Development has become a core issue in Indian politics
This will this lead to superior development outcomes and also ensure robust social and economic growth across the country
Several political commentators have attributed the success of the pro-incumbency factor in Goa, Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand assembly elections to the various schemes of the central and state governments such as: Housing for the poor, direct cash transfers to farmers, and pension for the underprivileged, LPG cylinders, food and nutrition, electricity, and water and sanitation services.
From a development perspective, such schemes help in greater inclusion of the poor in the economic growth of the country. Women are the cornerstone of such policies. Take for example, the water challenge. Searching for water outlets and spending hours getting water to their homes have defined the lives of millions of women. The Jal Jeevan Mission and the Atal Bhujal Yojana (launched in 2019) provide tap connections and sustainable groundwater management respectively, thereby ensuring that safe and adequate water reaches households in rural India by 2024.
The electoral success of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab is an outcome of the people’s desire for change and marks a shift towards a more people-responsive government and improved provision of services. In Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) had great success in municipal elections, partly thanks to the successful implementation of programmes.
In the development sector, experts and professionals often aver that they are apolitical or do not wish to get involved in local politics. Instead, they want to focus on the development of the masses. But this belief misses out on the larger picture. In the 2021-22 budget, the Centre allocated over ₹4 trillion or more than $55 billion towards major schemes. Additionally, the amount budgeted for subsidies on food, fertiliser, petroleum and other products was nearly ₹3.7 trillion or about $50 billion. In addition, further supplementary allocations have been made during the year for such schemes. Moreover, state and local governments also spend as their share on central and state schemes.
In comparison, the World Bank gave just over $5 billion and $3 billion in 2020 and 2021 respectively. The figure for the Asian Development Bank was $4.6 billion in 2021. The total corporate social responsibility (CSR) funding for 2020 was about ₹0.25 trillion. So not only is the government the largest spender of development funds across the country, but also has unmatched reach across each village, town and city. Thus, development agencies and experts, including CSR managers, must engage with elected representatives, and not just the beneficiary population. This will lead to improved design, delivery and dovetailing of their development programmes with government schemes.
A cursory look at the political and development discourse leads to the conclusion that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a strong focus on infrastructure building, financing micro to medium entrepreneurs, and developing the technical architecture for improved delivery of schemes and services to every household. The AAP, taking its governance model from Delhi, has focused on soft aspects of development such as education and primary health care as well as on reducing transaction costs for the public to access government services. A common factor between the two governments has been on water and sanitation services. Both display small business-friendly policies and governance, including for small traders and shopkeepers. While the BJP talks of citizen-oriented or community-based administration to create a janandolan, the AAP focuses on citizen-responsive bureaucracy.
As other political parties pick up lessons from this sociopolitical discourse, they are expected to lay more stress on successful and inclusive delivery of government schemes. Being political adversaries does not necessarily mean divergence of the socioeconomic factors. After all, the Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayas hinges on a stronger amalgamation of the soft and hard components of development needs in the future.
The subtext of the electoral verdict in Punjab is development and, therefore, a strong anti-incumbency was witnessed. It will only be prudent for the AAP government to set the right tone with the BJP at the Centre. Punjab is a border state. Keeping a vigil on cross-boundary security issues with Pakistan while simultaneously focusing on development, which continuously has lagged behind both in terms of performance and expectations in the state, will be crucial.
In an environment of political competitiveness, as the recent elections show, people are voting less based on primordial loyalties. Development has become a core issue in Indian politics, which by its nature is changing the character of democratic franchise. Not only will this lead to superior development outcomes but will also ensure robust social and economic growth across the country. Simply put, what is good for politics is also good for the country and the people.
Sanjay Gupta is an independent international analyst on development issues and Uttam Kumar Sinha works at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi
The views expressed are personal
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