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Assam votes for progress, development; Modi must reorient economy, create jobs

 

The stupendous victory of BJP in Assam is indicative of the people endorsing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic programmes. The hope he had kindled is reflected in the mandate.

Merely to say that the results were due to polarisation of votes is over-simplifying a myriad picture. During elections polarisation does not take place merely because people want to jump to one side. The hopes such combination generates leads to the final result.

Assam, where the NDA has swept the polls, indicates the rejection of Congress policies – Manmohanomics – on all fronts. It is not only at the social or political plain but also the aspirations for better economic conditions, jobs, agriculture and industrial growth have changed the equation.

The PM’s catch-line Gramoday to Bharat Uday has created an appeal. This has helped the party leave its stamp in other states as well, though gains may be minimal. Opening account in difficult terrain itself is an indication that the party is making inroads into virgin pastures.

This is also the challenge for the prime minister, who is completing two years in office. His numerous programmes – Make in India to Stand Up and Start-Up India, reviving agriculture, eliminating corruption, direct cash benefit et al – have been able to win people’s trust.

It is no less than a miracle amid sharp non-cooperation by a combined Congress-Left opposition. They did not leave a chance to heckle the government, stall land and GST bills and cause ruckus at the slightest opportunity.

The Modi government also has to suffer for the non-performance of the predecessor UPA on several counts. It inherited an economy, which has severe cash crunch, banks denuded by reckless loans taken by larges houses, dwindling jobs owing to severe mechanisation and corporate apathy in recruiting people.

Despite this the prime minister went on to announce new programmes like Ujjawla that gives free gas connection to poor families. During this short tenure the vision for electricity has also changed. There is improvement in power generation, overall improvement in relations with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh’s relationship with the Modi government is particularly cordial, especially given its ability to seal the land swap deal (to demarcate the Indo-Bangladesh border once and for all).

It is also important to note that only because Bangladesh agreed to allow India to use its fibre optic cables, Tripura has been able to get internet connectivity. It generated many jobs.

With Iran too new deals on energy and ports are likely to create a new security and job environment.

The people are realising that the Modi government projects would yield results. Most of his programmes are long term. These would yield results in the course of time. Politically such programmes so far were not hot selling. Populist programmes were the favourites of political parties whether these succeeded or not. Nobody also cared, as one can see in Delhi too, how such programmes emptied the exchequer.

Much of the current dismal economic scenario at the central level and the states are the result of such populism. In Assam, no such populist slogans were given. There is an undercurrent that once the BJP-led government is in power the Bangladeshis would be sent out. BJP’s partner AGP has been demanding this since 1985 accord with Rajiv Gandhi. The issue is ticklish. But for that no populist projections were made.

The new situation is challenging. The Modi government would have to make efforts to solve the issue not only because it has made a promise. The new state government and the centre would be of the same party. As the economy of Assam and North-East progresses, the prime minister would have to look for amicable solutions of these irritants without disturbing either the social fibre or relations with neighbour.

Modi government is on critical path. Its goodwill in Assam and North-East depends on diplomatic solutions to issues that were kept pending for long by the Congress governments in the state. It has to strive hard not only to create new highs but also to ensure that the economy in all the parts of the country takes a new turn. The hope it has generated is not belied.

The opposition is keen on upsetting the applecart on issues like prices or jobs. But Modi has to go beyond. The hurdles being created by NGT and similar other organisations to delay projects, create an unfriendly industrial scenario have to be solved to give economy the necessary boost. The curbs on diesel cars, high taxes in the name of so-called pollution and similar issues are not helping. Auto giant Mercedes put India investment on hold for quixotic orders on 2000 cc diesel cars.  Toyota, M&M, Tata’s Jaguar have also been heavily hit. With Euro IV plus standards vehicular pollution should not be an issue. Any fuel even battery that way is a pollutant.

The government has to create new jobs. One problem is that jobs like pathological investigations that required 1000 technicians a decade ago now can be done by a workforce of about 200 in less than a day as technology is making people redundant. Apart many companies are reducing staff strength as their business went through a squeeze.

Despite a high growth of 7 percent, the economy is generating fewer jobs per unit of GDP.

This is the problem for a nation that is adding about 1.5 to 2 crore job seekers a year. The country has been able to generate 20 to 30 lakh jobs at the most – many of them extremely low paid.

The industry is unwilling to add to new hands. Chairman of Hindustan Construction Company Ajit Gulabchand says that new job creations are poor because the investment cycle has not started. In fact, the government is aware that many large houses having high deposits are not investing at all. There are many which are divesting or discussing sale of units.

Whatever growth, it does not seem to be translating into jobs. Possibly, the growth is not in employment-oriented sectors or overall growth is overstated.

Modi has the onerous task to correct it. He has to reorient the economy. Perception about his programmes and reality has to match. Assam should not be a political wonder; the belief of its people in economic vision has to be real for the nation to transform.

 

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