The problem with very high expectations is that they can often be followed by deep disappointment. When politicians promise people too much too soon they also run the risk of ending up making everyone sorely bitter if those promises aren’t fulfilled.
If there was one single theme that dominated 2014 it would have to be hope. The leitmotif of Narendra Modi’s searing election campaign on the back of which he stormed into power was his promise that good days were coming— or, in his own oft-repeated words, “Achhe din aane wale hain”. Seven months after people gave the BJP a huge mandate and Modi became Prime Minister, Indians are looking to him for delivery on that promise. And, at least in public perception, much of 2015 will be dominated by whether he is able to do that or not.
So, on top of the list of things that lies ahead in the New Year is the economy. The Modi regime has been lucky. External factors such as oil and other commodity prices have been falling globally keeping domestic prices in check, but in 2015 the government’s real challenge will be to kick-start growth and generate jobs. The majority of Indians are young and every year millions of them become first-time job seekers.
Their aspirations are running high and their expectations are big. Will those be met? In 2015, all eyes will be on how the economy fares. On whether investments are made in big projects . On whether foreign investors truly begin queuing up. And, most of all, on whether the ordinary Indian who voted in the hope that his life would improve is happy.
Politics will also dominate 2015. Two Indian state assembly elections — in Bihar and Delhi — are to be held during the year. In Bihar, two rivals, the RJD’s Lalu Prasad and the JDU’s Nitish Kumar, have joined hands to fight against the BJP and its allies. In a state where caste politics is usually a big factor during elections, the face-off between Lalu-Nitish and the BJP alliance will be interesting to watch.
Also to be watched is how the Congress, which has pitched itself with the Lalu-Nitish combine, will fare in a state where it has lost much ground. In the elections for Delhi, the main fight will be between the newcomer AAP and the BJP. Delhi is a prestigious state, which the BJP wants to win but this time the AAP, which began its campaign long before any of its rivals, wants to try and repeat the magic that gave it a chance to form the (albeit, short-lived) government last year.
Politics will dominate in Parliament as well. Last month, after a smooth beginning to the winter session, things started unravelling for Modi’s agenda of progress and development. Ironically, the cause came from Modi’s own cohorts and not from his political opponents. Fringe elements from his party created news for all the wrong reasons: an abusive hate speech by one of his ministers; an MP’s gratuitous suggestion to deify Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin; and a controversial drive to “re-convert” Muslims.
An otherwise dwarfed Opposition was handed an opportunity to disrupt Parliament and stymie the business of law making. In 2015, a lot will depend on how Modi tackles the fringe elements in the Sangh Parivar, the agglomeration of dozens of Hindu nationalist organisations, including the RSS.
Sometimes you need to look behind to see what lies ahead. In the seven months that he has been Prime Minister, Modi has created what analysts like to call “good optics”. He has built an impressive image on the international scene, building rapport with Barack Obama, Shinzo Abe, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin; and he’s wowed the Indian diaspora in arena-filling events at New York and Sydney. At home, he’s done equally well with the optics — delivering a rousing Independence Day speech; wielding a broom to sweep Delhi’s streets; and spending Diwali day in flood-hit Kashmir.
It hasn’t all been about optics. The good news is that the Modi government, in its first seven months in power, has sent some positive signals. Schemes have been launched for universal banking and skill development; sectors have opened up for foreign investment; a Make In India programme has been launched; and intent has been demonstrated for more reform.
Beyond domestic economic issues, 2015 will also be watched for the shifting politics of the world and what that would mean for India. There will be further rebalancing of the equations between the world’s oil producers and its biggest consumers, affecting every other economy, including India’s; new paradigms will emerge for relationships with the US, China and Russia that India wants to forge; the evolving crises in Iraq and Syria will impact not just West Asia but the rest of the world, India included; and, closer home, India’s relationship with Pakistan will need to overcome the impasse reached in 2014.