The year 2019 has seen a roller coaster ride for the Narendra Modi dispensation with peaks symbolised by the spectacular BJP victory in the Lok Sabha election for the second term and the troughs exemplified by the nationwide stir across the country against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) which were closely preceded or followed by electoral reverses for the BJP and its allies in some state assembly elections.
In 2020, the CAA agitation is not likely to disappear so soon and together with the anger among some sections over the National Register for Citizens (NRC), the two will haunt the Modi government for compromising the secular ethos.
While diplomatically, India has scored some notable successes during the year especially when the world showed great understanding on Indian airstrikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) in retaliation for gunning down of our jawans by Pakistani militants in Kashmir, the Indian economy has been seemingly in deep trouble, struggling to ride out the bad phase of an economic slowdown.
Stepping into 2020, India is indeed at the crossroads from where it could recover lost ground and get back into stride or it could slip further in its quest for rapid growth. Investment has been sluggish and needs to pick up.
From the way the Opposition was mauled in the Lok Sabha election it has travelled some distance in recent months spurred by the economic mismanagement, mounting unemployment and other failures of the Modi government. The resurgence of Opposition tie-ups in state elections has given the regional forces something to gloat about. They have begun to feel the BJP is not invincible and that by forging unity they can give it a run for its money. In the past year, Jharkhand was the fifth state to slip out of the saffron control.
Yet, there is no denying that the BJP is firmly entrenched in power and is fully capable of retaining its stranglehold over it in this Lok Sabha term as well as in the next. It must, however, shed complacency and apply itself to the task of reviving the economy and measure up to the other challenges ahead with a degree of humility.
The Lok Sabha gave the BJP a huge thumbs up in 2019, while in the Rajya Sabha the party and its allies were able to overcome the shortfall in numbers in the vote on abrogation of Article 370 that granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union and in the vote on the amended citizenship bill through clever floor management.
In 2020, with some electoral reverses in 2019 — in Maharashtra and Jharkhand in the immediate past — the numbers in the Upper House may be tested again on legislation and Opposition unity may be put to a severe test.
Meanwhile, the BJP government’s budget on February 1, 2020 will be watched with more than usual interest. The task before the Modi government is to re-energise the Indian economy and spur growth. Evidently, investment needs to be boosted and consumption increased through a plethora of incentives. At the same time, the fiscal deficit cannot be allowed to go unbridled lest it leads to inflation in a big way. The economic challenge is acute indeed and if this requires more qualified and skilful hands on deck in the government to steer the ship, so be it.
If the Modi government manages to overcome the economic slump and kickstart the high growth process all over again, all economic woes would be forgotten well in time for the 2024 Lok Sabha poll. There is, however, little scope for more slip-ups.
The fact that the equity market is booming reflects a degree of confidence in the future. But things can change dramatically if there are powerful triggers.
Election-wise, there are crucial tests ahead for the BJP. The next big electoral challenge will be in Delhi Assembly election in February with the BJP, the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress crossing swords to capture the control of the country’s capital.
Just as a big BJP win will give it a boost and revive its fortunes, psychologically in the national context an impressive AAP showing will energise a Modi-Kejriwal battle and a fresh bid for Opposition unity. Likewise, a Congress high performance will give that party a new lease of life and re-establish its leadership potential in a confused Opposition scenario.
The assembly election in Bihar at the end of 2020 will be equally crucial for the BJP to win. The BJP-Janata Dal (United) alliance will face an acid test in the country’s second most populous state and the results in those elections will determine whether the JD (U) continues as a BJP ally. That the estrangement between the BJP and the Shiv Sena has hit the NDA hard is by no means a small development. With the Kashmir’s PDP having drifted away from the NDA and the northeast allies of the BJP, including the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) deserting the ruling party at the Centre, there is much for the BJP to think about.
Some of this is offset by the fact that Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress in Andhra, and Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha besides the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu are supportive of the Modi government in Parliament on crucial policies.
All in all, the dice is still loaded in the BJP’s favour as we step into 2020 with an economic revival on the cards and the Opposition leaderless and still substantially disoriented.
—The writer is a political commentator and columnist.
He has authored four books.