Loses modes to ground

India: The re-election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in danger

He is alluding to the most important change in economic policy during his term in office: the introduction of the nationwide sales tax GST, which replaced a patchwork of local taxes. In a small park next to the Patel statue, Modi had the reform immortalized in the form of a sculpture: two oversized hands stretch the letters GST towards the sky.

But Modi's self-portrayal as India's great economic reformer hardly fits into reality a few weeks before the parliamentary elections. Bad labor market data tarnish his balance sheet. Investments are also muted, and Modi's critics accuse him of making economic policies primarily for billionaires.

The opposition senses their chance: They believe that Modi, who was considered invincible for a long time, can still be beaten - and attacks him in his home country.

It is a hot day in southern Gujarat. Asha Singh protects herself from the sun with a headscarf. She and a group of women traveled to the village of Lal Dungri for a good hour early in the morning to see the man who gives her hope: Rahul Gandhi, the top candidate of the opposition Congress Party.

Singh has tied a white scarf with the Congress logo - a raised right hand - around his neck. She sits cross-legged on a green tarpaulin, on which tens of thousands of people will cheer the opposition leader a little later.

Singh works for a state company and advises clients on purchasing life insurance. “I have a good job,” she says. "But I am very concerned about unemployment under the Modi government."
When Modi applied for the post of prime minister in 2014, he referred to his successes in Gujarat, which was considered a favorite location among foreign investors.

180 meters high: India presents the world's largest statue

He put himself in the limelight as a man of the economy and promised to bring factories into the country and create ten million new jobs every year. But an initial euphoria was followed by disillusionment. Foreign direct investment is falling year by year - in 2016 it was $ 44 billion, in 2018 it is only $ 38 billion.

Modi's controversial cash reform caused displeasure: in November 2016, he declared 90 percent of the volume of cash in circulation to be invalid overnight. But there was no supply to exchange the bills. India's economy sank into chaos for weeks. The government did not achieve its stated goal of combating black money. Almost every old rupee flowed back into the system.

Things are hardly going any better on the job market. Data from the statistical authorities, which only became known when they were pierced into the media at the beginning of the year, show that the unemployment rate has been at a record level - at least since comparable records began in the 1970s. The situation of young Indians is particularly worrying: almost one in five fails to find work.

Gandhi sees opportunities

For Modi's opponent Gandhi, these numbers are the perfect campaign aid. He travels by helicopter to the dusty field that his party has converted into an election campaign stadium for 100,000 visitors. The legacy of India's most famous political dynasty comes to a place steeped in tradition: in Lal Dungri, his grandmother Indira, his father Rajiv and his mother Sonia Gandhi have already given campaign speeches.

Now the man his followers call Rahulji wants to present himself as the one who the losers of Modi's politics can rely on. Modi only helps his rich friends, Gandhi yells into the crowd. The farmers and the poor, on the other hand, have to fight for themselves. "When we come to power, there will be a guaranteed basic income for the poor," the candidate promises.

The crowd is raging, a woman gives Gandhi a kiss on the face. Gandhi knows that he is hitting a sore point with his criticism. At the end of last year, his party had surprisingly won regional elections in the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan against Modi's Hindu nationalist party BJP.

In national opinion polls ahead of the general election, which begins on April 11, Modi is ahead, but is forecast to lose his absolute majority. The Congress party feels that it is on the up and points out that Modi is threatened with defeat even in his home state: in 2014, his party won every single parliamentary seat here.

According to polls, the Congress party is now ahead in ten out of 26 constituencies. Nothing has changed in Gujarat's positive framework, for which the BJP government feels responsible: The state is known for its comparatively efficient administration and good infrastructure.

Even the asphalt road that leads to Gandhi's rural election site is so well developed that the cars can travel at almost 100 kilometers per hour. And the neighboring factories can rely on the fact that the electricity comes from the line 24 hours a day.

For Manoj Kumar this is actually the decisive advantage of the location. The factory, which he runs as India boss of the Baden-Württemberg plastics manufacturer Röchling, in Gujarat's third largest city Vadodara, runs around the clock. It produces polypropylene sheets seven days a week for the chemical industry, among other things.

"In other states you have to live with the fact that on some days you can only continue to work with your own generator," he says. "In our energy-intensive work that would drive the costs up significantly."
Röchling opened its factory in Gujarat in 2014 - the year Modi became Prime Minister. Things have gone well for the company since then. The plant quickly reached its capacity limits. The medium-sized company therefore built another production building, which was opened at the beginning of March. The 2.5 million euro investment triples the capacity.

The company headquarters in Mannheim has already announced a further investment of five million euros. “We will be opening more production lines in the coming months,” says Kumar. "We are growing strongly in each of our business areas."

BASF is committed

Modi set out to apply the Gujarat model to all of India. But the model itself has come under massive criticism. Most recently, one of the leaders of the government's economic think tank, Niti Aayog, criticized the fact that Gujarat does a good job in terms of industry and infrastructure, but is lagging behind on social issues.

The complaints about Modi's course also pose an uncertain future for one of the largest German investment projects in India. At the beginning of the year, the chemical company BASF signed an agreement in principle with the conglomerate of the Indian billionaire Gautam Adani on a joint venture in Gujarat. According to the plans, the two partners want to jointly invest two billion euros.

In the past, Modis BJP has given such large-scale projects vigorous support. But representatives of the opposition make it clear that this could change if there was a change in power. Manish Doshi is one of the most recognizable faces as spokesman for the Congress Party on Gujarat's news broadcasts.

In an interview with the Handelsblatt, he attacks BASF's business partner: Adani benefits from his relationships with what he believes is the corrupt BJP government, says Doshi. The Congress Party wants to stop politics that only benefit the rich.

Major investments like that of BASF would in principle still be welcome under a congress government, he says. "But only if you really help the people in Gujarat, not if it's just about the interests of the industrialists."

The fact that the lower classes of the population in Modi's Gujarat feel left behind is now also an issue of Modi's giant statue. Around 800,000 tourists have come to the monument since it opened in October. Visitors can take the elevator to a viewing platform at chest height - with the best view of the neighboring Sardar-Sarovar dam.

But at the beginning of March the visitors had to stay on the ground for a while: Around 100 employees of the attraction, including gardeners and lift boys, went on strike. They protested against missing salaries and wages that were too low. The service staff received the equivalent of 70 euros per month. They then agreed with the operator on a monthly wage of 105 euros.

Before that, they had formed a human chain around the unit statue. India did not make a united impression at that moment.