Opinion: Beyond Lord Ram, Lord Kubera's Blessings Crucial For 2024 Polls

The Sangh Parivar's mandate for Lord Ram in the 1980s was to bring the BJP power. While the mighty-armed prince of the epic Ramayana played his part in the BJP getting its first taste of power at the Centre in 1996 and a relatively smaller role in delivering the country in 2014, it was Narendra Modi's promise of a glittering future that really made the difference.

The lord is still being put to work for the party trying to eke out the temple movement's dividends. For instance, Home Minister and BJP leader Amit Shah beseeched Chhattisgarh voters saying the state was Lord Ram's maternal grandparents' home. Shah said "their nephew" was about to be seated in his new abode in Ayodhya because of Modi who laid its foundation stone and will consecrate the completed structure in the New Year. He also promised free visits to Ayodhya for all residents of Telangana if they chose the BJP.

But nearly a decade after the BJP captured Delhi with a resounding majority, the marginal utility of Ram, the first unifier of the Hindu nation per the originator of the Hindutva ideology, VD Savarkar, is minimal. If there is one deity that needs propitiating for the future, that is Ravana's half-brother Kubera, the lord of wealth.

In fact, any dispensation that comes to power will have to hope for Kubera's beneficence to lift millions of Indians out of misery, provide jobs to young aspirants, and protect its borders, land and water from enemy and nature.

Despite all the positive vibes from foreign investors, and pep talk from Indian industrialists, the economy is precariously poised. Most estimates suggest output will grow at a rate between 6% and 7% this year and the next. Public finances are not in the shape any government would like them to be. The cost of highway construction, the most visually appealing advertisement for development, has doubled to more than Rs 10.64 lakh crore. The cabinet has hesitated to clear the steep cost overrun which has resulted in project awards falling by 48% in the first half of the current fiscal year.

The government has temporarily kept prices under control by restricting exports of key staples such as wheat, rice and sugar, hoping fresh harvest would ease the burden. But erratic weather is likely to play havoc again. Crop acreage in Maharashtra is likely to suffer due to water shortage. Reports suggest that reservoirs have 20% less storage than at the same time the previous year. Floods, storms, droughts etc. are estimated to have wiped out crops on 36 million hectares in the state in the past five years. Maharashtra is a critical supplier of kitchen staples such as onions, sugar, and pulses. It's also a major producer of grapes and mangoes, both key export commodities. Crop shrinkage could lead to higher prices next year.

Food inflation has been a regular disrupter of household budgets in the past couple of years. Add to that external factors such as oil prices. An uptick in the global economy will push up energy prices. Wall Street biggie Goldman Sachs estimates that a $10 increase in oil prices pushes up India's inflation by half a percentage point and trade deficit by 0.3 percentage points.

Persistent inflation will force the Reserve Bank of India to raise interest rates, which will increase overall costs in the economy. The central bank is already worried about household finances. It recently tightened lending norms to make it tougher for banks and non-banking finance companies to dole out unsecured loans after consumers began borrowing heavily to buy gadgets and spend on holidays. Net household savings have dropped to nearly a 50-year low.

To add to the stack, unemployment is rising alarmingly. Research firm Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy said joblessness topped 10% in October reaching a two-year high as more people in rural areas could not find jobs. What's worrying is even sectors such as software services are facing the squeeze. For the first time in over 25 years, nine out of India's top 10 IT companies' workforces shrank in the first half of this fiscal year. That could mean we are past peak IT hiring.

The shortage of jobs and livelihoods has meant the government has had to scale up welfare measures, including food support. It is also said to be considering increasing its dole for marginal farmers from Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 annually. The government was also forced to chew over restoring the employees' old pension scheme, which imposes substantial financial burden on its balance sheet, after it delivered electoral dividends to the opposition in state elections.

While global headwinds will continue to buffet the economy, the impulse for unrestrained, competitive populism would be a disaster. But it might be futile to hope for moderation as opposition parties make a concerted bid to unseat Narendra Modi while the BJP pulls out every trick in its book to hang on to power.

(The writer is editor of The Signal and author of The RSS And The Making Of The Deep Nation.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.