A first-time president-elect in the United States, innocent of the true ways of the highest office in the land, starts receiving daily intelligence briefings, and a tight, vastly enhanced secret service detail to protect him.

Overnight, the light of knowledge begins to glow in his eyes as he is given a bite of the proverbial apple. Things don’t seem so black and white anymore. The outgoing President, his bitter rival till the other day, is no longer someone to rage against and ridicule. In fact, a new admiration for him dawns in the president-elect’s eyes, to come and sit next to the aforementioned glow of knowledge.

Is the forthcoming national election going to be won by the person, party and alliance that fired the aspirations of the youth in 2014, so that he and they can largely complete the transformation promised by Modi’s “New India”?

Has Modi not done a lot about it already - from strengthening our neglected defences, boosting infrastructure, ramping up connectivity, renewing the Indian Railways, providing electricity, cooking gas, neem-coated urea, much greater nationalism in foreign affairs, a cleaner Ganga, a dynamic ISRO, fledgling Skill India programmes, to a modicum of success on Make in India in cellphones and automobiles?

Will the efforts of an opportunistic, power-hungry, disparate, notional gatbandhan be seen as the irresponsible rantings of an Opposition with a narrow focus that plays to the gallery? The Opposition, by definition, has none of the responsibilities of power.

The Congress scion, that is making the greatest number of wild charges, has never held a public service job in his 47-year-old life and knows nothing of its practical nuances in a national, let alone global sense. Can it collectively and severally fool the voting masses with negative propaganda, scaremongering and the lure of freebies? That Congress is struggling to make good on its pledges wherever it has recently won is a testament to its irresponsibility.

Rural distress may be a good campaign slogan but it has many dimensions. Many of the farmer suicides are coming from the apparently better off owners of two to four acres of land. The whole issue needs to be looked at in much greater depth. It calls for mechanisation, technological transformation for productivity and handling, massive modernisation and increase in value-adding food processing, an effective cold chain and so on.

Farming today employs too many people and is returning lower and lower figures to the GDP calculations. This, even as most people in rural India are actually employed in providing services, rather than as farmers or farm labour already.

The Indian voter has proved to be wise, sagacious and far-sighted time and again, from early on, when the founding fathers made bold to embrace the idea of universal adult franchise.

And in 2019, India will be 73.  Our voters, the world has begun to see, are no longer plagued, as they once were, by chronic illiteracy, ill health, poverty and destitution. In a few years, such deprivation will be history for all the people of this hugely populous country of over 1.3 billion people.  Already, demonstrating the disposable income in their fists, the rural population, 60% of the whole, are buying 45% of all the FMCG in India!

The Modi government has made a number of medium to long-term structural and legislative changes that have helped restore the macroscopic economy to health. India is no longer part of the “fragile five”. Its growth rate, deficits, foreign exchange reserves and inflation, are all under admirable control, more so given the stagnation and turbulence seen in the global external economy. 

The Congress and other elements of the Opposition want to see the NDA out of power at any cost, fearing for their very survival otherwise, and claim that Narendra Modi has lost his appeal.

Little does it realise that Modi intends to take this country to the first rank of nations and become the third biggest economy in a few years. This calls for a massive push of modernisation and efficiency on multiple fronts, and a changed mindset that emphasizes productive and professionalized governance.

Quick fixes, divisive politics, and rank populism as practiced by the Opposition in the hope of upsetting the NDA applecart is harmful to this great objective.

But having succeeded in wrestling victories in some of the recent assembly elections, the Opposition believes the road to power lies in economically reckless socialism of the old school. That it will surely lead to a state of flux and weakness is a price the Opposition is willing to pay at the nation’s cost.   

The government is equally, if not more, concerned. In addition to a plethora of yojanas aimed at rural upliftment that have made a considerable difference, it is making ready to approach the question of rural distress not with farm loan waivers, but with farm produce price supports/subsidies. The aim is to stabilize farm incomes for all seasons. The final Union budget/Vote-on-account coming up on February 1, 2019 is said to be working on this. Meanwhile, the much-reviled GST too is heading towards a single tariff of 18% as revenues from it country-wide continue to improve for the rest of India. 

As the next general election looms ever nearer, the narrative seems to be proceeding simultaneously by both the high road and the low road. Narendra Modi tends to occupy the high road, as most leaders who occupy the top job necessarily must.

Modi has become, in just 55 months, an international statesman, able to favorably influence world affairs. His government has substantially improved the ease of doing business in India, spoken out against the scourge of international terrorism, and shepherded an economy that is almost at 5th position in the world now.

Rahul Gandhi, as an aspirant to the top job from the Opposition, has appropriated the low road and is doing his best to destroy the credibility of the NDA regime and the Prime Minister in particular. Ignoring or even trying to obscure the UPA record for corruption and misgovernance, he talks of farmer distress/loan waivers, “Gabbar Singh Tax,” ruinous “Demonetisation”, destruction of institutions, attacks on the Minorities - rounding off all this with the corruption counter-charge of “Chowkidaar Chor Hai”.

Some of this is working with the masses, as well as the classes. It is undeniable that the string of NDA losses from bye-elections to assemblies in the year or so just past, are definitely warning shots through Modi’s bows.

But is the general election truly up in the air? The Congress strategy is negative, populist and economically fraught. It has been adopted as a method to hoodwink poor farmers and disgruntled tribals to vote for it. But freebies have to be paid for, unfairly, by the honest taxpayer and creates an ecosphere of wanting more from where that came from. Almost bankrupt states, including the ones that the Congress has just won, are left begging the Centre for more money to make up their shortfalls. 

The anarchy created by promised loan waivers leads others to default as well, causing massive NPAs! Besides, the knock-on effect on the nation’s finances and external credit ratings are likely to be disastrous. All the good work done on the economy over the last 55 months will go to waste if this becomes the norm, and the situation will be rendered precarious again.

A deeper look at the options before the voter offers it an alternative to the Opposition’s recklessness. It should be enough to let Modi win a second consecutive term and get on with unfinished business.