Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Rahul-X or An Advani-Modi Government?

  This article appeared in TOI, 18/4/13.

 In an earlier note I had forecast that the 2014 election campaign would be fought between a Rahul led Congress and a Modi led BJP.  Rahul Gandhi’s speech has given us the first hint of the Rahul-Congress election platform and strategy. The election platform is basically the congress development strategy of “Inclusive growth” developed over the last 8 years, modified/tweaked by the need to restore growth to its 8% potential and leavened with Shri Rahul Gandhi’s personal experience of reaching out to the common people and reviving the Congress party. By leaving the issue of a post-election Congress PM open, the strategy is also designed to keep the election from becoming a Presidential style Rahul vs. Modi election.  Similarly, Narendra Modi’s speeches and the reaction of the JD(U) and other potential NDA partners to his rise is also giving us a picture of the election platform of the Modi led BJP: (i) Faster economic growth & job creation, (ii) Better Public Goods & Services, (iii) More focused and better governance, (iv) Public Security.  At the same time Hindutva issues are likely to be downplayed in an effort to pacify the JDU and other potential NDA partners, and more emphasis on the inclusive programs of BJP governments in M.P., Chhattisgarh etc.

      Consider a grading based on the each parties program (Cong/BJP) and the ability of the potential leader (Rahul/Modi) to achieve results (positive & negative).  Three dimensions are likely to figure in the election discourse: Social inclusion, Economic Growth & Development and Domestic & National security (plus a net/overall grade).  Putting oneself into the hypothetical persona of neutral analyst with a nationalist, liberal perspective, the tentative scores for the two national parties are, (i) Rahul led Congress: A, B+ and B on the three dimensions with a net score of  B+ and (ii) Modi led BJP: C+, A and A- with a net of B+.  Any ranking can be disputed by committed supporters, particularly as it relates to likely future performance. Our purpose is however the very limited one of analyzing potential election strategies.  Two points emerge from this exercise: One that on basis of net score it may be difficult for voters to choose between the two National parties, so traditional supporters of each are likely to vote for their historically favored party, even if they had drifted away in the last two elections. Two that new, independent, undecided voters are likely to vote for the party whose score is higher on the dimension that is more important to them.  Those who care very strongly about social liberalism are likely to gravitate to the Rahul Congress, while those who care strongly about liberal economic policy outcomes are likely to drift to the BJP.  Those who care more about caste and region, will likely vote for the State parties.  On balance the urban vote is likely to shift back from Congress to BJP, while the rural vote share of the Congress could increase to partially offset this.  The challenge for both parties will be to win back the younger, more mobile voters from among those whose families switched to the State parties during the last 10-15 years. 

        The National party which gets significantly higher number of seats along with its limited pre-election partners will have a better chance of forming the government. Analysts have said that an ambiguous result will favor the Congress, given that parties like JD(U), BJD and TDP may not join a government with Modi as PM.   At this point, analysis suggests four potential outcomes: (a) Clear win for Congress – Rahul Gandhi becomes PM, (b) Clear win for BJP – Narendra Modi becomes PM, (c) Uncertain win for Congress with UPA III the largest pre-pol group. Rahul takes over party president ship and names a non-political PM, (d) Uncertain win for BJP, with NDA- the largest pre-pol group.  L. K. Advani becomes PM, with Narendra Modi as DPM (Economy) and Nitish Kumar as DPM (social inclusion).  One may well question how L K Advani of Yath Yatra fame could be an acceptable compromise.  The most important reason is he was almost drummed out of the BJP by the RSS for his positive remarks about Jinnah while on a visit to Pakistan and has therefore in a sense paid his dues to the JD(U) secularists. Despite this he may be preferred by the RSS (to “dictatorial” NaMo), as also by the next-gen BJP leaders, who can keep their leadership hopes alive.

     Does this new post-election scenario, require new thinking on the part of the Rahul Congress?  For one it requires a complete extirpation of any residual complacency in the Congress with respect to economic reforms and economic growth.  The government, fully and whole heartedly supported by the party, must get down in the trenches to carry out every possible governance and economic reform that can revive economic growth within the next twelve months(this will benefit whoever comes to power). The achievements of Narendra Modi in sustaining growth in a relatively high per capita income State can only be countered by restoring national growth to reasonable levels.  It also requires some re-balancing of “social inclusiveness” away from Rawlsian abstractions, approved by Nobel prize winning philosophers towards more practical maximization of benefit-cost ratios and a greater focus on the issue of law and order and public safety & security.

This article appeared on the editorial page of the Times of India, on April 18, 2013: Can be accessed at,

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