One of the defining images of the second year of the BJP raj was the premature celebration of its workers outside the party's Bihar office on Patna's Beer Chand Patel Road on November 8 when TV channels erroneously declared it the winner of the electoral battle.
Once the real picture emerged, the embarrassed workers quickly washed the gulal off their faces, stashed away the crackers and threw away the garlands and sweets on the road. Aptly, Patna's cows ate away all the laddoos and trampled the garlands. Just as the BJP learnt that day the perils of celebrating on the basis of early electoral trends, it should now bear in mind the dangers of reading too much into the performance of a government in its second year.
The second year of a popular government is just the inflexion point where the proverbial honeymoon period ends and the time to perform begins. It is generally the time when opinions start taking shape, performances start getting measured and results of the decisions and policy initiatives start emerging.
Many Indian Prime Ministers have made the mistake of making too much of their initial years. Indira Gandhi, called a Durga no less in 1971, appeared destined for an endless reign before she lost it completely by the end of the third year. Her son Rajiv, a harbinger of hope, symbol of zest and energy just like Narendra Modi, appeared to be at the peak of his popularity in 1986 before he became an anathema to voters by the end 1987.
This is not to say Modi is destined for a similar fate. But, the real battle for Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins now. How he performs now onwards will decide whether he gets a second term or fades away as a failure.
Next year will pose several tough challenges for Modi. On the cusp of the second anniversary of his government, Modi has had the advantage of an electoral high in Assam. This has added to the optimism within the party and the euphoria among followers. God forbid if Bihar had coincided with 26 May, 2016.
The third anniversary may not be celebrated among salubrious circumstances. First up is Punjab and then there is Uttar Pradesh to contend with. In both the states ground reports do not predict happy days for the BJP or its allies.
In Punjab, it would be a miracle if the BJP-SAD alliance retains power. In all likelihood, the two partners will battle for the second slot with the AAP poised to take the pole position. In UP, a survey conducted by Hindi Daily shows the BJP, Congress and Samajwadi Party are all ceding ground to Mayawati. Another worrying trend for the BJP would be the decline in the PM's ability to influence elections. After learning lessons from its Modi-centric poll strategy in Bihar and Punjab, the BJP reverted to a state-specific campaign in Assam, cut down on Modi's rallies and handed over reins to local leaders. All this shows that to win future electoral battles, the BJP would have to do much more than just expect the PM to turn up at rallies.
Though electoral victories lift the mood of a government, help it retain the aura of invincibility and popularity, their outcome makes no difference to the lives of ordinary voters. Poll wins are just the means, not the end. So, next year Modi will have to focus on several other measurable goals. Reviving growth, generating jobs, controlling inflation — not the indices but the real prices real people pay for real dal-roti stuff.
As The Indian Express report points out, macro data on industrial growth, trade and the Purchasing Managers Index — a measure of future orders and, therefore, investor sentiment — strongly point to deep depression in the industry and the expansive ground it has to cover in the coming quarters. For, moribund private investment, poor capacity utilisation and shrinking space for big spend by the Centre and states will mean that a recovery in investment cycle, so crucial for sustainable growth, will, at best, be slow and grinding, and will take at least 12-18 months to show.
Anecdotal evidence suggests a sharp drop in both urban and rural consumption, slowdown in key industries and a decline in return on investments. Much of this problem is because of two successive rain-deficit years. Yet, it will take much more than a monsoon to revive confidence.
In a survey conducted among housewives by Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar more than 40 percent respondents said their household budgets have gone haywire since Modi became the PM. The paper predicts that if elections were held today, the BJP would lose 9.69 percent female voters.
The reasons are not difficult to understand. Prices of pulses, vegetables and fruits have gone up several times since 2014. Incomes, a result of a sluggish economy, have stagnated. Obviously, the promised achche din will remain a dream till prices come down and incomes go up.
In an op-ed for Thursday's The Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta argues the Modi government has "no sense of framework for the single most important challenge for India: Jobs. This lack is now manifesting in social challenges bubbling from below."
India's youth have been Modi's biggest constituency. But to keep them in his fold, the NDA government will have to create millions of jobs every year to ensure they do not walk into the enticing arms of the likes of Hardik Patel and Haryana's Jat leaders eager to pounce on the opportunities thrown up by the bubbling social challenges.
In his inimitable style, cartoonist Manjul recently drew Modi huffing and puffing on a treadmill with a brutal sentence: "You have successfully completed the campaign mode. To switch to governance mode, press any button."
In his third year, Modi has no other option. Hold the laddoos till the cows come home.
Updated Date: May 26, 2016 16:53 PM