The BJP is expected win India’s general elections this spring, largely on the strength of one big issue: improving the economy. The pro-business acumen of the BJP’s prime minister candidate Narendra Modi looks much more appealing than the slowing growth of the last few years, widespread corruption, and incompetence of Modi’s rivals in the Congress Party.But a closer look at BJP’s economic policies, both in Gujarat and on the campaign trail, reveal contradictions and empty electioneering, according to Milan Vaishnav’s revealing essay in Foreign Affairs. Here’s an excerpt:
Here, Modi’s experience in Gujarat is instructive. On the campaign trail, Modi has suggested that he would take nationwide the free-market economic model he installed in Gujarat. The pledge has been met with skepticism for two reasons. First, Modi faces pressure from some constituencies within the BJP to soften his market-driven dogma. Despite its pro-business tag, the BJP has always been an unusual mix of free-marketers and Hindu conservatives espousing swadeshi (self-reliance). The tensions came to the fore at the party’s January 2014 national council meeting, when Rajnath Singh, president of the BJP, promised a slew of policies indistinguishable from those typical of the incumbent Congress Party, such as a “right to health” and guaranteed employment for one member of every farming family. Second, while campaigning, Modi himself has often carved out policy positions at odds with his record in Gujarat. For instance, his criticism of the Congress government’s large-scale expansion of food subsidies in 2013 was not that it should be scrapped but that it did not go far enough.Simply put, voters cannot be sure whether they will get the reformist BJP of yesterday or the retrograde one of today. In that sense, trusting the BJP’s reform policies would take quite a leap of faith.
He goes on to evaluate every major political party’s economic record and campaign platform to show that most Indian leaders are fresh out of ideas when it comes to improving the economy (hence the title, “Empty Economics.” If you want an idea of what to expect under the all but certain Modi government, read this essay.