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Bihar and Delhi jolt BJP, Modi still strong

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New Delhi: The AAP’s dramatic rise and the return of Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar in Bihar marked the first full year of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who analysts say is still going strong though his earlier sheen has worn off.

For a politician who seemed to be at the peak of his popularity when 2015 dawned, having led the BJP to a historic win in the general election and later in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir, Modi suffered the maiden electoral defeat of his career in Delhi in February.

It was a personal blow for Modi because the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which swept away the BJP in assembly polls, was led by Arvind Kejriwal, who Modi crushed in the Lok Sabha election in Varanasi in May 2014.

Nine months later, Modi suffered the second major jolt — and of a far serious nature — when his personalized campaign failed to help the BJP to defeat JD-U leader Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad. If the BJP won just three of 70 seats in Delhi, it got 53 of 243 seats in Bihar.

The Bihar outcome led to open dissidence in the BJP, whose four senior leaders – L.K. Advani included – publicly called for a thorough review of the defeat. The statement was seen as an attack on Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, his Man Friday.

Amid the electoral reverses, the opposition, particularly the Congress, crushed in 2014, fired salvos after salvos. Charges of corruption and wrongdoing enveloped External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and the chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Vasundhara Raje.

Sushma Swaraj and Raje were linked to controversial ex-IPL chief Lalit Modi while Chouhan was blamed for a recruitment scandal which also led to some reported 50 deaths. The CBI was asked to probe the scam and deaths.

Although the Congress faced a bleak year, the exception being Bihar where it was a junior partner to the JD-U and the RJD, its leader Rahul Gandhi forced the government to go on the back foot on its land bill that he said would take land away from farmers for industrialists.

Rahul Gandhi also showed more assertion and articulation after a 50-day sabbatical. No one seemed to know for sure where he was during this time.

The Congress crippled both the monsoon and winter sessions of parliament on a range of issues from “intolerance” to alleged corruption in Delhi’s cricket body DDCA.

Just ahead of the Bihar election, the brutal killing of a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh on rumours that he ate beef led to the unprecedented surrender of awards by leading writers and artists, embarrassing the government.

Despite the BJP’s reverses, Modi’s personal popularity remained high. He continued to tour numerous countries and ended 2015 with a historic visit to Pakistan that earned him widespread praise.

And the BJP became a part of the government in Jammu and Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority state, for the first time, as a junior ally to the PDP.

AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa returned as Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister after being acquitted in a case of holding disproportionate assets, which had forced her to give up the job.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi faced legal trouble in a case involving the now shut National Herald newspaper – on a complaint pursued by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy.

The BJP also faced unprecedented trouble in Modi’s home state Gujarat, with a young Hardik Patel bringing thousands of Patels on the streets for job quotas. He was accused of sedition, but the BJP suffered huge reverses in later civic body elections.

The unending BJP-opposition frictions buried the Goods and Services Tax bill, which could not be passed in parliament.

The BJP had some reasons to cheer. It made gains in local body elections in Kerala – where it has never won an assembly seat – and bagged two assembly seats in Manipur.

Even the end of 2015 saw fireworks.

The CBI raided in December the Delhi Secretariat, targeting a senior official aide to Chief Minister Kejriwal charged with corruption. But the AAP leader alleged his office was searched for what he said was a file linking corruption in the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

A furious Jaitley – known to be close to Modi – filed a defamation case against Kejriwal. And the BJP suspended its MP Kirti Azad, who had been campaigning on the issue for long, leading to more disquiet among party veterans uncomfortable with the working style of Modi and Amit Shah.(Prashant Sood, IANS)

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Fall Of The Currency And Increase In Oil Prices: India ‘s Turmoil

The falling rupee has given a boost to some of India’s most lucrative exports, such as software services and pharmaceuticals, which add up to billions of dollars.

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India
Rajesh Kumar, left, shares a ride to work with another employee, Dilip Swain, right, as higher petrol prices in India begin to be felt in people's pocketbooks.VOA

The fall of the currency of India to record lows and rising global oil prices have raised worries that the world’s fastest growing economy faces headwinds that could hurt the fortunes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in next year’s general elections.

From people filling fuel at gas stations to thousands of students heading out to study overseas, the impact of the slumping rupee is sparking discontent.

Having plunged by about 12 percent against the dollar this year, the rupee is one of Asia’s worst faring currencies, and as in other countries, the slide has accelerated since the crash of the Turkish lira.

“The reasons are global. We must bear in mind that in last few months, dollar has strengthened against almost every currency,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently as he tried to send out reassuring signals that India’s economy is on track.

India
The rupee has plunged by about 12 percent this year raising fears of spiraling inflation. VOA

The rupee’s sharp depreciation comes at a time when the economy had recovered from a slowdown and surged to a two-year high in the quarter that ended in June. Forecasts put growth for this year at 7.5 percent.

Economy will slow

But economists warn this momentum will be difficult to sustain as the tumbling rupee, along with rising crude oil prices, takes a toll on growth. India, the world’s third largest oil importer, gets almost 80 percent of its fuel needs overseas.

“The government needs to mellow down on growth aspirations,” said N.R. Bhanumurthy, economist with the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. “The growth needs to come down to a little less than 7 percent.”

Even as the government faces the prospect of a slowing economy, it is under pressure to lower taxes on gas and diesel to bring down the sharp rise in prices. Fuel is one of the most heavily taxed items in India, with rates as high as nearly 50 percent. Prices vary from state to state, but they have gone up by about 14 percent this year.

Hoping to cash in on the growing disaffection over the surge in fuel prices and the sliding rupee, opposition parties led nationwide protests that shutdown offices and schools in several cities this week.

India
Discontent with spiraling fuel prices poses a challenge to Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of general elections next year. VOA

The government dismissed the protests, saying that although people faced momentary difficulties, they understood they were because of factors beyond its control.

Political analysts are not so sure, pointing out that fuel prices are a politically sensitive issue in India and usually result in a spike in inflation.

“Anger is rising, there is resentment,” said Satish Misra at the Observer Research Foundation, warning the ruling party will face a backlash “Obviously that is going to have a negative impact on the electoral fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party, there is no doubt about that.”

Warnings from economists

Among those who are upset with the high fuel prices is Rajesh Kumar, who commutes 30 kilometers to the advertising agency where he works. Hit by the higher prices that eat into his income, he has started sharing the ride with another employee.

India
Narendra Modi. Wikimedia Commons

“I have given up the idea of buying another car,” he said despondently. “I will not be able to afford the cost of running it.”

Economists however have warned the government against giving in to populist pressures ahead of a series of state polls later this year and general elections around April next year. They say lowering taxes on fuel or taking measures to prop up the currency will strain the country’s finances and hurt the economy in the long run.

Also Read: Diverse Gathering To Be Addressed This World BioFuel Day: PM Narendra Modi

“One needs to be more careful and vigilant,” Bhanumurthy said. “It is easy for India to stay with low growth than experiencing the high deficit.”

But there is also some good news for the Indian economy. The falling rupee has given a boost to some of India’s most lucrative exports, such as software services and pharmaceuticals, which add up to billions of dollars. (VOA)