Ram Madhav
June 22, 2024

Bracing for New Hurdles

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

(The article was originally published in Indian Express on June 22, 2024 as a part of Dr Madhav’s column titled ‘Ram Rajya’. Views expressed are personal.)

It is a travesty that those who lost the election are in a celebratory mood while those who won are sombre. The Congress, that touched its lowest tally in history in 2014, coming down to 44 seats from 206 in 2009 and failing to recover from that drubbing in 2019 elections by managing to marginally improve its tally by eight seats, ended up winning just 99 seats this time despite much hype. Its vote share remains at a low 21 per cent, whereas that of the BJP hovers around 36-37 per cent. It failed to open accounts in 11 states, including important ones like Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Tripura. It won just one seat in big states like Orissa, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal. The BJP too failed to open its account in seven states, but the significant ones are only Tamil Nadu and Punjab.

This statistical reality shows that people have given the Congress-led alliance a mandate to function as a responsible Opposition. Still, the Congress leadership seems to believe that the mandate was not for the NDA, but for them. Mallikarjun Kharge, president of the Congress party, predicted that “Modi’s minority government” may “fall anytime”, while Rahul Gandhi chose arguments like “tectonic shift has taken place in Indian politics”, and “the idea and image of Modi have been destroyed” to conclude that the NDA government was “very fragile” and could collapse at the “smallest disturbance”.

The Congress leadership is suffering from two illusions; first, that the mandate was for them and not for Modi; and second, that the NDA alliance would soon collapse because Prime Minister Narendra Modi is temperamentally not equipped to run a coalition.

Modi’s real challenge is not managing this coalition. With 240 seats in its tally, the BJP is placed far more comfortably to run the coalition government than a hotchpotch INDI alliance government. The BJP is leading coalition governments in several states, including Maharashtra and Assam. Moreover, with his vast political experience spanning more than three decades, Modi cannot be considered a novice to coalition politics.

The challenge for Modi will come not from managing his coalition, but from an Opposition which is coming to the House with the mindset that the ruling party has no mandate to rule. Modi said he missed a “good opposition”. He should brace up for a rancorous Opposition in this term.

Besides managing the choppy waters of the Parliament, the new government needs to turn attention to certain priority areas. A burgeoning young population, with over 20 million youngsters attaining employable age of 18 years annually, will be a challenge for any government. In the last 10 years, the government has taken multiple initiatives to address this, mainly encouraging self-employment. Yet, formal employment opportunities for millions of skilled and semi-skilled youngsters is a major need of the hour. Inflow of private investment into the manufacturing sector is an important answer to this. Hurdles in the way of the smooth inflow of such investments need to be curbed. The World Bank’s data showed in 2021 that India’s ease of doing business ranking had substantially improved. Yet, several systemic hurdles remain.

We are in the era of industry 4.0, internet 3.0 and genetics 2.0. Our education sector needs to gear up to face the new reality. While the Opposition will naturally raise controversies over competitive exams like NEET and NET, greater attention is needed for ramping up research and innovation. India continues to fare poorly in these areas. What many claim as innovation is mostly imitation, where copying substitutes for creativity.

The R&D and innovation domain too needs greater infusion of private capital. Unfortunately, our R&D funding, both public and private, is not even 0.7 per cent of our GDP, which accounts for around $17 billion. China spends over 2.5 per cent of its GDP on it. It spends close to $500 billion annually on R&D, almost 30 times that of India’s spending, while the US spends around $600 billion.

In 2022, India filed around 60,000 patents, of which almost 50 per cent were filed for the domestic market. Perceived quality of these patents was very low. China, on the other hand, filed four million patents in the same year, of which 25 per cent were “high value patents”. Unlike China, we don’t have any such scientific classification. The US filed around 0.7 million patents in 2022. A recent study found that thanks to the push given by the Modi government, India’s research output grew by around 54 per cent to one million research papers during 2017-22, taking it to the fourth position globally. However, the quality and relevance of many of these papers remain questionable as only 15 per cent of them have been cited in top academic journals, according to research platform SciVal. China continues to be the world leader with 4.5 million research papers published in the five-year period, followed by the United States with 4.4 million and the United Kingdom with 1.4 million.

Then, the fast-changing geo-strategic environment may soon call for a major re-adjustment of India’s strategic priorities. Strategic autonomy is never easy. It is going to become much harder in the face of the hardening of positions between the West and Russia-China axis. It is no secret that China’s influence in the region is a predominant challenge for us. The new axis of China, Russia and Iran against the considerably weakened West will lead to new challenges. A world dotted by multiple conflicts will be the new reality, calling for a deft handling of our foreign policy.

Domestic and international challenges, coupled with an unrelenting political Opposition that cares less for any scruples, could pose a real test for PM Modi in his record-breaking third term in office.

 

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

India and the Global Right Turn

India and the Global Right Turn

June 22, 2024
Towards a Conservative Consensus

Towards a Conservative Consensus

June 22, 2024

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 + nineteen =