Experts feel issues such as drought, agrarian crisis and reservation could hijack narrative over governance and development
With less than a year to go for the 2019 elections, it’s crunch time for the Devendra Fadnavis-led state government that will complete four years in power on Wednesday.
What the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government can deliver this year and how it tackles ongoing challenges like drought, the Maratha reservation issue this year may decide its fate in the elections.
The BJP’s performance over the past four years has been a mixed bag. While political observers and public-policy experts feel that the Fadnavis-led government’s performance can be considered better than the earlier five years (2009 to 2014) of its predecessors, they agree that this relatively better performance may not be enough to ensure another tenure.
There is also a larger consensus that the chief minister (CM), rather than his team, has done well, especially in proving his political mettle.
“The biggest achievement of the CM has been to move away from the policy paralysis of the last government and get big infrastructure projects, policies on track. One can debate how successful these policies have been because many have not led to requisite results, but some work has been done,” said Abhay Deshpande, political analyst and a senior journalist.
“The challenge will come from tackling drought in an election year. Fadnavis has proven himself to be a good political manager by providing a stable government, handling troublesome ally Shiv Sena, winning local polls and handling the Maratha protests. But, on the administration and governance front, his government has had several shortcomings,’’ said Surendra Jondhale, political analyst and professor of political science with the Mumbai University.
Both agree that challenges like drought, agrarian crisis, the Maratha and Dhangar reservation, may well become more important and hijack the narrative over governance and development.
Delivering on the ‘Vision’
In 2014, when Fadnavis took over the top job, he promised citizens an efficient and transparent government. He also unveiled a vision for people-centric development, including a thrust on urban infrastructure, public services and a more robust investment in rural and agrarian sectors.
On paper and via policy, the CM has tried to initiate much of what he promised to do.
For instance, Maharashtra was the first government to implement the Right to Services Act that delivered public services to citizens. The government also managed to implement the CCTV project for Mumbai, recommended post 26/11 terror attacks, but pending since then.
The government’s big push for big-ticket infrastructure projects in Mumbai like starting work on three Metro rail projects (six more in the pipeline), the Navi Mumbai international airport, and trans-harbour link has got a thumbs-up from the urban mandate.
But several crucial promises like tackling corruption in most civic bodies, delivering good roads in the financial capital, setting up growth centres in the metropolitan region remain a pipe dream.
Two of Fadnavis’ pet projects, the 701-km Mumbai-Nagpur expressway that aims to connect backward Marathwada, Vidarbha to Thane and the Jalyukt Shivar scheme that focused on watershed development were envisaged to put a big thrust on rural investment and be potential game changers for the state. Despite controversies, the government has managed to address land acquisition hurdles and will begin construction on this Rs55,000 crore highway project ahead of the polls. And, the government has also spent over Rs7,000 crore on Jalyukt Shivar structures.
So far, the verdict is out on whether the highway can have a far reaching impact. But, the water conservation policy has been under the cloud over allegations of poor implementation and corruption in its implementation.
Agrarian discontent an issue in 2019?
Rural discontent, agrarian crisis and drought are likely to be the BJP’s government’s big challenge in poll year. This is despite handing out a loan waiver that has so far given assistance to 39.80 lakh farmers.
Milind Murugkar, agriculture policy researcher, believed that this is because the BJP government has erred in understanding and hence tackling the agriculture issues like providing farmers assured prices, protecting them from volatile markets, making timely interventions as evident in the tur dal crisis.
The BJP at the Centre had also raised expectations in 2014 by assuring a 50% hike in the minimum support price besides promising higher crop-insurance handouts. While more insurance has been disbursed, there is no foolproof method or system to gauge the losses and calculate compensation, leaving farmers unhappy even if they get money.
“It is impressive that Fadnavis decided to change the state’s focus from big dams to water shed development. Unfortunately, he lost grip on this policy that could have been a game changer for irrigation and agriculture. We are facing a drought and there is no evidence that this policy has improved our groundwater tables,’’ said Murugkar.
He, however, gave Fadnavis credit for trying out innovative ideas and having a vision, something that he believed his predecessors like the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), despite its forte in agriculture, lacked.
Not all political analysts agree.
“I think this government may face a rural backlash. The farmers’ strike, the long march by tribals are indicative that its rural policies and spending has not led to any outcome. We need to ask what the government’s so called higher spending across all sectors has achieved,’’ said Prakash Bal, political analyst.
Fadnavis has termed allegations against Jalyukt Shivar as baseless and uninformed. “Our agriculture productivity has increased despite poorer rainfall trends in the past three years. This is not possible without using water from our groundwater tables.’’