Next Indian PM's economic challenge

Next Indian PM's economic challenge
Mr Modi has also raised the topic of skills creation as a means of enhancing economic activity. He also has plans to bring down inflation, thus reducing the need for social welfare schemes.

INDIA - In the second half of May, after the conclusion of a staggered national election, India will have a new prime minister.

The leading candidates for the job are Mr Rahul Gandhi of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), Mr Narendra Modi of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, and Mr Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party.

The new prime minister will inherit an economy in crisis. India's gross domestic product (GDP) growth is the lowest in a decade, inflation is high, industrial growth has frozen and job growth has dried upMeanwhile, infrastructure development has slowed and the fiscal deficit hangs like Damocles' Sword.

So, what can one expect the economic agenda of the next prime minister to be? One might roughly describe Mr Gandhi's approach as social welfare-led development.

This contrasts with commerce-led development for Mr Modi and clean politics-led development of Mr Kejriwal.

GDP growth has now dipped to a dismal 5 per cent. Worse, it has not been inclusive. Large swathes of the population have been left out of India's rather skewed growth story. Poverty rankles deep, economic distress is a reason for migration and the socio-economic imbalance gives rise to crime.

Mr Gandhi promises a return to 8 per cent growth. But popular expectations that he can deliver are coloured by the dismal record of the UPA since 2010, in which policy paralysis and corruption were major factors in the economic slowdown.

Mr Kejriwal wants to increase the participation of the private sector. But the private sector has gone into a cocoon regarding fresh investments, leaving the government to take the initiative. Unfortunately, India's fiscal situation is weak and the ability to increase public expenditure is limited.

This is a challenge Mr Modi faces too. Based on his track record in Gujarat, expectations are high that he can revive the Indian economy.

He might be able to clear stalled projects quickly, but these will need time to bear fruit. Negotiating with provincial governments is yet another potential problem, as are weather uncertainties, with El Nino affecting crop output (and consequently inflation and interest rates), thus posing challenges to reviving growth.

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