Sign up to our newsletter Back to news
Was voting for the BJP a risk worth taking? Three years on, jury’s out
Three years ago, I took a risk and voted for BJP for the first time. And today I ask myself, was it a risk worth taking? At the time, I had been worried that India had a narrow window of opportunity called the ‘demographic dividend’. If we elected the right candidate, prosperity would enter crores of lives, and in course of time India might become a middle-class country. Our opportunity came from being uniquely young; if those in the productive age got jobs, there would be gains in prosperity far outweighing the burden of supporting the old and the very young. This window would close in a dozen or so years as India would also begin to age. As I evaluated the candidates, I concluded that Narendra Modi offered the best chance of harvesting the demographic dividend.
I was aware of the risks — Modi was polarising, sectarian and authoritarian. But I felt the risk in not voting for him was greater. If India failed to create enough jobs, we would sacrifice another generation. I also felt India’s democratic institutions were strong enough to prevent a dictatorial or a fascist state. I did not absolve Modi of the communal stain of 2002 but I argued that job creation was as great a moral imperative as secularism.
Three years later, I feel Modi has delivered only partially. I am disappointed on the jobs front although the economy has been managed pretty well: inflation is down to a record low of 3%; fiscal deficit has come down; growth is at 7%, and were it not for demonetisation it would have been closer to 8%; India has become surplus in electricity and is the largest recipient of FDI in the world. The GST, despite its flaws, is a game-changer; the bankruptcy code, easing of FDI limits, auctioning natural resources, self-attestation of documents — all these will make a huge difference.
Why has Modi failed on the jobs front? No one has focused single-mindedly on the problem in the first place. Three years have been lost in solving the crisis of bank indebtedness that underlies the retreat of private investment and lack of jobs. There is an excessive reliance on the bureaucracy — most IAS officers don’t have a clue how a private economy creates jobs or how to align private incentives with public good. Housing is the largest creator of jobs in India; yet no one spoke up when the GST Council thoughtlessly put cement in the 28% GST tax bracket. Niti Aayog’s Three-Year Action Agenda reminds us that India’s problem is not unemployment but underemployment — we need high-productivity jobs. This will happen only if we produce for the world. Make in India should be ‘Make for the world’. It is appalling that the discredited pre-1991 idea of ‘import substitution’ has been revived. Those who are pessimistic about exports are wrong. ‘India has a huge export opportunity in a global market of $17 trillion with India’s share a measly 1.7%,’ says the economist Arvind Panagriya.
How about the risk side of the balance sheet? So far, no communal incident has gone out of control but there is a lot of troubling noise. Not a week goes by without a sectarian event, which must be a huge distraction to a government committed to vikas. While the new animal cruelty rules do not ban cow slaughter they will affect the livelihoods of millions of farmers and small traders through red tape, harassment, and corruption. They will put at risk India’s huge exports in leather goods and meat, and a potential loss in lakhs of jobs. Modi has the ability to go down in history as a great leader. But it will only happen if he controls extremists in his party, and acts quickly and decisively at the first smell of a communal incident. The idea is gaining ground that Hindutva means cow vigilantism or valuing cows more than human beings. This goes against the Hindutva ideology and is very damaging to Modi’s reputation.
So, was it a risk worth taking — to vote for the BJP? Despite poor job creation and a polarised atmosphere, there have been significant achievements in the past three years. I am willing to wait another two years with a hope that Modi’s purposiveness and determination will help overcome the deficits so far. The TINA factor — ‘there is no alternative’ — is there, of course, but I’d prefer it not to be the reason for my choice in 2019.
Gurcharan Das, June 9th 2017