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View: Modi’s test in Twenty20

2020 may prove to be the most significant in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s continuing decade in power. Largely because the political focus will now shift squarely on governance.

And how he performs — be it in dealing with challenges of the year gone by, or framing new priorities —may well determine the contours of his legacy.

Why governance? To begin with, election stress will be less than the pressure he has faced in the first six months of his second term. There are two important elections in 2020, where BJP is a challenger in Delhi and an ally in Bihar. In other words, results notwithstanding, it’s not really a prestige battle where BJP CMs are on test like they were in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand.

Besides this, there are two other limiting factors why 2020 really is the year when the PM needs to get a move on if he wants to make governance the centre piece of his politics.

First, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests, which have decoupled CAA from the National Register of Citizens (NRC). They have all but put the brakes on any immediate intent of extending the run that began with the suspension of Article 370.

Second, big governance initiatives are best taken in the first two years of a five-year term, especially when five key elections, including West Bengal, are slated for 2021. This, apart from the state of the economy.

Kashmir, mandir and citizenship — contentious, as these issues may have proven to be, GoI is now dutybound to address them administratively, without causing more alarm.

The implementation of CAA and the National Population Register (NPR), in particular, has now turned into a sensitive exercise.

New Model

Similarly, the withdrawal of Article 370 was projected, both at home and outside, as a decision meant to improve governance in a state that had moved away from the national mainstream.

With festering international opprobrium contained for the moment, New Delhi will need to show that its new model of governance has purchase and is working on the ground. As for the Ram Mandir issue, the Supreme Court may have cleared the way, but executing it will test the skills of both central and BJP’s Uttar Pradesh governments.

In all this, GoI’s problem is that many of those who actively supported its decision on Article 370 and deferred to the Supreme Court on the mandir, may be unsure about supporting the citizenship issue. This, in many ways, threatens to vitiate the political environment needed to make the first two possible. How the PM navigates through this is now intrinsically linked to the legacy he will leave.

The summer of 2020 will actually be like a mid-year appraisal for the government. It will be when the fourth quarter numbers are out, one on which the North Block has placed alot of hope. These figures will tell us if GoI’s initiatives are working or not. Essentially, we would know if there’s going to be a political cost to what has been a deteriorating economic situation.

As snow melts on the line of control (LoC), the post-Article 370 security situation in Kashmir should also be clearer then. If the new union territory (UT) administration is able to push forward, then GoI would have added a major milestone to its legacy list. If it worsens, a new challenge would have erupted.

Banking on States

Similarly, this will also be the time when the NPR process (April-September 2020) would have commenced. How contentious — or uneventful — that process would be will determine whether citizenship goes down as a governance positive or a political negative in the order of things done.

This takes us to the craft of governance. With several key states out of BJP’s hands, GoI will have to resort to coaxing and cajoling through administrative means. The deteriorating financial situation of states could provide leverage to GoI, as the latter works on the recommendations of the 15th Finance Commission.

The first Modi administration had begun by endorsing greater share for states. But that narrative may change. For regional parties, the political autonomy achieved through electoral victories, or timely coalition swaps, will have to be balanced out with poor economic realities.

The grammar of the conversation that the Centre will maintain with mostly Opposition-ruled, but economically stressed, states would determine how much of his agenda the PM will be able to translate on the ground. It’s clearly a bit more complicated than, say, 2016, this time requiring both leverage and persuasion to achieve desirable results.

The external environment presents an equally complicated picture.

But in a divided world that’s more on the edge, India has the opportunity to emerge as the politically acceptable strategic and economic destination with a strong, stable government to assure the right climate. Yet, India finds itself in the middle of a firefight due to internal decisions.

Can domestic reality be calmed to fashion a more positively oriented external agenda?

2020 will be the only time when Modi could probably make this call all over again. Because the luxury of time on the legacy index is beginning to fade. Many more things — judicial reforms, education, infrastructure — can be done. But, clearly, some others may have to be let off.

Source: Economic Times