Ahead of 2019 Indian General Elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Achhe Din’ translating to “Good Days” game seems to be nearing an end as people in India think they have been let down by his government. Despite the high growth in the economy of the country, there has been no improvement in the lives of the common people which may Modi’s prospects in the 2019 Indian General Elections. EurAsian Times looks at an article from Al-Jazeera.
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PM Modi swept India’s 2014 general election with the slogan “Achhe Din” or Good Days are coming”. Four years later, as he prepares to win the re-election early next year, he and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are being hit for a lack of jobs, falling prices of agricultural commodities and rural wages, a tax reform that led to unemployment and a demonetisation exercise that sapped liquidity.
Despite the high economic growth, the fall of the rupee currency to record lows this year has led to a swell in prices of largely imported fuel, which is serving into inflation. Protests all over the country have broken out because of the price rise.
“There’s no improvement in our life. We eat two basic meals a day but struggle to save for soap and detergent,” Misri Lal, 52, said in Bhomada village in central India’s Madhya Pradesh state, where he earns $2 a day watching over a yellowish-green soybean farm.
In a series of interviews in India’s political heartland, the northern and central plains, many people said they had been disappointed by Modi’s government. But in a country of 1.3 billion people, it was difficult to determine how far the disillusionment had spread and how much it could affect Modi and the BJP at the next general election.
Despite its irregular performance on the economy, the BJP remains robustly Hindu nationalist, which plays well among many voters. Modi’s aides insist the party will not suffer in the election and will repeat the 2014 performance.
They also say the BJP will do well in three big state elections due later in 2018, which could indicate how things will go in the general election. Opinion polls predict PM Modi will stay in power but the gap against the opposition was narrowing.
“There’s no improvement in our life. We eat two basic meals a day but struggle to save for soap and detergent,” said Lal. But “achhe din”, which has become synonymous with Modi and his rule, is being ridiculed on social media in India. A cartoon widely distributed on WhatsApp had a man looking through a telescope for “good days”. Another had Modi sitting in front of a spinning wheel weaving “achhe din” stories.
Some BJP officials privately say they are not quite sure of sentiment in the small towns and villages of rural India, where two-thirds of the people live.
Lalu, the farmhand, said he was a BJP supporter for a long time now but it was time for the change. “We’ve always voted for them but people are angry now. It appears things will change this time around,” Lalu said.
The Modi administration has accepted that farmers are suffering in a country where agriculture is the biggest employer, engaging 263 million people or 55% of the total number of workers.
“Trends in inflation clearly show that farmers are under distress due to un-remunerative prices and need to be compensated appropriately,” India’s farm ministry said in a report sent to states last month and seen by Reuters news agency.
Rural wages have declined across India compared with a high growth period during the rule of the centre-left Congress party which aggressively favoured a rural jobs scheme that guaranteed every citizen paid work for at least 100 days in a year. Economists say its effect has now ruined.
A boom in the construction sector had sustained the growth in wages but that has since slowed down dramatically, dragged by Modi’s November 2016 move to suck high-value currency notes out of the system to fight corruption and then a sweeping goods and services tax (GST) that companies are struggling to adapt to.
India Ratings & Research, a unit of international agency Fitch said that average inflation-adjusted growth in rural wages fell to 0.45% between 2015-16 and 2017-18, compared with 11.18% between 2012-13 and 2014-15.
The Reserve Bank of India says that high growth in rural wages from 2007-08 to 2012-13 was followed by a phase of “significant deceleration”.
“GST and demonetisation have really depressed the construction industry. I get only 20% of the work I used to get before demonetisation,” said Chotelal Rajput, a construction contractor in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, as he stopped by a busy roundabout where dozens of workers gathered to be hired for daily wages.
In Wai, a small town south of Mumbai, Mithilesh Yadav said he voted for Modi last time but would not do so again. “The BJP was talking about bringing down inflation, bringing down petrol and diesel prices, but instead they are raising prices every day,” the 26-year-old said. “All tall claims made by Modi were just advertising and we fell for it. I won’t commit the mistake again,” he added.
War for jobs
Many political analysts say Modi’s incompetent to create tens of millions of jobs for the country’s youth – a promise which helped him secure the largest mandate in three decades in 2014 – would be the biggest threat to his bid for another term.
“No one here will vote for Modi,” said Rakesh Kumar, a college graduate in the town of Kasba Bonli in northern Rajasthan state who says he has worked as a house painter because he could not get any other employment.
Kumar said he finally found a job as a teacher in a private college last month but his monthly wage is only 8,000 rupees (about $111). The town voted overwhelmingly for the BJP in 2014.
In Panipat, a town north of New Delhi, labourers in textile mills said hundreds had been laid off because many small business owners could not cope with the complexities of the new GST regime and had shut shop.
Gopal Krishna Agarwal, a BJP spokesperson, said the country could not expect the Modi government to fix all its problems in so short a time.
“India has been independent for more than 70 years and we can’t say that problems that have persisted for around 65 years would go away in four and half years,” said Agarwal. “We’re not saying every problem has been solved but our focus and direction are correct,” he added.
The BJP is also certain about its prospects next year because of the fractured opposition. Rahul Gandhi of the Congress is Modi’s main opponent, but there are a host of regional parties that are likely to divide the opposition vote.
India Today news magazine published a survey last month foretelling the BJP would lose seats compared with 2014, but retain just enough to form a government with allies if the opposition remained divided. It predicted the BJP would win 36% of the vote and Congress 31% but said smaller parties would get 33%.
Gandhi told a group of journalists last month that a “robust opposition alliance” would be in place before the 2019 election and that a candidate of a combined opposition would go up against the BJP in each constituency.
“More damage has been done to India by this government than any in the past and everyone recognises the over-riding need to thwart them,” said Gandhi, referring to the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda that critics say has targeted the country’s minorities.
Subhanshu, a college student from Meerut, said Modi’s singular failure had been the lack of jobs. “‘Achhe din’ is only for the rich, the businessmen who get fat contracts, for the rest of us it has been a letdown,” he said. “There is a war out there for jobs,” he added.