As leaders of the INDIA alliance prepare to convene for their third meeting in Mumbai on August 31 and September 1, one question looms large: How can they present a compelling new narrative to counter Narendra Modi’s three-pronged strategy of nationalism, Hindutva and welfare measures, especially for the OBCs? In any battle, a clear understanding of the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses is essential for devising a foolproof strategy. The INDIA alliance must accurately assess the strengths and weaknesses of the nine-year NDA rule under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, especially in the eight months leading up to the Lok Sabha elections scheduled for April/May 2024.
Prime Minister Modi, known for his mastery of optics, is expected to tout significant economic successes, generating hype that may overshadow the grim reality faced by many. The ground reality for a significant portion of the electorate, particularly the lower middle class and the poor, is centered on the challenges of rising prices and acute unemployment. These issues were pivotal in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, where a substantial number of these voters supported the BJP and PM Modi.
Let’s first address the issue of inflation and price rise. The past four years have been particularly harsh for common citizens, with essential commodity prices soaring. In July this year, the consumer price index surged to 7.4 percent, up from 4 percent in June. For the most vulnerable, including unorganised laborers and low-wage earners, this inflationary pressure is felt most intensely, coinciding with stagnant job opportunities and declining real wages. Real wages for male agricultural workers, non-agricultural laborers, and construction workers grew by less than one percent between 2014-15 and 2021-22, the first eight years of Modi’s rule. The situation worsened in 2022-23, with real wages for the first group growing by just 0.2 percent, and the other two sectors experiencing declines. This paints a stark picture of declining real income and rising household expenditures, particularly on essential food items. While corporate profits have soared during the pandemic years, the burden of the economic crisis has fallen disproportionately on the underprivileged. Income inequality has widened significantly over the past nine years, highlighting the dichotomy in the nation’s economic landscape.
Turning to the employment sector, the latest CMIE report indicates an unemployment rate of 8.16 percent in the June 2023 quarter. PM Modi’s promise in 2014 to generate two crore jobs annually has faded from his campaign addresses. Instead, the government promotes Rozgar Melas, masking the grim reality of jobless growth over the past nine years.
The INDIA alliance must place a significant focus on Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), the backbone of India’s growth and employment. Despite claims, the Modi government has done little to support this sector, which faced a slowdown even before the pandemic. The MSME sector, comprising over six crore units and employing over 12 crore people, can be a pivotal engine of growth if nurtured effectively. As India’s GDP approaches $5 trillion by 2028, MSMEs could contribute substantially, potentially reaching $1 trillion. In this era, Indian youth are aspirational and demand modern solutions. The BJP, under Narendra Modi, has harnessed modern tools, financial resources, and an extensive network. To counter the BJP’s Hindutva-crony capitalism strategy, the INDIA alliance must build a powerful and compelling narrative. The Mumbai conclave must consider these factors and chart a clear path forward. Time is of the essence.