Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday remarked at a media event that he is ready to pay a 'big political price' to change India. What he meant was that he would not hesitate in taking unpopular decisions, which may be in fact in the best interest of the nation. The PM's resolve to take such politically risky decisions, for example, the move to demonetise high-value currency notes in 2016, comes in the wake of upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections where his party BJP is locked in a multi-cornered contest amid anti-incumbency jitters. A victory for the BJP in the PM's home state is important, if not crucial, for the party and the PM himself.
Besides demonetisation, implementation of GST (Goods & Services Tax) was the other major decision of his government, which impacted people on a large scale. Did these decisions make him unpopular? And will the electorate in Gujarat, and Himachal Pradesh where assembly elections were conducted last month and whose results will be declared together with Gujarat Assembly election results, express their displeasure through their votes? But more importantly, if the BJP wins the elections in the two states, will it stand vindicated and ready to unleash more of those politically risky decisions as the Prime Minister has spoken in no uncertain terms?
Going by major economic indicators, the current state of the country's economy is healthy with GDP posting a growth for the last quarter at 6.4 per cent and international credit rating firm Moody's giving an upgrade to India. After harsh criticism of his government's handling of the economy from his party men Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, these positive indicators lend the government the moral authority needed to continue with its policies. PM's assertion that he will continue to take politically risky decisions to bring about irreversible changes comes in the backdrop of these recent positive economic indicators.
Fighting corruption and black money has been a key agenda of the Modi-led NDA government at the Centre. Demonetisation has thrown up a huge amount of data about companies and people who need to be probed for the unaccounted wealth they have accumulated. Income-Tax Department, Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation are taking actions based on data generated through demonetisation.
The probing agencies have new leads to work on. And, this can lead to a cleaner economic environment, where every monetary transaction is made formally through the banking system. While this behavioural change may sound great as an idea, implementing it to the last details need time and a totally revamped workforce. Until then, this great idea may cause inconvenience to the common people and in turn, would dent PM's popularity.
His government's resolve to expose benami properties and take action against people who are holding such land banks and real estate pieces across the country is another move in fighting corruption and black money. But at the moment, this is a non-starter and one needs to wait to see how the government takes this drive forward.
Apart from these measures which go on to punish people in the name of reforms and public good, the Modi government has been awfully short of initiatives on developmental and social fronts. The coming together of young Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and the much younger Hardik Patel in Gujarat Assembly polls will strike a chord with the youth in the state. Low economic growth in key sectors which provide maximum employment has left an army of young people without a job. This segment of youth voters, neglected and bereft of opportunity, may upset the BJP' apple cart in Gujarat. The BJP is keenly aware of this possibility and perhaps that's why it has launched a scheme called, "Each booth, 25 youth".
When the PM says he is ready to pay a big political price to bring about systematic and irreversible changes, does he mean this would alienate some sections of the society and make them hostile to the government?
The critics of the Modi government often cited the presence of non-entities in his cabinet who are not able to chalk out and execute independent plans for their ministries. Experts find it disconcerting that key ministries like finance, defence and foreign affairs are run in what they call ad-hoc manner. The youth brigade is conspicuous by their absence from the Modi cabinet. The youthful energy of young talents is not on the forefront of the NDA government.
It is in this backdrop that Rahul Gandhi's emergence as the top favourite of the electorate looks imminent. Or so the thinking goes in the BJP circles. PM's latest remarks may also be aimed at fighting off this sense of insecurity among the BJP workers.