Swaminathan Aiyar on why Modi will be seen as the right person to take growth ahead

The victory will raise Yogi’s stature very high within the BJP. This does mean that in due course when the BJP looks for a successor to Narendra Modi, Yogi Adityanath will stand out as the leading candidate, “ says Swaminathan Aiyar, Consulting Editor, ET Now.

What is the winning formula for the BJP that makes it appealing to voters across geographies, across cast considerations and across classes? The typical thinking is that it is an 80-20 kind of thing that the BJP consolidates the Hindu vote but it is going beyond that right now, isn’t it?

Absolutely. This is a victory of stunning proportions and so many things were going against the BJP. Anti-incumbency is seen as a fact of life especially at a time of high inflation, high unemployment and Covid tragedies, disruption caused by GST and small scale fellows getting bankrupt. Banks are still in trouble being unable to recoup and so across the board, there appears to be such a large number of negative factors in the face of which BJP winning a victory of these dimensions is a stunning achievement.

You cannot ascribe it just to communalism or hate speech. This particular election campaign was not dominated by communalism. BJP is a Hindu nationalist party. You should look with the microscope through all the sayings of the BJP people and without doubt, find a large number of statements which are communal in nature but that was not the main thrust of their campaign at all. Their main thrust was good governance; they said Covid was a tragedy but we supplied free feeding, we supplied cash through the PM Kisan through the Gareeb Kalyan Scheme. They said we have been doing the Awas Yojana on a large scheme, we have been providing electricity to each particular household, we are providing drinking water, though that programme is just taking off right now.

In general, what they were emphasising was that they are doing things that a good government should do and one of the things they highlighted was law and order. The UP government, for the last one year has been coming out with a cascade of data on how there is a huge fall in murders, rapes, thefts and so on and most journalists have not taken them seriously.
They say that these figures can be fudged and we are not sure how authentic they are and police stations can just refuse to register cases and because of this it was said that well we cannot really assume that the supposed fall in the crime rate is real.

However, when I was in UP, I talked with some policemen who said this has been the golden age for the police. There has been minimal interference, we have been able to carry out our prosecutions, we have been able to carry out our investigations without constant interference from other political lobbies as used to be the case in the past. I think this now has to be taken very seriously that this has been a substantial contribution of Yogi and this is what has helped to win such a massive victory. One should be quite clear that this is not just Mr Modi’s victory. Earlier, we used to say that when Mr Modi is there, there is a high vote share but that vote share will fall when it comes to state elections.

So this is not just Modi, you are saying in UP it is Modi plus Yogi and that is an important distinction, isn’t it?
Yes. People referred to the double engine of Yogi and Modi and that has taken place but everybody thought that it is much more Modi and Yogi more as a stepney than an engine. But I would say this is definitely a double engine and because of this this will raise Yogi’s stature very high within the BJP. This does mean that in due course when the BJP looks for a successor to Narendra Modi, Yogi Adityanath will stand out as the leading candidate.

There is a general perception that markets prefer the BJP. Broadly markets prefer an incumbent who can continue to give some kind of certainty over how policies will move forward and BJP is seen as centre right, more pro reforms markets etc. What does this mandate mean for the tough decisions that need to be taken ahead?
After the farm agitation, there was a big question mark as to whether the BJP will now have the courage to go ahead with further reforms. The farmers’ agitation was one of the most phenomenal agitations in history of the world, being carried out for more than one year and bringing a very powerful government ultimately to surrender saying we cannot carry on in this fashion.

The farm laws by general consent or per the experts were perfectly good and they said even if a good reform like this is going to have such opposition, will Mr Modi have the guts to go ahead with other things? On privatisation, things were going so slowly that while BPCL and Concor, SCI privatisation have been talked about for a couple of years, it still has not been done. The pace of monetisation of the pipeline was glacial. Attempts to auction railway passenger routes did not get a single bid and so they could not sell it.

For a variety of reasons, the BJP was very worried about being called a crony capitalist. If it went ahead with some of these privatisations, asset sales and reforms, it was worried that the picture of this suited booted Modi will stick. Now they can say: “Look, why worry about all these epithets being hurled at us by the Opposition?” Those things just do not stick. Modi has credibility which the opposition parties do not. Mr Rahul Gandhi can scream for all he likes, that Modi has given Ambani Rs 30,000 crore but everybody else can see that Mr Anil Ambani is actually bankrupt and most certainly he does not have Rs 30,000 crore lying in his bank balances.

Despite all these accusations, if Modi’s credibility remains so high., then he can afford to go for sensible economic policy. He can afford to go for the original lay of how to go towards freeing up the economy, creating a situation where business can flourish and where foreign investment as well as Indian investment will go. So these are the conditions he will be able to focus on rather than focussing on freebies.

Punjab is a once rich state, which has been brought to its knees by the fact that all its money goes out in freebies. It has not been able to invest in all the things that make progress possible and from being the richest state, it has become a middling state. Their per capita income is only just above the national average, which is what happens when the entire focus of the ruling party is on competition and freebies. You do need to get into substantive investment.

Mr. Modi is far more inclined to do that than the Congress. When the Congress was in power, it went two terms and yet its focus in those terms was not on growth so much as on giving away various things – rights to this, rights to that, rights to food. All the welfare schemes have a place, but not at the expense of growth. So, I think Mr Modi will be seen as the right person to take growth ahead.

This article was originally published in Economic Times on March 11, 2022.

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