Focus shifts to Gujarat as policy steps depend on electoral gains
With a record voter turnout in Himachal Pradesh, an emboldened Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is shifting its focus towards the key state of Gujarat for the next one month. An otherwise routine regional election in a state has assumed ‘larger than life’ significance as it would be first major election in the state since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India.
The BJP remains confident that the record 74% voter turnout in Himachal Pradesh indicates an anti-Congress mood in the state. Political observers believe that heavy voting usually implies that the electorate has expressed its dissatisfaction with the ruling Congress party. The final results, will be known on December 18.
The Gujarat elections also have significance for the grand old party, the Congress, which wants to make major gains in a state where it has been out of office for 22 years. The party has reached out to a troika of youth leaders hostile to the BJP - Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani – to improve its electoral prospects. However, the troika is electorally untested and in many ways reflects Congress party’s desperation to remain relevant.
The state assembly elections have also cast their shadow on the Winter session of Parliament. Rivals allege that the delay in announcing the next session of Parliament is because the BJP is not confident of its prospects in the Gujarat assembly polls.
The Modi government, however, remains unfazed by such criticism as it is constitutionally on a sound ground. Article 85 of the Constitution clearly states that the President shall from time to time summon each House of Parliament to meet at a time and place as he thinks fit. The proviso to the convening of Parliament is that six months shall not intervene between its last setting of a session and the date for the first sitting in the next session.
The last session of Parliament was held between July 17 and August 11, 2017. Technically, the next session of Parliament has to be convened before February 10, 2018.
The government is confident that major electoral gains in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat would put to rest the debate on demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The BJP sees the twin policy initiatives as the biggest reform measures aimed at cleaning up the economy, curbing tax evasion and the generation of unaccounted money. There may be some temporary setbacks, but corrective steps have already minimized the pain of GST. The government maintains that the pace in addressing problems in GST is similar to its response during demonetisation.
A win in the regional elections would enable a push for other policy steps that would propel India back on a high growth path and thus guide the pace of government over next 12 months.