The expression ‘economic reforms’ is back in the governance lexicon of India. With the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID19) bringing nations to a physical slowdown if not a complete standstill, and jobs and GDP growth becoming collateral damage, the mere announcement and phraseology of reforms seems to have become a solution. Unfortunately, and perhaps its early days, communication rather than action, words rather than deeds, and tactics rather than strategy seems to be dominating the discourse.
India’s middle class will count a few rupees, bank depositors will get a little security, privatisation enthusiasts will chew on a new player in the market. But other than high-sounding grandiose statements, India’s Budget 2020 has delivered no expectations. This was preordained, of course.
Dreaming big doesn’t necessarily mean acting big. Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s maiden Budget speech captures New Delhi’s $5 trillion aspiration by 2025 (that’s one year’s postponement) and delivers some of the minute needed to get there. If you’re looking for ‘big bang reforms’, don’t look for it in Budget 2019.
“India wins yet again!” Narendra Modi announced in May 2019, just after securing a second term as Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy in a landslide general elections victory. When Modi was elected for a first term five years ago, he promised that India would win back its place at the high table of leading world powers. Indeed, after decades of sustained growth, India today is at a tipping point in terms of socio-economic prospects for its 1.35 billion citizens.
India is gripped by an election fever. All elections carry elements of unpredictability but in India’s seventy year history, the 2019 elections are critical. Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 and is seeking another term. The opposition parties are concerned about Modi’s polarising influence and are determined to prevent a BJP victory though they have been unable to put up a united front on account of internal differences.
Unless Prime Minister Narendra Modi calls them earlier, India’s next general elections will begin on Monday, 8 April 2019. Working backwards, the Code of Conduct under the Election Commission of India – under which the government cannot announce new projects, programmes, concessions or financial grants to prevent it from influencing voters – should be in force from Friday, 8 March 2019. As he begins the final lap of his tenure as Prime Minister, Modi has just about nine months to deliver new economic reforms and policies.
When Narendra Modi was elected Prime Minister of India in 2014, he promised to push through key reforms and bring about the massive economic development needed for the “world’s largest democracy” to win its place among global superpowers. With over 1.3 billion citizens, India is soon to become the world’s most populous country, and more than one quarter of the people joining global workforce during the next decade will be Indian. The poorest of the world’s 20 largest economies, India’s potential for catch-up growth is enormous.