With 900 million registered voters, a pan-India election process is most definitely a Herculean task. A resounding victory points to the confidence displayed by the electorate in the government’s vision for a new India
May 2019 will no doubt be remembered as a watershed moment in the history of Indian politics. In India’s electoral history, it is only the third time that a political party has succeeded in winning two consecutive terms with full majority. This also makes Prime Minister Narendra Modi the first and only PM born after India’s independence to win two consecutive terms in office. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister led from the front, talking about his government’s vision, achievements and its policies. The campaign focussed on an aggressive policy stance towards terrorism, a clean and hard working image, and a narrative vision for India as a strong and rising superpower that resonated with a youthful and aspirational job seeking India cutting across divisions of caste, gender and religion.
But these are just dry facts. What it means for the man on the street is better governance, a buoyant economy and a better future.
Today, spearheaded by a strong leader, who is backed by a majority government, India is poised to embark on a new journey. With a stable government, a fast-growing economy and a younger demography (15 million voters who participated in the general elections to form the 17th Lok Sabha were between the age of 18-19 years), “new India” is on the threshold of sprinting forward.
Stability and economy
Even as India was going to polls in the recently-concluded general elections, financial policy experts were praying for a strong one-party government. A single-party government, as proven before, makes the country’s policymaking process faster. From administrative changes, to infrastructure projects and from defence to finance, a strong leadership makes decision-making process across sectors simpler.
While PM Modi’s spectacular win may not be an overnight panacea to India’s economic challenges, but experts say it will certainly plug the holes that have been forcing the country’s economy to slow down. The results have already started showing. Within a month of the new government being sworn in, several international companies and investors who were holding their horses, have initiated the process of investment in the country. The rupee is gaining strength, fuelled by the stable policies being mooted, churning greater economic activity and in turn creating more opportunities for employment. As we saw in the Union Budget, presented by Union Minister of Finance Nirmala Sitharaman, stronger economic policies have been mooted, keeping in mind the conducive environment for a smooth rollout of reforms.
The Budget makes clear the government’s intent to adhere to fiscal discipline, cleanse the system of corruption while eschewing decisions fanning populist mentality, thus continue with its sustainable and inclusive growth plan.
Focussing on critical areas like infrastructure — roads, electricity, water supply etc — the Budget also puts a lot of thrust on core sectors such as education, entrepreneurship, online infrastructure and technology, digital payments and ease of business, among others.
The rise of women power
The new government is also representative of PM Modi’s vision of a gender neutral society, focussing on equal status for all. With 78 women parliamentarians from 716 women nominations – the highest ever in the Lok Sabha – women empowerment, will, without doubt, be central to policies under the newly elected government. The Prime Minister himself confirmed this in his victory speech at the Central Hall of Parliament, when he said: “Women, in this election, have performed equally well, if not better.” The Indian PM further extolled woman-power as a “raksha kawach” (protective armour). Several important portfolios in PM Modi’s government are being headed by women leaders: Nirmala Sitharaman as the Finance Minisiter, Smriti Irani as the Minister for Textiles and Women and Child Development, and Harsimrat Kaur Badal in the Food Processing Ministry.
During PM Modi’s previous term in 2014, the schemes launched by his government played a crucial role in reinstating him as the Prime Minister in 2019. Landmark social uplift programmes such as Swachh Bharat Mission and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao directed towards instigating a behavioral change in people’s thinking, received massive support from all corners of the Indian landmass. From Ayushman Bharat (a healthcare scheme) to the PM-AWAS (a general housing scheme) yojana and the PM-KISAN (economic support to small scale farmers) yojana, the schemes targeted every section of society and managed to form a consolidated and positive image of the government. Insurance schemes for the weaker economic sections of the society at almost non-existent premiums, drove home the government’s motto “Sabka Vikas (Growth for all)”.
In fact, the government’s flagship scheme, the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana, which promises income guarantee to farmers, drew praises from Australia and the EU at the World Trade Organization recently. Both Australia and the EU said that such schemes should be expanded in India to cover more products.
In the urban scenario, PM Modi has often said that initiatives such as the PM Awas Yojana and Smart Cities have transformed the Indian landscape. The Prime Minister affirmed that the policies formulated by the BJP-led Modi government in its first term resulted in a paradigm shift in urban development in India, which eventually transformed millions of lives. Adding that the initiatives have seen record investment, speed, use of technology and public participation. “We are committed to further improving urban infrastructure. No stone will be left unturned to fulfil the dream of providing housing for all, which will give wings to millions of aspirations,” PM Modi said. If in 2014, Swachh Bharat (clean India) and the focus on improving livelihood in rural India was the focal point, in 2019, the drive would continue unhindered. The Budget proposed several new welfare schemes, including a social stock exchange, which, through an electronic fund-raising platform, is expected to aid social enterprises and voluntary organisations, and the “Gaon, Gareeb aur Kisan” (village, poverty alleviation and farmer) programme. The Budget’s focus to provide gas connections and power supply to every household by 2022, through the Ujjwala scheme and the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana respectively, is in this line. The same year has also been set as a target for the government to build and deliver 19.5 million houses in rural India.The most talked-about scheme, however, is the Jal Shakti Abhiyan, that focusses on “Har Ghar Jal” (water to every house) programme, and for this the government has already identified 1,592 blocks in 256 districts across India which are water critical.
The Road Ahead
When PM Modi recently announced his vision to nearly double the size of the Indian economy to USD 5 trillion in five years by raising per capita income, boosting consumption and increasing productivity, sceptics raised eyebrows. But as he explained, with determination and hardwork, it is not impossible.
The government’s vision will, no doubt, require considerable reforms as it will have to brave and overcome the strong headwinds in the foreseeable economic future. The government plans to take concrete steps to address the growing Non-Performing Assets in the banking sector, raising exports, tackling any form of an agrarian crisis and increasing public investment in infrastructure development without sacrificing fiscal prudence. This will require streamlining the tax structure to improve ease-of-business and ensuring a wider tax-net, plans for which have already been set in motion with the now approved GST (Good and Services tax) bill.
With one million polling stations, 2.33 million ballot units, 1.63 million control units, 1.74 million VVPATs (voter verifiable paper audit trails), and 11 million polling staff and almost 729 million women voters, the 2019 Indian general elections can be termed as the world’s largest election exercise ever to be conducted. An era defining mandate has been awarded to Prime Minister Modi. But the financial and welfare policies announced recently coupled with India’s positive international diplomatic stance at the Osaka G20 meet reveal that the government is already on the right path as the country seeks to create a new India as the country approaches 75 years of independence.