By giving a decisive result and giving power unambigiously to one coalition, Indian voters have made it clear that they want a government that will deliver. They have seen that large, unwieldy compulsions can lead to not only policy paralysis but also corruption because no one can risk the wrath of a big ally. This time round, the government will be centered around one party with a few smaller players part of it.
Now comes the time for quick action on several fronts. What should be the agenda for the next government. Here are a few suggestions:
1. The economy: After a spurt of high growth, the Indian economy slowed down in the last two years or so. At barely 5 percent annual growth, India was still better off than many other countries but this was just not enough. Manufacturing suffered and the investment climate was depressing. Unclear policies and bureaucratic hassles were big disincentives for companies. Some part of the blame must also be taken by the corporate sector, which just went into a shell, not wanting to make any commitments. The incoming government must not just send out signals but also take decisive steps making investment easy and transparent. Labour laws and land acquisition will be made more relaxed, though this will not be easy to push through.
2. The victory is not for big business. Already there is a perception that Narendra Modi’s Gujarat Model is more favourable towards the corporate sector rather than ordinary people. He has to ensure that his government also tackles issues that concern all of us, such as inflation, infrastructure, jobs etc. Though inflation is coming down, high prices have left middle-class families reeling. Ensuring it doesn’t climb up again will be a key priority.
3. Social equity—one of the criticisms directed by many economists towards the outgoing government was that it spent a lot of money on social schemes. Modi has let it be known that he is not against NREGA etc, but just wants to ensure that it runs smoothly, and without leakages. The various social programmes of the UPA government have brought about higher incomes in villages, which can only be a good thing. The forthcoming government must not reverse any step that increase social equity.
4. Social harmony—A fear that has been widely expressed is that a BJP majority government will create social fissures within the country. The record in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat does not inspire much confidence. During the campaigning there were a lot of provocative anti-minority statements. Giving the benefit of the doubt to the new government, let us assume that this was during the heat of electioneering, but as a responsible party, the BJP will now ensure that relations between communities do not get disturbed. For good economic growth, social stability and harmony are critical and a signal must be sent out early on that this government believes in inclusive growth. The government must work towards keeping social peace and reining in the more hotheaded elements within the Sangh parivar who may want to create trouble.
5. Youth concerns—What does the youth want? Young Indians voted for change in a big way, seduced by the promise of a leader and a government that will put India back on the rails. The aspirational generation does not just want consumer goods, but opportunities and jobs. The younger demographic is Modi’s biggest supporters and they will be looking on expectantly to see what the government does for them. They will want quick results and if they don’t see intent, they will get disappointed.
6. The environment—this is not a subject that comes up during election campaigns, but it is critical for national well being. Poor quality of air, dwindling forests, dirty rivers—all of these are slow time bombs that could affect India in the coming years. Industrialization and growth have to be balanced with concern for the environment. The UPA was criticized for holding up projects, especially in mining, because of objections of environmental groups; how will this government tackle that?
This are just a few items on the agenda of the next government. There is much more to be done. The incoming government will not have much of an opposition in Parliament to deal with. This can be a good and a bad thing—it can allow the government a free hand but it could also make it complacent and arrogant. That would be a mistake, because the expectations of the voters are sky high. They will want results and want them quick. Indians will be watching closely to see how the very first government with a comfortable majority in nearly 30 years runs the country. This time there will be no excuses.