×

India's voters bite back against Prime Minister Modi's economic reforms

  • India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has seen its majority squeezed in a local election in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat
  • Modi's rocky victory was pinned down to pain caused to voters by his economic reforms, such as the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) earlier this year
  • But one asset manager CNBC spoke to described the GST as a "game changer"
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) holds up his inked finger after voting in Ahmedabad, the largest city in the Indian state of Gujarat, on December 14, 2017.
Sam Panthaky | AFP | Getty Images
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) holds up his inked finger after voting in Ahmedabad, the largest city in the Indian state of Gujarat, on December 14, 2017.

India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has seen its majority squeezed in a local election in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat.

The vote, which took place Friday, revealed that the BJP had claimed 99 seats in the 182 seat-strong legislative assembly. The BJP had targeted 150 positions, but saw its previously held 115 seats reduced by the opposition Indian National Congress.

Modi's rocky victory was pinned down to pain caused to voters by his economic reforms, namely the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) earlier this year and the sudden withdrawal of 500 and 1,000 rupee notes in November of 2016 to crack down on corruption.

The Gujarat vote, as well as a simultaneous legislative assembly election in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, were viewed as informal referendums on Modi's economic policy.

The BJP emerged with the majority of seats in both votes.

India's Nifty index finished 0.54 percent higher, following a lower open Monday on news that the contest was close in Gujarat. The rupee was steady against the dollar, after some volatility in early trade.

Despite Modi's party winning fewer seats in Gujarat, Roger Jones, head of equities at asset manager London & Capital, reiterated that he was bullish on India. He described the outcome as "quite a reasonable result."

Jones said that there had clearly been a "hangover" from the upheaval caused by the GST's implementation, which he expected to continue into the fourth quarter of this year. But he described the policy, which implemented a uniform tax structure nationwide, as a "game changer" for "removing roadblocks which were effectively bureaucracy-driven."

The GST "provides significant transparency to the economy," Shailesh Kumar, senior analyst for Asia at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, told CNBC via telephone.

Gujarat, located in the west of India and bordering Pakistan, is Modi's home state. He served as chief minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014, making him the longest person to have held the post.

Modi came to power following a landslide victory in 2014 and will face election again in 2019.

Kumar said that he expected the BJP to "opt for more forms of traditional economic populism in the coming year."

India is the world's seventh largest economy, according to the World Economic Forum. It is expected to overtake China as the world's biggest country by population in 2024. Growth for the fiscal year of 2017/18 is placed at 7 percent by the World Bank.