By Tushar Singh
There is a striking similarity in the economic performance of both of India’s NDA governments and their neglect of agrarian and rural distress. What is worse is that what led to Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s narrow loss to the Indian National Congress in the 2004 election can damage Narendra Modi as well.
One of the reasons why Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the first Prime Minister from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), could not retain power in the 2004 elections despite bringing economic development to the country, was widespread distress in the agricultural sector. While Indian exporters were merrily allowed to export foodgrains by Vajpayee’s government, millions of tonnes of foodgrains lay in government godowns, and thousands of farmers were in distress due to drought in several parts of the country.
Why does it matter?
With the Indian general elections approaching in 2019, Narendra Modi, the second prime minister from the right-wing BJP, faces similar wrath from the farmers, who make up 47% of labour force. While BJP did manage to win in Gujarat state because of its higher urbanisation rate, it could lose out a lot in a slew of state elections this year and a national vote in 2019 if it cannot win back its rural support.
Under the Modi government, growth rates in agriculture have been fluctuating and mostly disappointing, at -0.2% in 2014-15, 0.7% in 2015-16, and 4.9% in 2016-17 (PE). The dismal growth rates during 2014-16 are explained by deficient rainfall during those years, as 55% of agriculture in India is rainfall dependent. Farmers routinely have to brace for such shocks due to a lack of irrigation. What is even more of interest is that the last time BJP was in power, from 1999 to 2004, farm income per cultivator reduced in real terms—from Rs. 26875 to Rs. 26146.
The-then NDA government began with a GDP growth of 8% in its first full year of governance (1999-00). In the subsequent three financial years (2000-01 to 2002-03) there was a sharp decline in GDP growth rates to about 5% or less. This fall in GDP growth was mainly caused by a collapse in the agriculture growth rate to zero. However, in the final year of NDA-I, GDP growth came back to 8%, giving rise in part to the ‘India Shining’ campaign. Similarly, GDP growth under the Narendra Modi government took off during the initial years but during the middle of his term it shrunk to as low as 5.7%. This is still a better rate than under UPA, but BJP governments spark higher expectations. Just as under the first BJP government, GDP growth seems to be reviving and, according to the Economic Survey, could even touch 7.5% by the end of 2019.
What is the future outlook for the BJP?
What the NaMo government would like to avoid is repeating the electoral result of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. The only way it can avoid that is by improving the condition of farmers. Unless the Indian farmer is happy, slogans like ‘India Shining’ will never resonate throughout the countryside. Farmer protests have spread throughout the country in the past year, and are taking unique forms (Read: Why are farmers in India protesting with mice and human skulls? – BBC ). The government aims to double farmers’ income by 2022, which would be a gigantic task. If the government fails in its endeavours, its ‘Achhe Din’ rhetoric could turn on its head and hurt the BJP’s reputation.
The government should avoid entering the India Shining bubble before taking corrective measures to reward the farmers. The announcement of the World’s largest healthcare program for 50 crore Indian people, higher MSP on all farm products, the launching of Operation Green, and expanding e-NAM and other Gramin Markets in the Union Budget, are all signs that the BJP has learned its lessons from the past.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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