The economic environment often plays a major role in determining electoral outcomes. Many leaders come to power because of their economic promises, while others lose because they fail to solve economic problems. In 1971, Indira Gandhi quickly figured out that Garibi Hatao - Remove Poverty - was a powerful promise to get voters to rally behind her and get back seats that the Congress had lost in previous elections. Equally, she could not keep her promise. The fact that the economy deteriorated sharply and people were beginning to feel the pinch of it, made her government extremely unpopular by the end of that term. Even if she had not imposed Emergency in 1975, she was beginning to lose favour with large swathes of the electorate.
In 2004, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who led the first full NDA government, also made the fatal mistake of campaigning with the slogan of Shining India when a large section of the poor had not benefitted from his economic initiatives. He mistook his popularity with the middle class for the sentiment of the average citizen. That would bring UPA1 to power, with Manmohan Singh as prime minister.
The global economic boom of 2004-08 before the Lehman Brothers crash also helped the Indian economy bloom. Which was one reason that helped Manmohan Singh come back as PM at the helm of UPA2, though it was quite clear that the Indian economy was shaky.
And while many political analysts credit Prime Minister Narendra Modi's campaign focussing on muscular nationalism as the reason for his sweeping the 2014 general elections, few realise how much of a role the dissatisfaction with the UPA2's economic performance (along with allegations of corruption) played in the way the alliance was decimated. Narendra Modi's promise of Acche Din and all-round development was a heady promise for voters who had seen the economy on a downswing for four years in a row.
As we head for the 2019 general elections, what has the current NDA government's economic performance been? Will it play a significant role in deciding the outcome of this election? There is enough indication that it will. Despite Prime Minister Modi's personal popularity remaining high across the country with voters, survey after survey shows that the biggest concern for the electorate remains jobs. Another huge factor is agricultural distress - something the government also realises. Agricultural distress was one major cause for the BJP losing in both Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan state elections. It was enough of a worry for the government to announce the PM-Kisan scheme, which would give a large number of farmers `6,000 as income support in a year.
The Congress, too, is focussing on economic distress and joblessness as its major plank in this election and Rahul Gandhi has come up with a minimum income guarantee promise.
But objectively, what has been the Modi government's report card on the economy? It is a mixed result - with some great achievements and also some dismal failures. Our cover story looks in detail at both hits and misses in the major areas.