Modi Machinery Gains Momentum in Latest Indian State Elections

This year has ended with more gains for India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Adding to assembly election wins earlier this year in the electorally important state of Uttar Pradesh and neighboring Uttarakhand and new governing coalitions in Goa, Manipur, and Bihar, the year has been capped with wins in the mountain state of Himachal Pradesh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat. To win in India’s states, Modi has leveraged centrally controlled programs that state residents see as having an impact on their daily lives. The recent win in Himachal Pradesh is yet another example of this, but in Gujarat the task was more difficult.

Agriculture

Agriculture is more important in Himachal—where according to the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmer’s Welfare, it is responsible for 15–19 percent of gross state domestic product (GSDP)—than in Gujarat, where its share is below 15 percent. States like Himachal thus welcome government action to assist their agriculture sector. Under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, the center has made considerable investments in sustainable crop irrigation. In the fiscal year 2016–2017, the central government allocated approximately $45 million in Gujarat and $2.84 million in Himachal Pradesh for the “per drop more crop” initiative.

Energy and Infrastructure

India’s states have a largely poor track record on infrastructure and power sector development. The Modi government has introduced many programs, particularly in the energy sector, that have helped Indian states boost access to electricity, improve generation and transmission capacity, and reform their heavily indebted utilities in order to create a pathway to improved operational performance and fiscal health.

Hydropower-dependent Himachal Pradesh is lucky to be power surplus most of the year. To build on this advantage, the state is wooing international investment in hydropower, including $91 million from France’s Development Agency (AFD). Centrally sponsored programs for road and highway development, particularly in rural areas, further aid in the goal of better connectivity. Himachal Pradesh was one of the largest beneficiaries of central government financing for the development of its roads through the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana in 2016–2017. Residents of rural Himachal Pradesh may have also started to see the impacts of improved services through the centrally sponsored National Rurban Mission, which organizes rural areas into clusters in order to better coordinate government programs for developing and improving services in those areas.

Gujarat, which is on the other end of the topography and development spectrum from Himachal Pradesh, benefits from the central government’s focus on infrastructure, including facilitating construction of new forms of mega transportation infrastructure projects, such as the Japanese-financed high-speed rail linking Mumbai to Ahmedabad.

On energy, thanks to joining the central government’s Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) reform program, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat’s state-owned distribution companies have reduced their technical and commercial losses to 12.99 percent and 11.35 percent respectively—below the 15 percent target. On the generation side, while renewable energy generation capacity has surged, so has thermal power capacity, thanks in part to improved transparency in auctioning and development of coal mines and a critical reform that allows foreign/private investment in the country’s coal sector.

But electricity generation and distribution aren’t the only areas where states’ partnership with the central government have led to improvements in everyday lives. The Prime Minister’s Ujjwal Yojana (PMUY) was launched in Himachal Pradesh earlier this year and will impact approximately 200,000 households that currently burn biomass as a cooking fuel. Participants will be able to replace traditional fuels with cleaner liquefied petroleum gas thanks to a $25 subsidy to pay for the first cylinder. The program also involves setting up 50 distribution centers and two bottling plants in the state, which will also create jobs. PMUY builds on the existing PAHAL program, which utilizes direct benefit transfer to allow customers below the poverty line to access cylinders. Himachal Pradesh was an early beneficiary of the rollout of PAHAL, and many districts of Gujarat were also covered.

Sops for the Urban Electorate

A few key programs introduced by the Modi administration may also have helped persuade the urban electorate to side with the BJP in these elections:

  • Smart Cities Mission: Heavily industrialized Gujarat was a major beneficiary of this initiative, which seeks to improve infrastructure and service delivery in selected urban areas. Gujarat bagged six of the 90 winning proposals, while two cities in Himachal Pradesh were chosen to receive funds. While the projects are in early stages of development and in many cases may not have even broken ground, the buzz around the projects’ impending impact may have helped the BJP.
  • Housing For All: The continuation of a project launched by the previous government to increase affordable housing, funding under this initiative has helped build 54,244 houses in Gujarat.
  • Prime Minister’s Skill Certification Scheme: This initiative seeks to provide industry-relevant skills and training to youth and expand their access to jobs. So far 33,258 young people in Gujarat and 13,511 in Himachal Pradesh have participated.

The BJP may have used the tools discussed above to sway elections in their favor in several key state assembly elections this year. The result has helped the party continue to expand its reach across the country. While the prime minister still lacks the majority support needed in the Rajya Sabha to enact many of his remaining reforms, each win in a state legislature brings him a little closer to that goal. For the moment the Modi machinery seems unstoppable.

Kartikeya Singh is a fellow and deputy director of the Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

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Kartikeya Singh
Senior Associate (Non-resident), Energy Security and Climate Change Program and Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies