Gandhi’s experiments with populism
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The UPA has talked about inclusion much more than the NDA — and delivered much less
It is eight years since the unexpected electoral defeat of the NDA in May 2004. If you heard it once, you heard it a million times, and are still hearing it from the Congress shrill-masters — the NDA lost because it talked about India Shining — the UPA won because it talked about aam aadmi. There are even learned pronouncements on the subject, especially after the large UPA win in 2009-10.
Prior to the May 2004 election, I had written that an economic determinism model would lead the NDA to victory; that their tenure had been characterised by stable growth, low inflation, and economic reforms, especially on the fiscal (lower subsidies) and monetary (considerably lower real interest rates) sides. But to everyone's surprise, except perhaps the prescient Congress, the NDA lost.
There are three competing hypotheses for why the NDA lost the election it was widely expected to win. First, that in addition to economic performance, election results are determined by one's electoral marriages, and the Congress just chose better. Second, that the Congress was absolutely right in its allegation about India Shining and the lack of inclusive aam aadmi growth in the BJP-led NDA administration. Third, the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat affected the election, something believed by both the NDA leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his chief electoral strategist, the late Pramod Mahajan. Of course, all three explanations may have some truth.
While there have been many thumps on the table and chest beating by the Congress about its touching concern for the poor aam aadmi, the facts suggest that the NDA achieved a lot more in terms of inclusive growth than UPA 1. This is the limited point I want to make in this and a subsequent article. Given the importance of this conclusion, it is critical that all the facts be presented, in all their complexity, and that the facts and interpretation be properly vetted.
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