Does the lack of a clear policy direction by opposition parties tip the electoral scale in favour of Narendra Modi?

By Vinod Mishra

Profs meet at Monash for panel discussion on Indian General Elections 2019

In order to have an informed discussion and debate around the issues surrounding the Indian elections, some of the academics in Monash University organised a panel discussion on Wednesday, 17 April. Moderated by Prof Ranjan Ray and attended by academics, research students and other members of the community, the panel discussion focused on the economy of India, nationalism and religious harmony, and energy security.

The discussion was kick-started by Ranjan Ray, who highlighted the changing election landscape in Indian between 2009 elections to 2014 elections. Ray, a professor in the Department of Economics at Monash University with research interests in the areas of development economics and applied welfare economics, pointed out to the fact that while the incumbent National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government lost the election in 2004 to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the story completely changed in 2014 when Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) lead NDA gained a full majority in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) with Narendra Modi taking oath as the 14th prime minister of India. He also highlighted that a key achievement of Indian democracy is that, by and large, the elections are fair and honest and the Indian electorate in any of the Indian states does not feel loyal to any political party. Despite the accusations of Indian voters’ voting based on cast and religion, one can clearly see that the vast changes in elections outcomes point to a ground reality that’s completely different.

Gaurav Dutt and Vinod Mishra discussed the state of Indian Economy and commented on the performance of the Narendra Modi government in the last five years. Datt, an Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the Centre for Dev Economics and Sustainability, raised concerns over the growing unemployment; especially the youth unemployment, in India; whereas Mishra, an Associate Professor and Director of Education in the Department of economics at Monash University, pointed out the fact that the unemployment data does not capture the self-employment and unemployment in the unorganised sector of the Economy. He also commented that the media reports of a large number of people applying for a few low-level government jobs; may not be a true indicator of unemployment in India.

All it reflects is that a government job is still considered quite lucrative in India. Among the other economic indicators, it was pointed out that the key economic achievements of the current government include fasted economic growth among the major economies, implementation of Goods and services tax (GST), implementation of insolvency and bankruptcy code, Jan Dhan Yojna, Electrification of villages and governments efforts towards building toilets.

Mukesh Garg commented on commendable efforts taken by the government of India in the renewable energy sector; namely the world’s biggest investment in solar energy infrastructure. Garg, Senior Lecturer and Director of Programs (Accounting) at Monash University, also pointed to the fact that growth in India’s financial markets is indicative of the investor confidence in the Indian Economy. Srinivas Sridharan, Associate Professor of Marketing and Associate Dean, Grant Development in Monash Business School, added that apart from government initiatives, the private sector also plays an important role in providing off-grid solutions in the renewable energy space.

Umesh Sharma, Professor in the Faculty of Education at Monash University, spoke about the issue of National security and the risks associated with not finding a timely solution to Kashmir problem. He applauded the current government’s tough stance on cross border terrorism and expressed the need for legislation to remove the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, by abolishing the article 370 and 35A from Indian constitution.

On the question of, who is going to form the next government in India, all the panelists agreed that Narendra Modi led NDA will more likely form the government this year, although there was some disagreement on whether NDA will get as big a majority as in 2014 or not. The panelists also agreed that overall the achievements of the current government, exceed its shortcomings. Moreover, the lack of any clear policy direction by the opposition parties clearly tips the electoral scale in favour of Narendra Modi led NDA government.

Prof Pushkar Maitra, a Professor of Economics at Monash University, whose primary area of research is Development Economics, was also part of the panel discussion.

The logistical support for the discussion was provided by South Asia Research Network (SARN) and Centre for Development Economics and sustainability (CDES). The event was held in the Learning and Teaching Building of the Clayton campus of Monash University.


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