BJP attempts balancing act between development and national identity

Last Updated: Tue, Apr 09, 2019 14:42 hrs
BJP manifesto

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sits with Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah (C) and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at an event to launch the party's election manifesto in New Delhi. Image: AFP

The BJP, in releasing its manifesto for the upcoming elections, centered its vision around three points - rashtravaad’ (nationalism), ‘antyodaya’ (integral humanism) and ‘sushaasan’ (good governance). Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with other BJP stalwarts Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who served as the Chairman of the manifesto committee and party chief Amit Shah among others, touted India progressing and moving forward under their leadership over the past five years. Sankalp Patra, as they call it focuses on the poor, farmers and nationalism. The Hindustan Times editorial picked out three tenants of the manifesto; nationalism, a focus on rural India and unemployment –

It speaks of decisive action against terrorism, and taking steps to end infiltration. The BJP once again reiterated its promise of doubling farmer income by 2022, a claim most experts are skeptical of. The BJP has spoken of further improving India’s rank in the ease of doing business; improving the share of manufacturing in GDP. But BJP will have to do a lot more in credibly communicating how India will address its unemployment crisis.

Farmers

The assembly elections last year proved to be a wake-up call for the BJP. They lost the Hindi heartland states owing to tangible unrest among farmers. They, like the Congress, have resorted to loan waivers as a way of easing crippling debt among farmers. Apart from the promise of doubling farmers income, the manifesto states that if the BJP retains power, it would invest Rs.25 lakh crore over the next five years in rural India. This policy regarding farmers’ income is ambitious, similar in nature to the Congress’ minimum income guarantee scheme. Economist Vivek Kaul, in a column for Firstpost, argues that for such a policy to take effect, food price will have to increase –

The point is that an increase in the income of farmers is directly proportional to food inflation. And there is nothing that makes a government more unpopular in urban areas than food inflation. For the income of farmers to double by 2021-2022, it needs to go up by 17.4 % per year on an average between now and then. Anything like this would only be possible if food prices go up at a dramatic rate.

Kaul, in his column points out that the growth of farmers income under the Modi regime has been declining owing to lower food inflation. Lower food inflation is generally seen as a positive as he points out, but it does have a negative effect with regards to farmers income. Modi himself has addressed this specific scheme in 2016 during a speech in which he said in part, “From this land of Uttar Pradesh, I urge all the states to give priority to agriculture and then see the changes. The roadmap is there, you only have to implement it.”

Rajnath Singh, speaking to the schemes designed for farmers said in part, “We will provide short term new agriculture loans up to Rs 1 lakh at a 0 per cent interest rate for 1-5 years.” Another promise in the manifesto is the extension of the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana. The scheme ensures financial support to farmers owning up to 2 hectares of land. The BJP has stated that it would extend this to all farmers.

Unemployment

A major source of criticism for the BJP government is unemployment. The manifesto states that the BJP will responsive to the needs and aspirations of the middle class. The focus on employment in the manifesto are the sources of employment – infrastructure projects, Make in India and start-ups. The process of job creation under the current government has been sluggish. Krishnadev Calamur, in a column for The Atlantic, writes on how the governments undoing in the upcoming elections could be because of its inability to address the unemployment problem -

Make in India hasn’t been the success Modi had hoped it would be, because of, among other things, a lack of labor and land reforms. Modi and the BJP have shifted their prescription from job creation to self-employment and entrepreneurship, a path that on its own is unlikely to meet the needs of the huge numbers of people who are looking for work.

However, a recent CVOTER-IANS tracker poll suggested that while unemployment was the top issue facing voters (34.8%), they pointed to the BJP being their best bet with 42.1% of voters saying they feel the current ruling party is best placed to solve it. This is perhaps fueled by young people who ensured that Modi came to power in 2014, with a demand of, as Calamur puts it, “to fix everything”.

With regards to start-ups, the manifesto states the BJP will set up a new 'Entrepreneurial Northeast' scheme to provide financial support to the micro, small and medium industries and launch a new scheme to provide collateral-free credit up to Rs 50 lakh for entrepreneurs.

Nationalism & National security

“Nationalism is our inspiration” said Modi at the event of the manifesto release. With the recent attack on Pulwama and the resulting response from India, along with the ASAT test of shooting down a satellite, the government is flexing its defence muscles and zero-tolerance policy on terrorism. It ushered in a spate of patriotic fervour and nationalism, just as the BJP and Modi needed and hoped for despite some uncertainty over information on the effectiveness of the latest surgical strike.

There is a noticeable tone in the manifesto regarding points of identity. A budding issue among the BJP faithful is the ongoing saga of the Ram Mandir. It’s a promise that the party has stated multiple times but failed to deliver on. A couple of controversial proposals in the manifesto have to do with Article 370 and Article 35(A). It states that the party will scrap both these which could further cause chaos and uncertainty in Jammu & Kashmir by removing its special status.

The other controversial proposal is the National Register of Citizens, where non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan can still be accepted as Indian citizens if the Citizenship Amendment Bill can be resurrected after failing in the Rajya Sabha earlier this year. With regards to these issues, the Indian Express editorial speaks to the BJP not moving or evolving –

The BJP’s apparent refusal to reconsider its positions on important issues includes those on which the limits of its ideological certitudes have been bared in its five years in power at the Centre. It pledges itself anew to the dangerously misconceived Citizenship Amendment Bill which threatens to further polarise and communalise the complex matrix of identities and insecurities in the Northeast.

The manifesto does mention something similar to the Congress’ pledge in 33% reservation for women in parliament, even as both parties while in power, haven’t been able to pass the women’s reservation bill. The manifesto, according to India Today, mentions the word ‘women’ 37 times in the 48-page manifesto. In other areas it falls short as the wording on ensuring safety for women wasn’t exactly what the party wanted to propose.

Regarding the environment, the BJP proposed turning the National Clean Air Plan into a Mission, focussing on 102 most polluted cities in the country. It also stated that it aims to reduce overall pollution in the mission cities by 35% over the next five years; though details of this plan were scant.

The manifesto will certainly grab headlines in the days following, but as polling dates draw closer, it will be a battle of personalities and not necessarily ideas that will play out. Sandeep Sahstri, in a column for Livemint states that the campaign for the BJP at least, revolves around one man –

The campaign clearly revolves around the personality of the Prime Minister. At the end of the day, elections and victories are not merely about assurances held out, but the trust that people place in the intentions, sincerity and past experience with political leaders.

More columns by Varun Sukumar