The one big event for India in 2019 will be the Lok Sabha elections. Once considered a cakewalk for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the elections now look competitive. Further, as the recent Assembly polls showed — predicting any outcome would be a hazardous exercise.
Modi has been in election mode since the beginning of 2018, if we are to go by Prime Ministerial inaugurations.
From tunnels, bridges, giant statues, airports, chocolate factories, hospitals, to partially-constructed highways, and sections of the Delhi Metro, nothing has been too small to escape the PM’s attention. According to reports, January 2019 could see a huge shower of election-related sops.
BJP’s jaded rhetoric
The Bharatiya Janata Party used the weapon of anti-incumbency to devastating effect in 2014. Since then, it has sought to keep on reshaping this message. Whether people buy the view that Jawaharlal Nehru was responsible for the country’s current ills, is another matter. One of Modi’s greatest skills has been his ability to shape the narrative. This was evident right through demonetisation, but since then there has been considerable erosion.
The big challenge for PM Modi is to shape a new narrative. (Photo: Reuters)
No matter what the government does, it cannot convince the farmers that everything is hunky dory — or that the crop insurance scheme, high minimum support price, or rural livelihood missions will solve their problems. Nor can it convince people that it has excelled on the job front.
The big challenge now is to shape a new narrative. The obvious one is the need for a renewed mandate for Modi to enable him to complete the tasks he has been doing so well till now. This, however, gets caught in the glass ‘half full’ or ‘half empty’ binary.
It is difficult to escape the feeling that overall the Modi-government has failed to provide the critical push needed to transform India into a modern and prosperous country. Instead, there has been a dangerous tendency to polarise the populace on the basis of caste, creed and substitute rhetoric for action.
Trump and trade wars
The second major development to look out for in 2019 will be the US-China trade war. March 1 is the deadline set by the truce the two sides worked out on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in December.
What are the chances they will be able to meet it? Perhaps what we will see is its extension bought by Chinese trade concessions.
But we are unlikely to see a return of Sino-US relations to the entente that existed earlier. The rapidity of China’s growth in a range of areas has now convinced the US that Beijing has become a peer competitor whose goal is to displace America as the number one country in the world. Given its economic trajectory, China will be the world’s leading economy, but the US will remain the premier military power for some time to come. This is owing to the geography of the United States, and that its defence spending is nearly thrice more than China’s.
As of now, there are no signs that the Republican Party is ready to abandon Trump. (Photo: Reuters)
Another development to watch out for is the continued unfolding of the Trump presidency. Many argue that the US President Donald Trump has now, at last, rid himself of establishment figures and is set to run the show on his own terms, pushing policies that he deeply believes in. However, the Mueller investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the US elections and wider poll violations by Trump remains a wildcard. As of now, there are no signs that the Republican Party is ready to abandon Trump. Unless the party changes its attitude, we are destined to see more of the same in the US in 2019.
UK’s road to Brexit
A fourth significant geopolitical change scheduled for 2019 is the UK’s departure from the European Union — or Brexit — in March 2019.
Will the UK stick to the withdrawal agreement that has been worked out with EU? There are various other possibilities here, but British politics has been so messed up that no one is willing to bet on anything. Even though experts have forecast doom and gloom for UK outside EU, so far, the economy has been doing reasonably well.
The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy and there are indications that it could overtake Germany to become Europe’s largest economy in the coming decade. As a member of the UN Security Council, Britain is a power in its own right. But working through the EU’s 28-member grouping, it was able to extend its power and influence even more.
Brexit may close British choices in one direction but could provide newer opportunities for the country in its ties with the US and China.