Opinion

DC Edit | As 2023 looms, is there a change in Indias mood?

31 December 2022

In the year that is about to close, India can be said to be in a state of middling expectations. Two major events have left their impress on the political scene — the election of a new Bharat Jodo Yatra president after nearly 25 years, and the Bharat Jodo Yatra of senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the overwhelming response to which has left both critics and supporters wondering about what’s in prospect. A one-sided politics is now not being taken as a given.  Such a situation had not arisen in the eight years that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been at the helm.

The year began with a major BJP win in the Goa Assembly election followed by the party’s thumping victory in Gujarat. The latter could not hold the mindscape since it was not wholly unexpected. However, the Congress pushed from behind and won the polls in Himachal Pradesh, the home state of BJP chief J.P. Nadda and of one of the most voluble ministers of the Modi government known for his divisive rhetoric.

The appeal of the political line in support of the argument for the “double-engine” government — the same party holding the reins in the states as at the Centre — which has been pushed strongly by the PM, can no longer be viewed with the earlier certainty. This also colours the mood for the Karnataka Assembly election in April, 2023 where incumbency pressures have built up on the BJP state government. The unseemly fight between Karnataka and Maharashtra, both BJP-run, on the boundary issue in spite of mediation diplomacy by the powerful Union home minister Amit Shah, reinforces the impression that in reality it is the sentiment on the ground that mostly matters in political contestation. Most other factors make their impact felt on the margins. It is to be seen how the change in the political mood influences the political temperature in time for the Lok Sabha election of 2024.  

The economic side is also a mixed bag. According to a World Bank press release of December 5, the Indian economy is relatively well-positioned to weather the global spillovers compared to most other emerging markets. On account of the overall effects of Covid internationally, especially felt at the start of the present year, and the Russian war in Ukraine, the world economic situation in a tight spot. In such a background we have managed without going under water, thanks chiefly to India purchasing Russian oil at deep discounts on a massive scale, leading Russia to becoming India’s top crude oil supplier from being a negligible supplier at the start of the year. This has protected us massively from balance of payments and current accounts deficits, and bailed India out from the reeling impact of inflation that has crippled economies worldwide. Even so, the World Bank projects that in 2022-23 the Indian economy will grow at a slower rate than in the preceding year.

The unemployment situation in November this year was not comforting. It stood at eight per cent, according to the Centre for Monitoring the Indian economy, most of which is urban. The Indian rupee has also depreciated, touching at one point Rs. 82.66 to the dollar, the lowest point ever. Inflation has also ruled higher than the upper toleration limit of six per cent for much of the year. These have led to the government recently announcing free rations for nearly two-thirds of the population for a further period of one year.

In foreign policy, the government’s outstanding success has been to make the right call in relation to Russia by not condemning it on the Ukraine question, as the West desired. With Pakistan and China, it is a stalemate, especially since Chinese forces continue to be on Indian territory for nearly two years. The social situation is in stasis on account of the moves made by the communal right. A time to resolve to get things right.

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