Has Sitharaman broken the Jaswant Singh jinx?

CVoter conducted a national post-budget survey and asked questions related to quality of life; living standards; the performance of prime minister Narendra Modi’s economic team; the decision to raise the income tax exemption limits and comments regarding the declared goal of this regime to wage war against black money.

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Back in 2003, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee seemed invincible even when the Congress (there was no United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, at the time) seemed to be on the way. disappearing. Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee finally overcame the “Sangh Parivar” veto and made his original choice, Jaswant Singh, the finance minister. Singh read a suave and sophisticated 2003 ‘pre-election’ speech in his baritone and expressed optimism about the future of the Indian economy (as did Nirmala Sitharaman on 1 February).

When the Lok Sabha elections were called for the year 2004, pundits and pollsters (including me actually) predicted a repeat mandate for Vajpayee. However, the Indian electorate delivered a shock verdict, giving the Congress seven more seats than the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This enabled Congress president Sonia Gandhi to consolidate the UPA regime.

All in all, the 2003 budget was a good budget: economic growth, infrastructure, second-generation reforms and targeted schemes for the poor were the focus. But the term ‘Jaswant Singh jinx’ became popular in many debates at that time because of the stupidity of Sonia Gandhi’s return to the Congress ‘down in the dumps’.

Congress supporters and sympathizers are now wondering: Can Congress leader Rahul Gandhi repeat in 2024 what his mother did in 2004? BJP fans and sympathizers are wondering: Has Sitharaman done enough in this budget to break Jaswant Singh’s jinx and pave the way for another mandate for Modi?

The hope in the economy

Oddly enough, the best hope for Rahul Gandhi is in the economy. Strange enough because it is now universally acknowledged that the Indian economy is, and will remain, the fastest growing major economy in the world for the foreseeable future. Those who study economic trends know that the levels of confidence being used now are similar to the situation in 2003. The difference: although the world economy was at the peak of expansion and growth in 2003, almost facing a recession in 2023. However, the Indian economy is still there. shining star.

Then what gives hope to Rahul Gandhi? The GDP growth numbers seem significant, but the other numbers should be of concern to NDA strategists. As mentioned in a story that published mint on February 1, CVoter is conducting a series of surveys across the country on economic issues and attitudes. If one looks at the responses dispassionately, it would be clear that the current system and its political strategists would be worried about the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

In one of CVoter’s surveys, in January 2023, close to 54% of respondents identified unemployment as a very serious issue, and close to 19% identified it as a serious issue. Taken together, almost three out of four Indians thought unemployment was a major concern. During the same survey, almost 44% of the respondents said that bad government policies are responsible for this situation. Similarly, another question asked during the survey was: what do you think is the biggest single failure of the Modi government? While about 25% of respondents cited inflation, 17% identified unemployment as the single biggest failure. Another 7% cited economic growth as the single biggest failure. Almost 38% of the respondents also said that bad government policies were responsible for high inflation. For any regime, these numbers would be unsatisfactory. There are more. More than 60% of Indians felt that their economic status has deteriorated or remained the same since 2014 when Modi became Prime Minister.

But Indians seem enthusiastically conservative about their current or near-future economic prospects. Another question in the CVoter survey is: How do you compare your daily expenses with last year? Almost 60% of respondents said that they find it very difficult to manage expenses. That’s an improvement on the January 2022 figure (67%), but not by much. When asked about family income, more than 38% said their income had decreased and expenses had increased. Another 30% were of the opinion that income remained the same while expenditure increased. Only 18% said that income and expenditure had increased, and only 3% said that income had increased and expenditure had decreased.

This explains why ambitious Indians are not opening their wallet strings or digital wallets despite the impressive GDP growth, although high income Indians seem to be on a spending spree. Take the automobile industry, for example. While passenger car sales have seen a surge in 2022, the story is grim for two-wheelers – the main ‘luxury’ purchase for an aspiring Indian.

The contrast gives an insight into the minds of the majority of consumers who will be voters in the Lok Sabha elections 2024. They also give Rahul Gandhi an opportunity to repeat 2004 in 2024.

The welfare program

But 2024 could be different if you look at another set of numbers. Normally, a regime would put decisive pressure down if economic woes and distress continue. And yet, by so-called good luck, or better political and perceptual management, the Modi regime gets the upper hand over Indians in managing the economy.

More than two-thirds of the respondents in the CVoter survey expressed their satisfaction with the overall performance of the NDA regime in January. Prime minister Modi gets a positive rating from close to 72% of the respondents. Nirmala Sitharaman has been the best of the four finance ministers since 2004, followed by Arun Jaitley. When asked further about how the NDA regime has dealt with the Indian economy, close to 54% rated it as outstanding or good and 27% rated it as poor or very poor. Likewise, while more than 50% are of the opinion that Modi handled the economy better, 36.2% chose former prime minister and Congress leader Manmohan Singh.

There is a reason the regime is not angry about economic distress. Sitharaman made the reasons clear in his budget speech on February 1: “Effective implementation of many schemes, with targeted benefits universalised, has resulted in comprehensive development. Some of the schemes are: 11.7 crore household toilets under the Swachh Bharat Mission; 9.6 crore LPG connections under Ujjawala; 220 crore covid vaccinations for 102 crore people; 47.8 crore Jan Dhan bank accounts; insurance for 44.6 crore people under PM Suraksha Bima and PM Jeevan Jyoti schemes and cash transfer 2.2 lakh crore to more than 11.4 crore farmers under PM Kisan Samman Nidhi”.

She also recalled how the Modi regime provided free food to 800 million Indians for 28 months. Of course, a new set of schemes for the benefit of artisans and tribals has already been widely covered in the media in this budget.

Add up the number of beneficiaries, and the number of voters targeted by such welfare schemes is staggering. Not surprisingly, Indians have largely responded positively to the latest budget.

A story of two numbers

CVoter conducted a quick pan-India survey soon after the budget was tabled. When asked which part of society preferred the budget, the biggest thumbs up went to ‘women’, with almost 57% of respondents saying “very much.” The second stage was for ‘big business’ with 44% saying that this budget was in favor of the Almost 38% felt that it was favorable for the ‘poor’ but 37% said they were in favor of the ‘farmers’ of the The most.

Next, the respondents were asked about their expectations regarding the overall quality of life in the following year. Almost 40% of respondents said it will improve, while 21% expected it to deteriorate. The most important thing to note here is that 44% of respondents expected their overall quality of life to decline in the next year immediately after the 2022 budget speech. Overall, while approx. 43% satisfied with the budget, a higher 44% were not satisfied.

Soon after the budget speech, 45% of respondents estimated that it will be difficult to manage costs in the next year. But that’s a big drop from around 56% soon after the 2022 budget speech, indicating that some measures are being taken to handle the impact of inflation.

Close to a third of respondents said the performance of Modi’s economic team was better than expected. In 2022, only about 21% were of the same opinion.

During a pre-budget survey, few respondents expected Sitharaman to raise income tax exemption limits. She has provided a pleasant surprise to middle class India and 60% of respondents are happy with her move, while 10% said they want more. On a scale of 0 to 10, respondents gave Sitharaman a score of 5.7. That is 10 basis points less than the 5.8 score for 2022 but significantly better than the scores for the two previous ‘pre-election’ budgets in 2018 (4.7) and 2013 (4.4), presented by Arun Jaitley and former finance minister P. Chidambaram, respectively.

Respondents with a household income of 6.5 have given the highest score 1 lakh per month or more. Respondents with a family income of 6,000 to 10,000 per month (6.2) and 10,000 to 20,000 per month (6), having also given good scores to the budget. No socio-economic, age or ethnic category scored less than 5, which would pose a political threat to the regime.

Returning to the headline: Did Sitharaman break the Jaswant Singh jinx? The first set of numbers would suggest that she would be in trouble and might end up giving Rahul Gandhi a chance. But the second set of numbers suggests that the Modi regime could stave off a 2004-like shock. India and Indian voters of 2024 seem to be different from the lot of 2004. They voted for stability in 2009 and in 2019, back to back. – return mandates to the UPA and the NDA, respectively. Moreover, BJP 2024 is not BJP 2004 and it also belongs to Congress. Last but not the least, every time the political stock of the Modi brand has been cut, it has only come from the north.

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