Think Tank

POLITICS, POLICY AND REFORMS: OUTLOOK TO 2024

In a break from the past, Indian politics is seeing continued stability at both the Central and the state level. The BJP won four out of five recent state elections, which has helped it consolidate its pole position in national politics. It has also set the course for the run-up to the next general elections in 2024 and will have implications for policymaking in both the immediate-term and the medium-term. At a recent session of the India CEO Forum, R Jagannathan, Editorial Director of Swarajya, an independent magazine, shared his outlook for Indian politics and policymaking in the long lead-up to 2024.



The BJP should be able to form a government in 2024, but with a reduced majority

2019 VS 2024

The electoral math in 2024 is unlikely to be significantly different from that in 2019. Based on the results of recent state elections, the BJP should be able to form a government at the Centre for a third time in a row, but with a reduced seat-share. Unlike the political opposition, the average voter believes that the NDA has handled the pandemic well. This sentiment will help it to minimise any losses on account of other factors, such as slowing growth, inflation and anti-incumbency. Overall, the BJP should assume reductions of 10% each in its seat-counts in the Hindi belt and in the big non-Hindi and Southern States. In the North-east and in the Union Territories, its count may go up mildly but it could lose seats in Delhi if the opposition comes together. All considered, the party should still be able to secure 305 seats (see table below). However, these calculations assume a renewed tie-up with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, failing which, at the lower end, its count could fall to 285.

BJP performance April2022



Small states prefer strong individuals while the big states lean towards specific parties



This is the era of ‘believable politicians’ who delivers on welfare policies



The Modi factor works for BJP at the centre…



…and the BJP also has strong state-level leaders






The BJP faces no real opposition at the national level

READING THE TEA-LEAVES: POLITICALLY…

In the last two decades, the Indian polity has changed in fundamental ways. Big states now tend to give clear mandates to parties/coalitions, resulting in fewer hung houses. For example, the BJD’s Naveen Patnaik has been Chief Minister of Odisha for 24 years and the BJP has been in power in Gujarat for over 30 years. On the other hand, in the small states, individual candidates have become more prominent than the parties they represent. These leaders have a loyal voter base, which leans towards whichever party the candidate aligns with.

Until about 2000, people tended to vote out incumbent governments just to give other parties a chance. This mindset has now shifted and there is an expectation that leaders will deliver specific benefits, regardless of their ideological beliefs. There is also a greater tendency than before for state governments to finance private goods from their own coffers, which distracts attention from the Central government’s inability to provide public goods (health, education, good governance).

As an individual leader, Mr Modi has the backing of a strong national party, giving him a much better shot at securing a third term. Under his leadership, the government has taken a Centre-Left approach to welfare policies, making a segue from its traditional right-wing ideology. Complementing these welfarist policies is the Prime Minister’s personal charisma and strong image management. Moreover, the BJP has built up strong state-level leaders such as Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh and Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra.

Effectively, there is no opposition to the BJP at the Central level. The Congress has lost its mantle and unless the ‘first family’ steps away, making way for other leaders, its losses will continue to mount. In turn, this lack of a strong and united opposition has pushed voters towards a binary voting attitude, especially in states such as Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka. In this context, the AAP’s rise in Punjab should not be taken to imply that it is now a credible opposition to the BJP at the national level. Its gains in the Hindi belt come at the cost of the Congress losing seats; but in non-Hindi-speaking states, the AAP will face tough competition from regional parties. This has the potential to weaken the opposition and the AAP may not emerge as a strong opposition for at least the next few years.





The NDA is unlikely to push for any controversial policies





Labour reforms will take a backseat…



…but the government may push for jobs and skilling


The upcoming Budgets will focus heavily on capex and jobs

… AND ON THE POLICY FRONT

Following its defeat on the Farm Laws, the Modi government is unlikely to introduce any legislation that might undermine its re-election campaign. The only major initiative it is likely to pursue over the next two years is privatisation of banks and insurance companies. Its main focus will be on the effective implementation of welfare policies, including making tap-water available to every household. This scheme could single-handedly raise the BJP’s vote-share in 2024 just as the Ujjwala scheme did in 2019.

Interest rates are likely to remain low despite rising inflation and supply-chain disruption. On the other hand, high commodity prices will help the government collect more in the form of indirect taxes. Meanwhile, the stock markets should revive eventually and the uncertainties around global trade will reduce if Russia-Ukraine peace talks make headway.

Seeking to avoid any confrontation with the unions, the government will continue to go slow on implementing the four Labour Codes. On the contrary, it is likely to introduce regulations that favour labour, though here, too, it may tread carefully when it comes to implementation. Given that industry’s requirements for skilled labour cannot presently be met by the market, government and industry will need to work together on this front. The Modi government has generally been pro-women in its policies and it stands to benefit immensely if it finds a way to meet industry’s demands by upskilling women.

By shifting the annual Budget date to 1st February, the BJP has made room for itself to present six regular budgets instead of (as in the past) five regular budgets and one interim budget. The next two budgets are likely to focus heavily on infrastructure expenditure. Additionally, an urban version of the MGNREGA, or a moderate-income-guarantee scheme of some sort, may be launched. The outlay on defence and health is likely to rise.



In the best case, the BJP’s vote-share could climb to over 45%, but there are risks to watch out for

TRENDS TO LOOK OUT FOR

Mr Modi has helped increase the BJP’s vote-share from an earlier 18-20% to over 30%. In 2024, given that voters have become broadly pro-incumbent, its share could in the best case even exceed 45%. Indicators are that the BJP will secure victory in upcoming state elections in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Chhattisgarh is likely to remain with the Congress while Karnataka will be a toss-up between BJP and the regional parties. Economically, however, the BJP will remain a lame duck – at least in terms of legislative action – after its defeat on the Farm reform laws and the anti-CAA protests. Economic growth may remain in the 5-7% range and unemployment will remain a challenge. Other risks to watch out for are a resurgence of Covid-19 (a fourth wave is expected in June); the likelihood of a poor monsoon (with the possibility of a drought) this year; and an escalating Russia-Ukraine war that forces India to abandon its balancing act and choose sides.

PEOPLE

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