The pandemic, in many ways, has forced a reboot within the administration, which is why fresh beginnings are now possible. The government articulated this at the highest level by saying upfront that it intends to convert a crisis into an opportunity. This is how political will was mustered to initiate much-delayed agriculture and labour reforms, which, as year ends, still remain a work in progress.
The challenge will be to not just stay the course, but demonstrate political intent to further broaden the ambit of reforms and accelerate the processes of execution where decisions have been made like the new education policy. This is now a political must, not just an economic requirement for BJP.
Why? Because one of the achievements of the Modi government has been the success of its social welfare schemes, which are raising aspirations through improved quality of living – be it through a pucca house, drinking water connection, electricity as well as gas connections. The only way these increased expectations can be met will be through larger wealth creation.
While it’s clear that the way forward on this count will be through structural reforms and formalisation of the economy, the process of doing so will face resistance just like the ongoing agitations against the new farm laws. The government could find itself put on test with every reform decision, but it will have to find the resolve to move on, keeping the larger picture in mind.
The way these decisions are executed on the ground will have a significant bearing on building support for reform measures down the road. Which is why it’s important that more jobs with better income flow as a consequence of these decisions. And that’s where ramping up infrastructure to sustain policy decisions will be vital.
In all this, pressures from the external environment will be on the rise. China, which has adopted a militarily aggressive posture against India in 2020, will look to drive home its economic advantage. The recent trade and investment deal with the European Union, achieved through German assistance, is a big signal to the next US Administration that Beijing can get important business done regardless of power shifts in Washington. In fact, China will hope that this will make President-elect Joe Biden also fall in line.
India’s choices, in this context, are not just limited but narrowing. It needs to think and act fast, cement its partnerships and become the economic alternative it always aspired to be. The point is competition is quite stiff, especially at a time so uncertain, such as now, when all countries – big or small – are keen on first securing their economic prospects in the immediate future.
The external challenge for India, thus, will be to compete hard in the economic sphere and find resources to strengthen its defence and security establishment. All this will require a governance mix of immense political will, effective policy execution and strong economic intent.
Why 2021 could prove to be a turning point is also because there will always be the lure to opt for the politically more expedient agenda, which are usually on divisive lines. That would be a political distraction with terrible consequences in the long run.
The one big incentive for BJP to lay its bets on governance is the electoral success, including in Bihar, through its welfare model. The digitisation process, minimising the role of mediators and reducing possibilities of patronage have worked well to the extent that now it’s said there’s a well-defined ‘Modi vote’ woven around this narrative.
Can the NDA government and BJP as party take this to the next level to make governance its primary and sole political pitch? The New Year will tell us if BJP’s politics will follow that course or not. As for Modi, the PM, the task is cut out – do all what’s needed to make India competent enough to compete at a critical juncture in its history.