowly 140 among 180 countries. Indian journalists, particularly those working in small towns and semi-urban areas, routinely face violence, bans, and coercive pressures from politicians and local governments. In recent years, there have been many instances of fatal attacks against journalists.

The ability to freely access the offices of a democratically elected government is one of the basic aspects of press freedom. Journalism, especially when reporting or researching on government policies and other governance-related issues, cannot be a straitjacketed affair. Journalists gather information from various sources—some are by means of officially sanctioned meetings and on-record interviews but a lot of it is based on informal off-record or “background” conversations. Prohibiting journalists from accessing government buildings will seriously inhibit their work, and, therefore, the quality of what they are able to publish as stories. If the government decides who can meet its officials and when then the quality of reportage on the government’s affairs will be jeopardised.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has avoided meeting the press during his first inning in power. He did not hold press conferences; nor did he take with him a contingent of reporters on his frequent visits abroad. Traditionally, Indian prime ministers have always done so; and journalists got an opportunity to speak with them aboard the same aircraft or during and after summits and meetings. Of course, Mr Modi did agree to interviews with carefully selected editors (who asked questions that were usually pre-vetted by his office), but these happened to be at the end of his first term and just before he and his party contested the 2019 parliamentary elections and were by and large favourable or “positive” towards him and his government.

India’s media has been under pressure in other ways as well. Governments—both at the Centre and in the states—account for sizeable portions of the advertising revenues that media outlets earn. Government advertising is—for many small publications—the mainstay of revenue. And governments are known to use that factor to dictate how the editorial strategy concerning stories on government is adopted. This is an unhealthy trend, but reports suggest it is a growing trend.

Mr Modi’s government has been particularly prickly towards criticism in the media. The mainstream media, on the other hand, has been particularly favourable towards it in its reportage, editorial comments; and other coverage. Large media groups in India are almost entirely run as proprietorial enterprises and in many cases the proprietors have other business interests to protect. Sometimes those businesses depend on the government for contracts or even as a customer for their products and services. The conflicts of interest are obvious.

Many fear that the latest spate of restrictions on journalists could lead to other forms of control or pressures on media’s ability to report and comment fairly on government affairs. The protests by the Editors Guild notwithstanding, there has been no attempt by the government to rescind the restrictions. If free and fair journalism gets hobbled by government controls, it will be tantamount to compromising the democratic principles by which India lives. That brings us back to what Orwell said. A free media or freedom of the press is all about the freedom to criticise and oppose. Without that the press really means nothing.

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Apocalypse Now In India’s Cities?

The current water crisis in Chennai could be a foretaste of things to come across India as an estimated 600 million citizens face acute shortage and the groundwater reserves are fast depleting

It’s official. And it is also shocking. By 2020, which is next year, as many as 21 major Indian cities are likely to run out of their groundwater reserves. This, incidentally, is a finding from a report by the Indian government’s think tank, NITI Aayog, which was established to replace the erstwhile Planning Commission. The 21 cities include India’s capital city of New Delhi, its satellite growth centre, Gurugram, and several others smaller cities in northern India. But it also includes important southern cities such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and the seaside city of Chennai, which has been in the news now because of the severe water crisis it is facing currently.

Chennai’s four reservoirs that supply water have gone dry leading to an unprecedented crisis in India’s sixth largest metropolis, home to more than 10 million people. Images, videos and news items of the scale of suffering on account of water scarcity in Chennai have rung alarm bells not only across India but also around the world.  Coupled with the fact that the monsoons this year are running at a 43% shortfall, Chennai’s water crisis has been unprecedented in a city that chronically suffers on account of lack of that vital resource. It has resulted in long lines for tanker supply of water—which are not only inadequate but also expensive and can be afforded only by the very rich—and violent protests that could quickly turn into water riots.

The situation in Chennai could be a foretaste of things to come across India as an estimated 600 million Indians face water shortage. More than 40% of India’s water requirements come from groundwater reserves and these are fast depleting in its cities but also in rural India. In Gurugram and Delhi, part of the heavily populated National Capital Region, daily dependence on water shipped by tankers to condominiums, buildings and well-off neighbourhoods has become a routine affair. However, the prices for water delivered via tankers is soaring and only the affluent can afford to pay for it. In Chennai, for instance, A government water tanker costs Rs 700-Rs 800 for 9,000 litres, but supplies are scanty and private operators are making merry. Private tanker water prices have soared to Rs 4,000-Rs 5,000 for 900 litres, prices that are way beyond what an average Indian household could afford to pay.

At the root of India’s water crisis are several key factors. First, the increase in population and, hence, the soaring demand for water. India’s population runs at over 1.3 billion and is likely to soon overtake China’s. This has created tremendous pressures on cities and smaller towns where people migrate in search of earning a livelihood. Cities have been growing because of relentless building of legal as well as illegal settlements. This leads to unabated pumping out of groundwater and the water tables across the country are being depleted. Second, there is a combination of factors such as drying up of tanks and lakes because of increased demand and successive years of rainfall shortages. Desalination efforts by which seawater in coastal areas can be converted to potable water have been hopelessly inadequate and ineffective. Third, the governments and local administration, particularly in highly populated areas, have been short-sighted and their plans to mitigate or be prepared for water crises of the kind that is afflicting India now do not match the growth in demand.

What could this mean? Besides widespread suffering (in some cases, life threatening ones) it could be just a matter of time before water riots break out on the streets of Indian cities and towns. Last Friday, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council cited reports and estimates to describe what it termed as a “climate apartheid” where only the wealthy would be able to afford to counter and survive the effects of drought, overheating, and hunger. And a World Bank estimate suggests that climate change could push at least 120 million more people into poverty globally by 2030. In India, the situation is already hurtling towards that.

India’s Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, recently called for greater measures for rainwater harvesting and more efficient ways of limiting water wastage. However, even if adopted, such measures could already be too late. A scenario where water becomes exorbitantly costly and leads to protests and violence is neither difficult to imagine nor unrealistic. And that could lead to civil strife of proportions that the authorities may not be equipped to handle.

A major cause of the crisis that Indians face with regard to basic infrastructure and resources such as water, electricity, and proper housing stems from the runaway surge in population. But it also has to do with the government’s lack of long-horizon planning. In most growing urban agglomerates in India, growth has been lop-sided and haphazard. Take the case of Gurugram. Touted as the “Millennium City”, it is the base for several Fortune 500 companies and has emerged as a go-to destination for wealthy Indians who can afford the sky-rocketing property prices and rents. However, in terms of basic infrastructure such as electricity, water, policing, and roads, it lags far behind what is required. When builders and real estate developers zeroed in on Gurugram, it was not matched by urban planning that would have to be commensurate with the growth that would come.

Today, Gurugram and several other Indian cities are in the throes of a crisis, teetering on the brink of a manmade disaster. The problem is so acute that solutions at this stage could be difficult to envisage. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that 65% of India’s population is below the age of 35, and 50% below the age of 25. Millions of them are workforce eligible people with aspirations, longevity, and demands that need to be met. For any government, it is a Herculean challenge to face.

One solution could be to involve the private sector in collaborative strategies to fight the crisis. In areas such as water supply where the government’s wherewithal is limited and often inadequate, partnering with private enterprises and local communities could be one route towards solving the problem. If companies are provided incentives to partner the government in areas such as large-scale rainwater harvesting; distribution network for tanker water supplies; and limiting the surge in migration to cities (by making available livelihood opportunities in rural areas), things could take a turn for the better, or, at least, it could stem the spiralling fall towards disaster.

But even if such initiatives are adopted, they would be slow-burn processes that could take years, if not decades, before their effects are perceived. Meanwhile, in the short run, India’s cities—the situation in Chennai is a rude awakening—could be facing a doomsday-like situation.

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Union Home Minister's Challenges

Amit Shah Could Be The Most Decisive H.M. For India

Top three challenges before Union home ministry today are: Kashmir unrest, infiltration and Left extremism. If there is anyone who can decisively attempt to take on these challenges, it is Amit Shah

In elections such as the one that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won spectacularly in India recently, it is not always easy to zero in on a single person’s contribution to the victory. India’s electorate is massive (830 million people were eligible to vote in the recent polls); and it is diverse, spanning different demographics, cultures, languages, and socio-economic classes. Yet, one man’s contribution to the tsunami-like wave that gave the BJP 303 seats out of Lok Sabha’s 543 clearly stands out. And that is BJP’s president (and now India’s home minister), Mr Amit Shah.

Mr Shah is often described as being his party’s master strategist, a doer who is single-mindedly focused on tasks that are prioritised for him by his party and his leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In 2014 and 2019, that task was of winning the parliamentary elections. In both those, he excelled. He went about those tasks with meticulous planning and discipline, transforming the party into a well-oiled machine that has a dedicated, loyal, and hardworking cadre of workers at every echelon—from the national level; the state-levels; and down to district levels—across India. No other Indian political party has the sort of structure that the BJP, particularly its electioneering machinery, has.

Mr Shah’s efforts bore fruit. The BJP, which was considered to be a party whose support base was predominantly in the north, central and western India, has now spread its influence and garnered support in the east. In Bengal, in the 2019 elections, it won 18 seats out of a total of 42, a feat that surprised many analysts who may have been of the belief that the eastern bastion couldn’t be breached by the saffron party. The 303 seats that the BJP won show that its span of influence now covers much of India, except perhaps the south where it is still considered a northern party of Hindi-speakers and where regional parties dominate the political landscape. Yet, in the southern states, which account for 130 seats, the party and its allies won 30.

Mr Shah cut his teeth in politics in his home state of Gujarat where notably his tenure as home minister was marked by several controversies that led to skirmishes with the law (he was arrested and jailed in 2010 in connection with an alleged fake encounter killing by the police that had taken place when Shah was the state’s home minister). But when Mr Shah was inducted to the upper house of India’s Parliament in 2017, Prime Minister Modi is believed to have told his party’s legislators: “Amit Shahji ke (Parliament mein) aane se aap ke mauj-masti ke din samaapt ho gaye hain.’’ (After Amit Shah has come to Parliament, your days of fun and relaxation are over). That probably is an apt indicator of the kind of political leader Shah is: a highly motivated, result-oriented taskmaster who doesn’t shy away from being tough.

As home minister, Mr Shah will have lots of opportunities for big tasks and equally big challenges. Topmost on his agenda could likely be Jammu & Kashmir where there has been no elected government in charge after the coalition between the BJP and the regional People’s Democratic Party (PDP) broke down and the government collapsed. Elections in the troubled state have not been held as militant separatists are still active and terrorist attacks from across the western border with Pakistan have far from abated. The trouble in Kashmir, which enjoys several autonomous rights that are different from other Indian states, has been festering for more than two decades, and a solution has eluded most government regimes at the Centre. Bringing peace back to Kashmir and ensuring that elections can take place there peacefully is something that will test Mr Shah’s skills to their limit, yet many think that he could probably be the only person in Mr Modi’s government decisive enough to find a solution in the state.

Before the elections were held this year, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was introduced in Assam with the objective of screening out illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries and find ways of repatriating them to their countries. It is a controversial move, but Mr Shah is a strong advocate of it. The problem of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh or other places is, however, not restricted to Assam. Other eastern states such as Bengal, Bihar and Odisha are equally affected by such influxes. And, illegal Bangladeshi immigrants exist all over India, notably in northern India. Mr Shah could possibly think of extending the register now being implemented in Assam to other states. That sort of a move would likely invite opposition and controversy, especially regarding the possibility of its misuse, but those are things that have rarely bothered him.

Mr Shah’s main advantage—besides his amply proven skills as a strategist and implementer—is the full backing of Prime Minister Modi that he enjoys. The two men enjoy a chemistry that is rare in political relationships. Mr Shah has been Mr Modi’s trusted lieutenant since the latter’s innings as chief minister in Gujarat. And, thereafter, when he was the prime ministerial candidate in 2014, as his chief election strategist. Later, after he became president of the party, Mr Shah and Mr Modi worked in tandem. The pair have been highly effective as the results of the 2019 elections demonstrated recently. Many believe as home minister, Mr Shah will wield more power and have greater clout than any other cabinet minister in Mr Modi’s government.

The other task that Mr Shah will have will be to quash extreme leftist militancy in parts of India, particularly in Chhattisgarh but also in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Left extremist hideouts in these regions have been a tough nut to crack for successive previous home ministers and, although attacks and ambushes on security forces aren’t frequent, when they occur, they take a heavy toll. In early May this year, more than a dozen security personnel died in Gadchiroli (Maharashtra) and several of their vehicles burnt. These guerrilla-style attacks need to be checked but many believe the root of the problem lies deeper. The regions where extremism thrives are typically impoverished tribal areas and a lasting solution would need to combine both, strikes at extremist groups and implementing plans to improve the lot of the local population in these areas.

Unrest in Kashmir, rampant infiltration from across India’s borders, and left extremist violence have never been easy problems to tackle. Governments in the past, including Mr Modi’s previous regime, have faltered on all of these. It is perhaps with that in mind that Mr Modi anointed Mr Shah as his home minister. If there is anyone who can decisively attempt to take on these challenges, it is him.

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Modi IN combative MOOD

Modi Must Tackle These Real Issues

In his second term, Mr Modi will have much more to deal with than have his party gloat and boast about how many seats it can win in 2024

The second lead story in an Indian national daily newspaper recently quoted a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader proudly proclaiming that in the 2024 parliamentary elections, the party wants to win 333 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats. That is the kind of braggadocio that the BJP needs to avoid. The BJP recently won 303 seats in the recent elections, topping its 2014 tally of 282. Now, it wants more. Greedy proclamations of that sort are exactly the things that the BJP should avoid. Its performance in the past two elections have been spectacular with its prime mover, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, emerging as the strongest political leader that India has seen in a long time.

ALSO READ: Modi India’s Best Hope Despite Liberal Hostility

Yet, the BJP and its leaders must shun all urges to gloat over its recent victory. True, it has decimated the Opposition parties, chiefly the Congress, which is in shambles. It has humbled well-entrenched regional parties, particularly in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, both places where it has wrested seats against big odds. But now, as Mr Modi embarks on his second innings, there are more important things for him and his party to focus on. In his second term, Mr Modi and his government’s performance will face greater scrutiny than it did in the first. The people have spoken with their ballots and given him a renewed lease on the government but now he will have to deliver. Here are some of what the new government must put on top of its agenda. They are about economics and politics, but they have little to do with setting targets now to get more seats in 2024.

Economics. Through NDA-I’s five years, Mr Modi himself, his ministers and other officials in his administration have always maintained that the economy has been in fine fettle. Much of that claim is hot air. India’s GDP growth rate, often mentioned as being the highest in the world in recent years, is based on a revised methodology on a new base figure that many believe has artificially enhanced the official rate to higher than it actually is. India, the sixth largest economy in the world with a nominal GDP of $2.62 trillion, does not have a proper system to measure employment rates. True, large a swathe of Indian enterprise is informal and undocumented but in 2019 not being able to precisely tell how many people are employed is ridiculous.

ALSO READ: Six Things To Expect If Modi Returns To Power

Employment generation is without doubt the main task that any Indian government must focus on. According to some estimates, India’s unemployment rates have touched the highest in 45 years during the Modi 1.0 regime. Sixty-five percent of India’s 1.3 billion people are below the age of 35. A large proportion of them is youth of working age. Estimates of how many people are added annually to the numbers of those seeking jobs varies between 5 and 12 million. In contrast, the number of jobs generated annually is a small fraction of those numbers—doesn’t matter if you take the lower or the higher one as the base. In many instances, Mr Modi and his colleagues in the government have been in denial about their track record in employment generation. It is a time bomb that is ticking away and, eventually, it could have electoral consequences.

A lasting solution to India’s agricultural economy is another task that needs urgent attention. Well into the 21st century, nearly three-quarters of India’s population depends on agriculture but the sector’s share in GDP is just 17% and declining. The fact is India’s rural youth have to live on farms toil away at unremunerative and unproductive tasks because there are no other jobs available for them.

Mr Modi, in his first term, launched several catchy-sounding schemes—some were to create universal banking; others to hone the skills of young Indians so that they were employable; and yet others with the objective of increasing investments (and, hence, hopefully, employment) in the manufacturing sector. None of these has achieved results that are anywhere close to the targets that were promised. In his second term, tackling and solving these economic problems have to be Mr Modi’s topmost priority. Otherwise, India will be sitting on a tinder box ready to explode.

Politics. Political pundits in India are a dime a dozen. Indian editors and journalists who scoured the length and breadth of the country to ostensibly gauge the mood of the electorate horribly mis-predicted the outcome of the election with none (except for a few exit polls done by psephologists) getting anywhere close to the numbers that the BJP won. But the BJP’s politics, as the often-vicious electoral campaign this year bore out, is one of divisiveness. Its majoritarian tack has made India’s minorities (of its population of 1.3 billion, 14.2% are Muslims, and in absolute terms that is a huge number) insecure and anxious. A second term could strengthen those in the right-wing nationalist organisations (read: BJP, RSS and the Sangh Parivar’s other constituents) that are inclined towards hard-handed treatment to minority communities. This cannot be allowed to happen. In his second term Mr Modi ought not to keep silent (as he has largely been) when there are instances of violence, discrimination, and worse perpetrated by cohorts that swear allegiance to him and his party. The hard-handed treatment should be reserved for those cohorts and not their targets.

ALSO READ: India’s Fissiparous Politics, An Essay

If Mr Modi, as he and his colleagues often proclaim, want the BJP’s footprints to spread—in the east, the north-east, and the south, he would also have to get a buy-in in terms of regional interests. That would mean assessing, appraising, and understanding the special needs of different regions of India—not just the northern Hindi-dominated states. There have been little signs of that during Modi 1.0. In his second term, he will have to carry those regions with him by more empathetic strategies and policies.

International relations. Just before the elections this year, India sparred with its neighbour and arch enemy, Pakistan, and used the airborne sorties, surgical strikes aimed at alleged terrorist centres, all combined with high doses of jingoism, to try and score electoral points. That does not help India’s relations with Pakistan. Nor does it solve the dispute between the two countries over the northern state of Kashmir. Mr Modi will have to think out of the box when it comes to dealing with Pakistan, which is by itself a troubled state where the army, militant terrorist groups and others hold the government to ransom. India, as the much larger state, has to devise diplomatic strategies that go beyond the chest-thumping rhetoric that hawks on either side of the border favour.

Elsewhere in the world, Mr Modi will have to deal with powerful China, which is building roads and sea routes in India’s part of the world that could hem in India—both economically as well as in terms of security. IN Modi 1.0 we saw media-friendly visits, gestures, and other cosmetic (and mainly ineffectual) in the name of diplomacy with China. India is puny in terms of defence and economic capabilities compared to China. It has to think on its toes when it comes to dealing with that nation and keep its own interests rather than photo ops in mind. Ditto for the US and Russia, two other powerful global powers whose foreign policies have changed quite radically. If India is to make a mark on the global arena and get its due in terms of recognition and of economic benefits, it has to have far more effective plans of dealing with such powers.

In his second term, Mr Modi will have much more to tackle than have his party gloat and boast about how many seats it can win in 2024. There’s a lot to do in the five years till then.

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