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BJP-led NDA Coalition Government: Continuity and Change | P. S. Jayaramu

Saturday 22 June 2024, by P S Jayaramu


June 17, 2024

The BJP-led NDA Government has assumed office again. It is improper to describe it as Modi 3:O, as the mainstream media is describing. It is only appropriate to describe it as a BJP-led NDA Government. The BJP, on its own, was is in a minority and solicited the support of the Telugu Desam Party ( TDP), the Janata Dal (U) and the Shinde-led Shiva Sena, who secured 16, 12, and 7 seats respectively to form the Government. The Coalition Government is no doubt headed by Narendra Modi, which is technically his third term as Prime Minister. The comparison with Jawaharlal Nehru should stop at that; because Nehru led a single-party majority government for three consecutive terms, which is not the case with Narendra Modi.

The discussion in the mainstream media and sections of the academia is that Narendra Modi will maintain a continuity in his policies in his third term. The supportive evidence of that is that the key ministerial positions—those of defence, finance, foreign affairs and education —are held by the same persons. The continuity, it is argued, will be largely reflected in the defence, foreign, financial and educational policies, which were for all practical purposes decided by Prime Minister Modi during his previous two terms. It is unfortunate that Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar decided to go soft and not demand any key portfolios for themselves knowing full well that Narendra Modi was dependent on them to form the Government. They buckled, most probably, led by their predominant interest of getting either a special package for their States or at least higher financial support for the development projects. An opportunity sacrificed at the altar of self and state inerests. With a stronger nerve, they could have forced Modi to agree to their terms. At the time of writing, it remains to be seen whether Chandrababu Naidu will do any hard bargaining for the Speaker’s post or, as is being rumoured, will settle down for the Deputy Speaker’s position or not even that!!

Let me look at the likely policy continuities. The economic and financial Policies will, in all probability, be pro-business with emphasis on inviting investments from Foreign Business Houses and soliciting investments by the global players in the Indian stock market. The broad indications of such policy continuities will be seen in the budget. The MSME sector, despite all the glib talk, may not get any substantive benefits either in terms of financial allocations in the forthcoming budget or in the form of tax, power tariff and land concessions. The consequences of all these would be heightened inequalities within urban and rural India, something for which the BJP suffered electoral setbacks in the recently concluded Lok Sabba elections.

In the agricultural sector, though the Prime Minister has put Shivraj Singh Chouhan in charge of the ministry for having successfully handled it as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, there are no indications of announcements of the farmers’ demands being met, chiefly their demand for a legally guaranteed minimum support price (MSP) for their produce. The Modi Government may feel satisfied with its earlier policy of direct cash transfers to the poor, including agricultural labourers. In any case, the farmers issues will be a litmus test to the government, specially Shivaraj Singh Chouhan.

The defence sector will witness a continuity with higher allocations for buying of modern weapons systems from diverse sources . As the data shows, India is one of the largest buyers of weapons in the World. The status quo would continue along with kickbacks to the weapons suppliers and possibly to some ‘babus’ in the offialdom. How much emphasis would be given to domestic weapons manufacturers under the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ scheme remains to be seen. More critically, how successful would the Government be in dealing with the mounting Chinese challenge in the Ladhak and other north-eastern regions remains to be seen. Chinese hegemony will be a hard task to deal with or Modi and Rajnath Singh, the latter’s brave statements notwithstanding. As widely reported a review of the Agniveer project almost single-handedly by Prime Minister Modi during his second term will be very much in the table.

With Dr. Jaishankar remaining the Foreign Minister, there is , likely to be a larger continuity in the field of foreign policy. United States and Europe would receive gratester Policy focus and visibility. However, there are question marks over whether India would successfully play a key role in the global efforts to hammer out a lasting peaceful settlement of the two key conflicts—the Ukraine war and the Hamas-Isreal conflict. How dexterous and innovative would Indian diplomacy be under Dr. Jaishankar in dealing with these two vexed conflicts remains to be seen. Yet another challenge in the field of foreign policy would be how successful India will be in projecting itself as a leader in advancing the interests of the Global South in international affairs, in the aftermath of its Chairmanship of G20.

The Education ministry remains under Dharmendra Pradhan, a trusted Modi loyalist. New Education Policy (NEP) and its implementation is likely to be an area of contestation as the key coalition partners are not enthusiastic about it. In such an ambience, the NEP may be put on the backburner with the NDA allies and INDIA bloc being opposed to it. Along with the NEP, the recommendation for replacing the University Grants Commission ( UGC) by four verticles as organisational structures for implanting the Policy might vanish in thin air. BJP’s saffronisation of education project too would face stiff opposition from the TDP and the JD (U).

Furthermore, BJP and Narendra Modi are likely to come under intense pressure in their efforts to come up with the Uniform Civil Code, another of its stellar project. The TDP would oppose it though JD (U) supremo Nitish Kumar has talked of ‘ in principle’ support to it. Nitish Kumar has, however, stressed the need for building a consensus among the Coalition partners on the issue. The INDIA bloc led by the Congress Party, the TMC, the SP and the DMK are seriously oppose the Uniform Civil Code idea. The implementation of CAA too might get into rough weather as the BJP Government in Assam wants to soft-peddle the issue.

Finally, it is pragmatic to assume that the BJP and Narendra Modi may themselves like to tread cautiously on controversial issues given the fact that they lack the majority and are likely to face tough challenges in the assembly elections in Maharastra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Delhi this winter and in 2025. Also, Narendra Modi would be keen on completing one year in office smoothly by which time he would attain 75 years. His continuance in office after 75 may depend upon many factors ( and actors too) including his own decision in the context of his rule that no leader should hold ministerial positions after attaining 75 years of age, the possible dissentions within the Party for his continuance as PM and the role RSS may like to play if the Political and electoral tide turns against the BJP .

(Author, Dr. P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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