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How assembly election results 2017 will boost Narendra Modi’s reforms agenda

Results of the assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will come a repudiation of these naysayers as people chose to repose faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

india Updated: Dec 18, 2017 14:07 IST
DK Singh
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shows his ink-marked finger after casting his vote outside a polling station during the last phase of Gujarat state assembly election in Ahmedabad, December 14, 2017.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shows his ink-marked finger after casting his vote outside a polling station during the last phase of Gujarat state assembly election in Ahmedabad, December 14, 2017. (REUTERS)

The BJP’s electoral victories in Gujarat and in Himachal Pradesh are likely to give fresh impetus to the National Democratic Alliance government’s reforms agenda even as the results might propel disparate and desperate opposition parties to make a fresh bid to cobble up a mahagathbandhan or grand alliance at the national level.

The results reinforced the widely held view that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularityand credence outweigh any reservations or apprehension that some people might have about his bold policy decisions. The opposition Congress, for instance, sought to tap into the perceived disgruntlement among a section of traders and small businessmen over the goods and services tax (GST) and last year’s demonetisation drive. But the BJP swept the polls in Surat, the epicenter of agitations over GST.

Gujarat and HP also went to polls at a time when the opposition parties were feeding off apprehensions about the interests of small depositors being compromised by the financial resolution and deposit insurance bill. The opposition also accused the NDA government of favouring a few industrialists by converting their bank loans into non-performing assets. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh led the opposition’s attack over the state of economy under the Modi government.

Monday’s poll verdict came as a repudiation of these naysayers as people chose to repose faith in the Prime Minister. It could embolden the NDA government to eschew its diffidence about some urgently required reforms in the labour sector and also carry on with a host of others such as the direct tax code, resolution of NPAs and the FRDI bill.

Opposition leaders interpreted the Gujarat results as a win-win situation for all parties. Newly appointed Congress president Rahul Gandhi, for instance, emerged as a doughty leader who could take the fight to the BJP’s camp on Modi’s and BJP president Amit Shah’s home turf. The Congress is expected to project the gain of over a dozen seats in Gujarat to declare Gandhi’s arrival as a leader who could hold his own against the saffron juggernaut. The opposition parties might also sense a few chinks in the BJP’s armour. For instance, the Congress was able to wean away a significant section of Patidars from the BJP, as was evident from the results in Patel-dominated Saurashtra region. The results reflected growing unease among a section of people about prevailing agrarian distress.

There was near-unanimity among political observers and leaders that but for Modi’s blitzkrieg the BJP would have found it difficult to beat 22 years of anti-incumbency in Gujarat. With the BJP in power in 19 states now, the party will be facing double anti-incumbency in a majority of states and at the Centre when it seeks a renewed mandate for Modi in 2019.

Congressmen believe that Gandhi’s ability to forge alliances with young leaders representing different caste groups—Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor, and Jignesh Mevani— in Gujarat proved his ability to play alliance politics at the national level, too. The new Congress president’s valiant show in Gujarat might also make him more acceptable to many leaders of regional outfits that were apprehensive of his leadership ability.

For now, there might be a pause, though temporary, to the rancorous debate on the state of the economy, which could enable the government push through some contentious legislation in the current winter session of Parliament.