Will BJP's focus on infrastructure projects pay dividends in poll-bound Indian states?

The recent budget presentation by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has special projects doled out to election going states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Assam. For Kerala, the budget has a massive outlay of Rs 65,000 crore for the development of the national highway 66 corridor, as well as the announcement of the second phase of the Kochi Metro and the development of the Kochi fishing harbour as a commercial hub

Parvati Sasankan Feb 07, 2021
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The recent budget presentation by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has special projects doled out to election going states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Assam. For Kerala, the budget has a massive outlay of Rs 65,000 crore for the development of the national highway 66 corridor, as well as the announcement of the second phase of the Kochi Metro and the development of the Kochi fishing harbour as a commercial hub.  

Sitharaman announced that national highway works worth Rs 19,000 crore are in progress in Assam and projects of more than Rs 34,000Rs crore covering over 13,000 km of national highways will be undertaken in the state within the next three years. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been stressing on the transformation of Assam’s road network over the last five years to showcase its focus on infrastructure development. 

For West Bengal, there is a new ‘economic corridor’ covering 675km of the national highway, with an expected investment of Rs 25,000 crore.  For an industry-starved state, which is still trying to wish away its anti-industry image, investment in infrastructure was aimed to give the message that the BJP has plans to bring in investment in the state of West Bengal. This announcement was the beginning of ‘Sonar Bangla.’ 

For Tamil Nadu, the proposed projects could cost up to one lakh crore rupees. This includes Chennai Metro Rail of 118.9km for Rs 63,246 crore and two expressways connecting Chennai. 

Besides infrastructure allocation, the budget also seeks notable social sector interventions in these states. Assam and West Bengal gets a special scheme with Rs. 1000 crore outlay for the welfare of tea workers, especially women and children. Plantation workers mostly comprise 20 percent of Assam’s total population and are decisive factors in many assembly seats. The development politics expressed in the budget, particularly the significant outlays for infrastructure, has to be appreciated. The BJP is trying hard to retain power in Assam and seizing power in West Bengal from Mamata Banerjee, and the party hopes that all these measures could sway the voters in their favour.

With a clear focus on the expansion of metro rail and bus services through central funding, Budget 2021 has recognised a core component of urbanisation. The challenge of urbanisation goes beyond standalone interventions such as metro and bus system grants. 

Enhanced ambition requires that both the Centre and State governments should integrate key areas with its transport vision such as affordable inner housing, including rental projects, access to civic services and health care and enhanced sustainability, greenery and walking space for pedestrians. All these are covered by central budgetary schemes.  

In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, it is quite a distance away from being a serious contender for power. The allocations for these states are therefore a significant statement of intent by the party. The projects might take a few years to complete but have great transformative potential. The BJP’s single-minded pursuit of its ideological politics is often a source of tensions. 

Although, the BJP appears serious about its southern foray, its rivals might not allow it to take full credit for the allocation of state resources.

(The writer is a Chennai-based journalist. The views are personal. She can be contacted at parvati663@gmail.com)

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