Narendra Modi has proven once again how important it is to be lucky in politics. In the spring, he was India’s opposition leader, running for prime minister by focusing on the government’s mismanagement of the economy. He had plenty of ammunition: The coalition led by the Congress Party had presided over years of corruption scandals and stalled reforms—and also had to contend with a growing budget deficit fueled by soaring prices for oil and other imported commodities.
During the campaign, Modi said he wanted to cut back on the costly subsidies the government offered millions of Indians to cushion the blow of those soaring prices. Petroleum subsidies account for one-quarter of India’s 2.6 trillion rupee ($42.4 billion) subsidies bill. But after he won in a landslide, Modi’s first budget (which his finance minister announced in July), was a modest plan that left the subsidies untouched.
That left observers unsure as to whether Modi was backing away from the politically difficult task of making the cuts. “We can either trust that the government will deliver price hikes as the year progresses,” Mirza Baig, head of foreign exchange and interest rate strategy at BNP Paribas in Singapore, wrote in a report after the budget announcement in July. “Or we can be more cynical and suggest that the Modi administration intends to continue the practice of rolling forward subsidy expenditure to next year.”