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Alliance in Trouble – Is BJP’s Popularity Eroding?

Alliance

Dissatisfaction against the performance of BJP is brewing in some quarters of people in India in general, and markedly among leaders and people of Andhra Pradesh.

It is not as if Narendra Modi and his party are unaware of it. But his well-wishers and BJP supporters among common people of the country, expect him to take steps to silence his critics by going slow but steady in implementing reforms so that the country has the benefit of his reformist rule at least for one more term by which time the results of his drastic reforms could be evident not only to the general public but also to the Opposition parties.

Though as of now the majority of common people in India are still solidly supportive of the Modi government, there is a growing section of people of the elite community and disgruntled politicians, who are angry with the changes that the NDA government led by BJP is taking up for the development of the country. Initially, the Congress Party and its allies took objection to the demonetization of higher value currencies, then the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Act and now the proposed Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill, 2017. A new problem for Modi is now coming up in the form of Center-State conflict raised in the reorganized Andhra Pradesh headed by Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), an alliance partner of Modi’s NDA government.

As the parliamentary elections and elections to some State assemblies are just a year and a half away, the restless Congress Party with Rahul Gandhi in the forefront as its president and Sonia Gandhi behind him, and aided by some of the UPA partners is mounting allegations after allegations against the ruling party with a view to tarnishing its image. The Congress Party, which ruled the country for about 70 years and scores of serious scams under its belt, now magnifies any issue that routinely surfaces – some imaginary, some cooked up, and some real ones including the teething troubles because of the implementation of reforms.

The first indication of BJP’s falling rating came to light after its three strenuous years of clean-up effort of the “dirt” the erstwhile scam-infested Congress government left behind, as well as at the end of the Gujarat Assembly elections. The wave of popularity the party enjoyed in that State during the time of Narendra Modi’s Chief Ministership was not evident in the recent State Assembly elections. It is a fact, that while Modi personally campaigned for the party in the State, Rahul Gandhi also jumped into the scene, briskly campaigned for his party and prayed at various Hindu temples. However, the BJP won the election to retain the power, but not with the same strength when Modi was the Chief Minister. Some say that the Congress Party would have got more seats, but for Mani Shankar Aiyar’s use of word “neech” against Modi, which angered some Gujarati voters, who voted for the BJP. The other issues that went against the Congress Party, include Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “unscheduled” visit to Pakistan in response to a “so called” invitation by that country leaders, and a “secret meeting” in New Delhi with some Pak functionaries by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and others when the country as a policy was not in favor of such meetings.

Though BJP won the Gujarat Assembly elections, the sliding rating of the party is causing anxiety and concerns in the minds of the people who want that Narendra Modi to lead the country at least for one more full term.

Lately there is a growing trend of general opposition to the Modi government-initiated Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill, 2017, which is also known as “banking bail-in bill.” The bill is intended to frame new rules to help failed banks and other financial institutions to recover. The new rules, include a provision which, if applied, could allow use of depositors’ money to bail the failed banks out. This is naturally creating a scare in the minds of middleclass and lower middleclass depositors, including retired employees, who deposit their money in long-term fixed deposits to earn higher interest that would help them for a living.

At a time like this, the announcement of Central Budget in which there has been no mention about special allocation of funds to Andhra Pradesh for its promised development, angered the Telugu people, leaders and parliamentarians of the Telugu Desam and other parties. They revived the demands for the “Special Status” for the State and for the release of funds for the projects like State capital development, speedy completion of the Polavaram project, creation of new railway zone with Visakhapatnam as zonal headquarters, setting up of a steel plant in Kadapa, funding for creation of campuses of new research and higher educational institutions and creation of new seaports in the state.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu had shown remarkable patience even if he had not got an interview with Narendra Modi for over a year. However, amid criticism that the Prime Minister was ignoring Andhra Pradesh, Naidu was given an interview by Modi only recently. Naidu exercised utmost restraint to launch any agitation, but after the announcement of the Central Budget and after a few meetings with various groups, he has succumbed to the pressures. Consequently, the MPs began stalling proceedings of Parliament, while they sought the Chief Minister to give an ultimatum to withdraw its support to the NDA government. In response to them, Naidu has said: “Right step will be taken at the right time.” He has set a deadline of March 5 for the Center to respond positively to the State’s demand for better budgetary allocations and release of Central assistance immediately.

As an extreme step, Naidu has hinted that his party would not hesitate to move a no-confidence motion against the Central government.

Meanwhile, there has been a galore of claims and counterclaims traded about the release of funds and aid between the Center and the State. While the Center, which has made it clear to the State that it does not merit the “Special Status” as per the norms, has said that it has been

fulfilling all its commitment under a special package, but the progress of various works undertaken by the State was not encouraging to release more funds. In reply, the State government has alleged that it has not been receiving promised funds to meet the expenses and, therefore, payments for several bills have been remaining pending. All these claims and counterclaims have created a sense of anger among the people of Andhra Pradesh.

The needs of this nascent State of Andhra Pradesh are definitely more. It needs substantial amount of funds for the creation of a new capital and other infrastructure facilities for functioning of a full-fledged State. It is a huge task. Being an agriculture-based State, it cannot generate huge revenues. There are not many big industries that can earn revenues for the State. It needs huge Central Budgetary support for setting up big, medium and small industries. Without incentives like subsidies, excise duty waivers and tax exemptions, even the rich Seemandhra people, who are traditionally agriculturists and landlords, would not risk investment in the new industries, though the State has ample natural resources. The Rayalaseema and the north Andhra districts have no adequate irrigation and agriculture resources. In these two regions, there are no infrastructural facilities to set up industries. The State with its backward regions requires Center’s support and aid to develop it as a viable full-fledged State. The Center is blamed for “ignoring” the TDP-ruled Andhra Pradesh’s needs in the current Budget, but favoring BJP-ruled states all the while and now the Congress-ruled Karnataka State with a view to winning the ensuing Assembly elections there. Whatever the Center may call it — special package or Special Status – the new Andhra Pradesh needs huge financial assistance.

While things are as they are, the Opposition YSR Congress chief, Jagan Mohan Reddy, to show one-up-manship over TDP leaders, says that his party stands firm on the demand for the Special Status to Andhra Pradesh, on a par with the 11 of the 28 States now enjoying in the country. If the Special Status is not granted to Andhra Pradesh, his party MPs would quit en masse on April 6.

The Telangana Rashtra Samithi, which is not an alliance partner of the NDA government, but extends support from outside, is also seeking more funds for the completion of the Kaleswaram project and improvement of infrastructure, health and education facilities in the backward Telangana districts. The pressure on the Center for increased release of funds is mounting from the Telugu-speaking people in both the States of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

In an attempt to seek “justice” to Andhra Pradesh for its “reconstruction efforts,” actor-turned-politician and chief of Jana Sena Party (JSP) Pawan Kalyan, bureaucrat-turned-politician and chief of Lok Satta Party Jayaprakash Narayan and other like-minded groups have formed a Joint Fact-finding Committee (JFC). These leaders seem to be not in favor of an aggressive agitation. But they want to enlist strength only after the JFC assesses State’s demands after making detailed study of where the Center has failed in fulfilling its commitment to the State and the quantum of aid it needs immediately to speed up the pending project works. They seem to be not in favor of resignation of Parliamentarians at the present juncture.

Meanwhile, in view of ensuing Parliamentary elections, some fence-sitting coalition partners of the BJP-led governments in the States and of the NDA government at the Center are keenly watching happenings in Andhra Pradesh, to take a decision on what course of action they would have to take if the TDP decides to withdraw support to the NDA government, and YSRC parliamentarians decide to resign.

Though the BJP, as of now, is strong enough to face any situation to complete its term, it needs to re-evaluate the present situation, likely consequences of its actions for it in the coming elections. There is need for its PR wing to work extra hours to tell the voters how its reforms have benefited the country, particularly as a result of the demonetization and the implementation of GST Act. It is also necessary for the BJP to go slow and not to push the implementation of Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill, 2017. The BJP must know that reforms meant for long-term benefits and of controversial nature can wait for the present, as there are only a few months left for their implementation, and to reap their results as Parliamentary elections are only a year and a half away. Political parties — both national and regional — are already gearing up for them.

For coalition partners of NDA, it is not the time to take any drastic action that could hurt the nation’s development. On the part of the voters, let this new dispensation under the NDA government led by BJP work to show results. Performance and success of a government of the size of India cannot be judged by one five-year term governance. India endured 60 years of rule by one party, and Indians are well-aware who have been the beneficiaries.

– Contributed by J.V. Lakshmana Rao, a freelance journalist, who works from Hyderabad and Chicago. He formerly worked as the Editor-in-Chief of India Tribune in the USA, and the national news coordinator of Indian Express and its News Service in New Delhi, and Resident Editor of Deccan Chronicle in Visakhapatnam.

Picture Credits: indiatoday.in



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