Election may give a boost to Indian economic growth

Agence France Presse

New Delhi, April 11:

So how much better could it get on the economic front for India’s ruling Hindu nationalist-led coalition as it faces general elections this month? Not much, economists say. Asia’s third-largest economy has just logged third-quarter growth of 10.4 per cent — outpacing even China’s — interest rates are at record lows, foreign exchange reserves are at an unprecedented $110 billion, the deficit is heading down and the rupee is cruising at over four-year highs against the dollar.

Not only that, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government has just raised over three billion dollars in privatisation revenues in an amasingly short three weeks and topped its sell-off target for the year. Now the BJP, having sidelined its Hindu revivalist platform to keep its secular allies happy and reach out to India’s mainstream, is vowing to turn the nation into a global powerhouse by 2010 as it heads into polls to be held in five stages from April 20.

“India is poised for a great leap,” prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said, “We plan to make India into an economic superpower.” He pledged to develop power, roads and drinking water in the nation of over one billion at the same time as aggressively pursuing economic reforms.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), campaigning on the booming economy and peace moves with nuclear rival Pakistan, says it will put India on an eight-to-10 per cent annual growth track. The main opposition Congress party which opinion polls shows may be headed for its worst-ever electoral performance says either luck or divine intervention played a big role in the economy’s strong performance over the past year.

“The one they should thank is God,” said Congress spokesman Jairam Ramesh, referring to last year’s monsoons that were the best in a decade and fuelled demand in the country, where nearly 70 per cent of people depend on agriculture for a living. Economists agree drenching rains and falling interest rates played a big role in boosting growth in the economy and creating the ‘India Shining’ the BJP is trumpeting in campaign ads. But they also say during the BJP’s five-year long rule, the economic landscape has transformed. Suddenly India’s over 300 million-strong middle class has more money in its pockets. Mobile phone sales are approaching two million a month, car sales are close to the one-million-a-year mark and the outsourcing industry is creating 500 jobs a day.

Much of the credit for this ‘New India’ of call centres and business process outsourcing offices, many say, should go to 79-year-old Vajpayee, a charismatic speaker who likes to recite his own poetry, “It’s his initiative which has resulted in all this,” said D H Pai Panandikar, economist at the New Delhi RPG Foundation think-tank. At present, the government is focusing on economic liberalisation and talking about peace with its neighbour, which has given entrepreneurs new hope of stability.