Budget 2024: Striking the Right Balance!


The recent Indian elections offer valuable insights and lessons that transcend national boundaries and resonate with political landscapes globally. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in alliance with a number of regional parties under the NDA umbrella, secured a third consecutive term, yet fell short of the ambitious target of 400+ seats. This outcome, coupled with regional electoral shifts, underscores several critical dynamics pertinent to both emerging and established democracies.

Firstly, the electoral results highlight the complexity of voter behaviour and the inherent challenges of maintaining an overwhelming majority. The BJP’s sustained push in the South and East (particularly Tamil Nadu and West Bengal), failed to deliver tangible benefits in seats and even received a staunch push-back in Bengal. Some analysts ask whether that focus was a wise move if it came at a reduced attention to the BJP’s backyard, so to speak, losing seats in Rajasthan and getting a drubbing in UP by the Samajwadi Party. As for Maharashtra, the internal divides between factions again lost seats for the BJP. Nevertheless, the excellent BJP reception in Orissa and the Kashmir Valley among others would have provided some satisfaction in an atmosphere where defeat was almost snatched from the jaws of a predicted NDA victory.

Many factors obviously reflect the evolving regional sentiments and the diverse demands of a varied Indian electorate, most notably an insufficient attention to rural distress and unemployment, exemplified by farmer protests and a resistance to the Agniveer scheme which proposes to restrict youth access to Army/Navy/Air Force training opportunities and postings. The Modi 3.0 cabinet, with Bihar and Telangana input, should help redress the course for 2029. A single-party rule, by the BJP for the past ten years, has come at a cost, namely, a lack of wider input from more stakeholders and an anti-incumbency feeling, which if it does not affect PM Modi’s personal image, has nonetheless worn thin over time. The BJP also failed to prepare for and adequately respond to what could be expected to be the Opposition’s main narrative of freebies and goodies distribution, without a word about wealth creation or creators.

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In Mauritius as well, although not a prominent factor, the rural-urban divide persists in the political landscape, and it’s rarely overcome. Political parties must remain agile and responsive to these subtleties, recognizing that one-size-fits-all strategies may not resonate uniformly across diverse demographic and cultural landscapes. Anti-incumbency and the phenomenon of “wear and tear of power” are other crucial lessons. Prolonged tenure in governance, particularly by a closed shop of a high-handed single party, often leads to a gradual erosion of support and popularity, a reality faced by many mainstream parties worldwide, both in the past and posing a threat to contemporary ones in our own country. This decline can stem from accumulated dissatisfaction, unmet expectations, and the natural desire for change. The experiences of a few of our mainstream parties illustrate this pattern, emphasizing the need for parties to continuously renew their vision and address the evolving needs of their constituents.

The influence of economic conditions on electoral outcomes cannot be overstated. Economic hardships such as poverty, rising living costs, and diminished prospects often dominate voter concerns, as evidenced in recent elections in India. The potential benefits of major infrastructure projects may fail to generate enthusiasm for these projects if the opposition consistently draws attention, justifiably, to more pressing concerns of the population. Similarly, short-term ‘feel-good’ measures or freebies can influence voter decisions up to a point, but not beyond. Furthermore, the targeting of opposition leaders through investigations might be employed to influence electoral outcomes. These tactics can be countered strategically, as can short-term voter benefits, by emphasizing long-term policies and integrity. It’s also essential to address any attempts to tarnish leaders’ reputations by fostering transparency and accountability within their ranks.

Finance Minister Padayachy’s last Budget will be pivotal in shaping or reshaping public perception ahead of elections. The government may resort to expansionary fiscal policies, even if it involves printing more money, to deliver immediate benefits to sway voters. While such measures might offer short-term electoral gains, they risk long-term economic stability, highlighting the perennial tension between electoral strategy and fiscal prudence. Public sector debt, already sky-high if all SPVs and government-guaranteed debts are factored in, will be particularly scrutinized by economic specialists to see how far any populist approach may endanger longer-term growth and development.

Beyond economic concerns, the government’s handling of social problems will also significantly impact voter decisions. Issues such as healthcare, education, and social justice are increasingly at the forefront of voter priorities. Law and order is not felt positively and drugs have permeated all corners of the land. A government’s performance in these areas can shape public perception and influence electoral outcomes as much as economic policies. Winning elections requires more than just offering freebies and relying on state-engineered propaganda.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 7 June 2024

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