Last week I participated in a very exciting seminar at Carleton University, which discussed the directions of India’s new majority government.
This is a very special time for India. It’s the the first time since 1984 that voters elected a majority government. The weight of expectations on the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on both the domestic and foreign agenda is enormous.
My fellow panelists felt that the first 100 days had perhaps been disappointing. Both Vivek Dehejia (author of Indianomix: Making Sense of Modern India) and Anil Varughese felt that in both domestic and international politics, the government was moving slower than may have been expected. The first budget was seen as under-whelming. Even this majority government has to balance political powers, for example resulting in position vis-a-vis trade liberalisation, and taking into account the power of regional politics. There was much excitement about the way relations with China might be changing.
I felt that with respect to social policies, a change in direction is in the air. The Planning Commission and the Independent Evaluation Office will be replaced with new bodies, and this signals new ways of implementation of public policies. The state’s aim is to forge a “new direction to lead the country based on creative thinking, public-private partnership, optimum utilisation of resources, utilisation of youth power of the nation, to promote the aspirations of state governments seeking development, to empower the state governments and to empower the federal structure”. It will be very interesting to see what the government will do with NREGA, the world’s largest social protection scheme. So far, the leading party has clearly recognised the value of NREGA, and has stated it wants to see it play a bigger role in promoting rural infrastructure and asset creation.
For me, the thing to watch is whether the new government manages to protect the value NREGA has had for large numbers of poor people in rural India, and gradually move it to simultaneously enhancing the rural economy.