White Paper unlikely to pay political dividends for BJP in 2024 elections
People already delivered their verdict on UPA's poor economic performance in 2014, but it will act as a reminder at the most; it's the Modi govt’s performance that will be in focus
It has become a norm for many new governments to criticize previous regimes immediately after coming to power. But it’s as simple as this. People voted out a party because it did not perform well and meet the expectations of the electorate. Therefore, it is a sheer waste of time for the ruling regime and leaders to excessively focus on criticising a political party, which was in power before it. Instead, the ruling party should grab the opportunity with both hands and focus on in what way it could do better than its predecessor
As announced in her recent Budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tabled the Modi government’s White Paper on the Indian economy in the Parliament last week. With this, the Modi government compared its performance in the last two terms (2014-2024) with that of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in the preceding two terms (2004 to 2014). This year’s Budget session of the Parliament was earlier scheduled to end on February 9, but it was extended by a day to pave the way for a discussion on the White Paper. It’s a rare thing to extend a parliamentary session. It’s still rarer to hold its session on a Saturday. The Modi government has done both unusual things this time. That showed the importance it has accorded to the White Paper.
As expected, the White Paper reeled off the failures of the UPA government at the Centre. It also painted a rosy picture about the last 10 years. According to the document, the economy was in utter chaos, the banking sector was in crisis, corruption was prevalent, inflation was high and policy paralysis was haunting the country when the NDA assumed office in 2014. It also listed out the scams during the UPA regime which, according to it, bore ‘a family’ first stamp all over.
The Finance Minister said that the Prime Minister had adopted a nation-first approach, stabilised the economy and took corrective steps to fuel economic growth. As a result, India, which was among fragile five economies during the UPA regime, became a part of top five economies, she said, adding that India would soon be one among the top three economies. She also claimed that the Union Government has successfully tamed inflation.
But why did the Modi government do this exercise now? The Finance Minister, while initiating discussion on the subject in Lok Sabha, said that BJP intentionally did not come out with a White Paper on the economy when it stormed to power in 2014 as such an exercise at that time would have taken a big toll on the image of the country globally, driving away investors.
Of course, that’s the right approach, but in reality, even now there is no need for a White Paper to nail the UPA government that ran the country from 2004 to 2014. People have already delivered their verdict on that government and Congress saw its Lok Sabha tally slipping to a historic low of 44 MPs. It was for the first time in Indian political history that the Congress’ score was in double digits. A bigger embarrassment for the party was that it did not even get the requisite numbers to get Opposition status. It suffered a similar defeat in 2019 also, though it could improve its tally marginally to 52.
Moreover, voters in 2024 will deliver a verdict on how the Modi government has done in the last 10 years. They don’t take into consideration what the UPA did in the preceding decade. Therefore, this exercise is unlikely to pay BJP any political dividends in the upcoming elections. At the most, it will act as a reminder to the people before they cast their vote.
However, BJP is not alone in focusing on the previous regime while in power. But the good thing is that it has waited till a decade to do that. These days, it has become a norm for many new governments to criticize previous regimes immediately after coming to power. But it’s as simple as this. People voted out a party because it did not perform well and meet the expectations of the electorate. Hence, the vote for a change! Therefore, it is a sheer waste of time for the ruling regime and leaders to excessively focus on criticising a political party, which was in power before it. Instead, the ruling party should grab the opportunity with both hands and focus on in what way it could do better than its predecessor and retain the confidence of voters in the next elections. Sadly, that doesn’t happen often.
As an answer to the Modi government’s White Paper, the Congress party also brought out what it called a Black Paper, listing out failures of the ruling dispensation in the last 10 years.
In its 56-page charge sheet, it pointed out price rise, unemployment and discrimination against States where opposition parties are in power. It also stated that the Modi government destroyed the agriculture sector, saying this key sector’s growth nosedived in the last one decade. Congress sought to nail the BJP on the injustice being done to minorities in the country. Further, it termed the demonetisation exercise undertaken by the ruling party in November 2016 as an economic blunder. Congress also alleged that BJP extorted funds through electoral bonds and used those funds to topple opposition governments by forcing 411 MLAs to switch loyalties to its side in the last 10 years.
Interestingly, the Congress party released its Black Paper a bit ahead of the ruling dispensation’s tabling of its White Paper in the parliament. That way, it acted fast to take on the Modi government this time. That was not the case on many occasions earlier. Let’s see whether Congress will be able to continue the momentum and build a credible narrative against the Modi government during the upcoming General Elections at a time when Modi has set a tall target for his party and also for the NDA that his party leads. During one of his eloquent speeches in this Budget session, he announced that BJP would get 370 seats, taking NDA’s tally to 400 seats in 2024 polls. These are two tall targets indeed. The number 370 is interesting though. The BJP government scrapped Article 370 from the Constitution that contained special provisions for Jammu & Kashmir. Modi obviously wants the electorate to support his government’s decision on this by electing 370 members of BJP as MPs. Anyway, the BJP leadership seems to be hell-bent on achieving the twin tall targets. That appears to be the reason behind BJP’s attempts for new alliances across the country. The saffron party is leaving no stone unturned to retain power for the third consecutive term, and with a bigger mandate.
Though it has been liberal in announcing Bharat Ratna honours, including one for former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, a Congress leader to the core, I don’t think awards will bring in any votes. However, such things might help Modi gain the stature of a statesman. Does Modi wish to be remembered as a statesman and not as a politician?
Nevertheless, it’s not going to be an easy task for the Narendra Modi government to score a hat-trick with a bigger mandate unless the Congress and its INDIA alliance fail to build a compelling narrative against it in the elections. That’s the bottom line for now.