Until the farmers’ agitation in Madhya Pradesh, which unfortunately resulted in several casualties, punsters did not even bother to quote odds against Modi’s victory in 2019. Amit Shah and he apparently had it all sown up.
Opposition is in disarray with Rahul Gandhi-led Congress firmly relegated to the margins of national politics. Regional parties, pursuing their narrow self interests have been unable to stitch together a pan-India platform to oppose Modi. A smart unbeatable choice for the presidential candidate and politically, Modi seems unassailable.
On the economic front as well it appeared all hunky-dory.
Economic activity, having slowed down in 2016-17, is already picking up. Industry leaders tell me that domestic investment is, finally beginning to perk up supported by rising consumer and export demand. Inflation is at its lowest levels. Infrastructure, a Modi-Gadkari forte, has seen eye-catching progress, with Piyush Goel also chipping in.
Progress in financial inclusion; more efficient targeting of subsidies and the relentless drive against black money including demonetisation, has won Modi overwhelming support from the "have-nots" constituency. With the passage of the Bankruptcy Law and the imminent roll out of the long-awaited GST, the reform agenda has also been pushed forward.
Second term seemed assured. Suddenly, with the violent farmers’ agitation in MP and ongoing farmers’ protests in several states, the media is full of dire warnings to Modi and the BJP. Agriculture, despite its reasonably good performance (2.7 per cent growth) over the past three years, is being projected as Modi’s Achille heel.
MP farmers perform shavasana on International Yoga Day in protest.
The farmers’ agitation, duly supported and aggravated by a grateful Opposition, could, it is argued, spread rapidly across the country, thereby overcoming the political fragmentation that benefits Modi. Farmers can surely provide a pan-India platform from which to attack him.
Secondly, the spectre of jobless growth is being raised strongly. Youth and farmers coming together in opposition could well precipitate another India Shining moment for the NDA. A prospect Modi must avoid at all costs. The Opposition will relentlessly exploit the farmers’ bitterness and youth’s disillusionment to create Modi’s "India Shining Moment".
This must be expected as it offers the only means to overturn Modi’s current sky-high approval ratings. My fear is that many luminaries in the government and the BJP assume Modi’s re-election as a done deal. This is duly reflected in creeping complacency and spokespersons’ arrogance on the television channels.
This is surely avoidable. In these days of hyper communication, even a small incident can go viral overnight and upset all existing approval ratings. A combined movement of disgruntled farmers and youth could surely transform ground realities in double quick time. A farmer-youth coalition, if allowed to gain momentum, could very quickly undo the amazing, perhaps incomparable amount of work undertaken in the last three years for improving governance and ushering in major, transformative reforms.
Even the most die-hard critics of Modi will have to admit that Raisina Hill has never seen such concerted and unremitting action as over the las three years. However, it is also true that most fruit and vegetable (F&V) prices in major mandis are appreciably lower than a year ago. However, this is not true across the board. Milk prices, for example, have ruled steady as have prices for sugarcane.
From personal experience I can say that the weakening of traders’ exploitative stranglehold in F&V mandis does not necessarily imply lower prices for farmers.
My wife, a part-time farmer, has only recently started earning much higher prices by supplying directly to retailers. That, then, is the key to addressing rising farmers’ distress— connect them to retailers and eliminate layers of intermediaries who have traditionally exploited vulnerable farmers.
NITI Aayog should have addressed this as a priority and ensured accelerated activation of E-Nams; establishment of farmers producers’ organisations; strengthening Kisan samitis and liberalisation of FDI in F&V retail. If taken up in a mission mode, farmers can still be given the benefit of higher prices without necessarily raising F&V prices for the common consumer.
In addition, all administrative controls over agro-exports must be immediately removed. These are distortionary and discriminatory. Putting in place direct and robust marketing mechanisms and permanently removing bans on agro-exports will together suffice to address farmers’ distress.
Subsequently, much-needed productivity enhancing measures will also have to be taken. The India Shining moment can surely be and must be avoided. Missing jobs is the second chink in Modi’s armour. Addressing this requires jettisoning of all preconceived notions and rooting proposed solution in Indian ground realities. But for that we need reliable data.
NITI Aayog, again quite inexplicably, has not ensured dependable employment data.
(Courtesy: Mail Today)