Modi juggernaut shows no signs of stopping

Expect long-pending, difficult decisions on economy in the days to come

ashishm

Ashish Mehta | October 19, 2014 | New Delhi




Here are some takeaways from the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly election results:

* Prime minister Narendra Modi continues to enjoy the kind of popularity we have not seen for decades. The only comparison seems to be Indira Gandhi at the peak of her career. This was the first time, arguably after Indira Gandhi, that a PM campaigned so extensively in assembly elections. It was a risky gamble, and he might have lost face in case of poor results for the BJP. That the party has scaled the top position in the tally in both places shows that the ‘honeymoon period’ is far from over.

* More importantly, this victory comes after the BJP’s poor show in several by-elections, which was blamed on him. The difference is that he had not campaigned then. He had then let the likes of Yogi Adityanath do the talking (and now they stand wasted). This time, Modi did campaign. This time, the BJP resorted to the Lok Sabha-like slogan of Vote for Modi. The latest results, seen against the background of the by-poll results, consolidate his TINA (there is no alternative) factor within the party.

* With the international agenda of foreign trips and domestic compulsions of assembly elections out of the way, Modi can now be expected to focus on economic reforms. For a while, commentators have been complaining that Modi has only been talking and that there has been zero action on the real big-bang reforms that he had promised. In the last week, he was making a tentative beginning with labour reforms (tweaking only technicalities yet) and fuel pricing reforms. In the days to come, expect him to unleash not-so-populist economic measures.

* In a clear contrast to Adityanath's remarks, the BJP campaign in Maharashtra and Haryana had no communal content. If, like Lok Sabha polls, the mandate this time was for ‘development’ or economic growth, it is up to Modi to read the message and rein in the Hindutva campaigners who keep giving sound bytes and convey the impression of a second, hidden agenda of the government.

* For BJP supporters, a non-existent Congress is good news, but for democracy 'almost no opposition' is a dangerous scenario. If Modi is exceptionally shrewd, he will have to invent token opposition. The Congress, meanwhile, will have to reinvent itself.

* In Maharashtra, the gamble of going it alone has not succeeded fully, even if the assertive ally has been taught a lesson.

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