Tough times for Modi govt in 2016
What does the crystal ball say about the year 2016 for the Modi government? It is crucial for his administrative, electoral, economic and foreign policy initiatives. Next year will decide whether the Modi magic will continue or slide further. Politically it will be a challenging year for not only the BJP but also other parties. The current year has passed with two crushing defeats for the BJP – Delhi and Bihar – and some cheer for the Congress-JD(U)-RJD combine after the Bihar elections. Inspired by the success, non-NDA parties may form an alliance for the next year’s Assembly polls. In Parliament, Modi will continue to face challenges to pass bills in the Upper House as the NDA tally is not going to increase in near future.
Five states are going to polls in 2016 – West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala and Assam. Except Puducherry, the rest are all big states. The Congress is in power in Assam and Kerala. The other three states are ruled by regional parties.
In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is poised to come back because of a weak and divided opposition. Mamata is strategically working on how to keep the opposition divided and keep her flock intact. There are also signs of a Congress – TMC alliance. The other parties do not have a leader, who can match Mamata’s status. So, the election may ultimately end up as a one horse race.
As for Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa was all poised to return until the recent rain fury came as a setback. Jaya too faces a weak opposition although the Congress, DMK, PMK, MDMK and DMDK are trying to take advantage of the chaos after the flood havoc. The Congress is almost wiped out while the BJP is hoping to improve. However, the arithmetic so far is in favor of Jaya unless they all come together. In the past four years, she has launched special schemes like Amma canteen, Amma mineral water, and Amma cement for the middle class and poor. Many more populist schemes are on the anvil.
Puducherry Chief Minister N. Rangaswamy of the All India NR congress, who broke away from the Congress and won the state, is an NDA ally. A five-party front comprising CPI, CPM, RSP, VCK and MDMK has been formed in Puducherry recently.
As for Assam and Kerala, the Congress may not retain either. In Assam, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is staring at anti-incumbency. The weak chief minister is hoping for a fourth term in office. Both parties are wooing the AGP. The BJP has some advantage. In Kerala, which alternates between the LDF and the UDF, it is the turn of the LDF now. So politically the BJP is likely to improve its chances while the Congress may lose the state.
Next year may see Rahul Gandhi taking over the reins of the Congress Party. Already Rahul decides most of the issues either in Parliament or outside. The party is enthused after the Bihar success, but it has to build upon it at the gross root level. Losing two states like Assam and Kerala might lower the party’s morale.
As for the BJP, the organizational elections will be over by early next year and the party may have a new team in place. It is a question mark whether Amit Shah will continue as the party chief or a new leader will take over. A good performance in polls will enthuse the cadre. On the economic front, the outlook is promising if the government goes ahead with the reform measures. Narendra Modi should reshuffle and put competent ministers in economic ministries. The first challenge is to reach the 7.5 percent growth target predicted by the IMF for next year. The good news is the slide in the crude oil prices, which is as low as $33 per barrel. However, the failure to pass the GST Bill through Parliament it is a major setback for Modi’s reform agenda. Other crucial bills are also stuck. The budget, which may be a challenge, could indicate some positive measures. However, inflation and price rise, which directly affect the common man, need to be tackled. It requires a good monsoon and other supportive measures. If the Indian economy palpably improves over the next year, people will be convinced of Modi’s growth model.
On the foreign policy front, Modi would continue his efforts to befriend the countries he visits, but with some diminishing returns as the novelty factor is starting to wear off. His visit to Islamabad early next year to attend the SAARC meeting is crucial. The other important visit would be to Israel with whom India is getting closer. Modi may also go to Japan for a bilateral meeting.
The New Year will begin with the participation of the French President Francois Hollande as the Republic Day chief guest. Most other P-5 country leaders have already visited India in the past 18 months. There may not be much movement in the Indo-US ties as the latter will be busy with the presidential polls. There could be some gains from the Europe if matters are followed up.
As for the neighborhood, New Delhi needs a fresh direction in the Indo-Sri Lankan ties and push for the resolution of Tamils, which remains unresolved. Relationship with Nepal has slid after the declaration of its New Constitution and this needs correction. As for Bangladesh, with West Bengal going for polls, not much can be expected on the Teesta treaty till the middle of 2016. On the whole, the outlook for the Modi Government in 2016 is mixed.
(The author is a senior political commentator. Views expressed are strictly personal)