Message from Modi

Finally, there is a political leader of stature, with significant achievements to his credit, daring to think big for the nation. Having proved himself a remarkably adept administrator and a hard driver and shaper-upper of the ordinarily lax, lethargic, and slothful apparatus of state government, Narendra Modi has outlined some elements that, if fleshed out, would constitute a coherent ideology to rival the Left-of-centre, middle-of-the-road, vacuities that currently pass for state ideology.

Early in the speech ending his three day ‘Sadbhavana’ fast in Ahmedabad on September 19, the Gujarat Chief Minister exhorted the people to “think big, dream big”; without a grand vision for the country there is, he declared, no resolve and, hence, there’s no “possibility” of India ever becoming a great power. It was fresh thinking about 21st Century India, whose minders, for far too long, have been small, diffident, men with limited ideas and blinkered sights, incapable of articulating a potentially great nation’s sense of its self. Modi did not provide details, but it was enough that, for a start, he pointed to the lack of a grand national vision as the main reason for the ills that have befallen the country in the last 60 years. He followed up with an even more startling insight. The best thing the government can do for the people, he said, is to get out, and stay out, of their lives!  Were the people not required to deal with government agencies manned by bribe-seeking officials at every turn, their hard work and enterprise, he averred, would propel the country forward. Such a rousing indictment of the Nanny State and intrusive government has not been heard for over forty years now.

Narendra Modi’s economic ideas resonate with the views of the free market economist B.R. Shenoy, who in the 1950s vehemently contested the statist notions propagated by the statistician, “comrade” C. Mahalanobis – the master designer of the planned economy that has hobbled India ever since. From the same school of economic thought as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, Shenoy opposed deficit financing and the quasi-soviet state erected at Jawaharlal Nehru’s bidding, which reflected the worst attributes of  the laissez faire system, such as crony capitalism, and the totalitarian state.  Except, as a practitioner of a facilitative government, Modi has the unique experience of overriding the systemic defects, ridding Gujarat of much of corruption the governmental apparatus was prone to, and – within the constraints of a federal structure – extracting performance from the decrepit colonial-socialist machinery of state to deliver development and industrialisation on a scale unmatched by any other provincial government in the history of the Union.

Modi also targeted vote-bank politics. May be the show of Muslim “support” at the Sadbhavana event was a bit of political theatre, in the same league as Congress Party-wallahs staying overnight in dalit hutments in the full glare of television cameras.  But, there is little doubt that Muslims in the state recognise they are as much beneficiaries of good governance that Modi has delivered as anybody else, and that when he says he will not pander to them it means he will seek their votes as Gujaratis, not as Muslims. While the residents of Naroda-Patia seem unwilling to forgive and forget the incidents of 2002, their insistence on punishing Modi has the potential of again aggravating the communal divide that the spreading prosperity has begun to bridge.

Modi’s emergence on the national scene ensures that, for the first time, there will be a distinct, alternate, ideology for the voters to mull over while keeping in mind its successful run in Gujarat. He offers an antidote to the bankrupt, left-leaning, populism the Congress Party invariably falls back on when the going gets tough, to wit, the various social welfare schemes, such as NREGA, the Manmohan Singh regime has launched in recent times despite mountainous evidence showing that the billions of rupees allotted such programmes are effortlessly decanted by “middle men”, the local politicians and officials up and down the line. Modi’s success in Gujarat emphasizes the fact that a strong-minded leader determined on making the  administrative system responsible for producing results, can radically transform the defunct, over-bureaucratised, system of government the country is saddled with.

No leader in his own BJP or in any other political party, has come close to mustering Modi’s inclusivist development record. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, is the exception; he has worked a miracle, and because Bihar was much less developed when he took over that state than Gujarat was when Modi assumed office, Nitish Kumar’s accomplishments may be greater, except he has to update his Jayprakash Narayan-derived philosophy for the new millennium. This makes Narendra Modi a standout in a political landscape littered, on the one hand, with former Chief Ministers like Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav and, prospectively, Mayawati, who having run their states into the ground, aspire to be Prime Minister to wreak similar havoc on the country as a whole and, on the other hand, the legion of politicians within the Congress Party and in its coalition who, when not owing their exalted positions to family connections, are in public life mainly for the loot, as the DMK leader Dayanidhi Maran  unabashedly explained to an US Embassy official (Wikileaks).

Modi’s rather novel views actually hark back to the Fifties and the Sixties, when, as founding members of the conservative Swatantra Party, “Rajaji” C. Rajagopalachari lambasted Nehru’s socialism for handicapping the private sector by forcing it to run in, what he called, a “three-legged or gunny bag race” refereed by “arrogant officials”, and Minoo Masani  lampooned Nehru for creating a class of politicians who, he charged, instead of living for politics, lived off politics. But it took another Modi, this one spelled with a ‘y’ as in Piloo Mody, in the Seventies, to really get up the ruling Congress Party’s nose and square up its socialism as dangerous pretence if not an outright joke.  Piloo slammed Indira Gandhi’s policies,  including the nationalization of banks and insurance companies, as an “equal sharing of miseries”, warned that her authoritarian bent tended towards fascism – a view substantiated by her imposition of Emergency, and he identified corruption as the biggest industry in the country. Some things never change.

Narendra Modi may be just what the doctor ordered to revitalize India’s ailing body politic and to unify a young and ambitious nation, yearning for freedom from nitpicking government, for skills, innovation and incentives;  a country deliberately fractured along sub-caste, caste, religious, and regional lines to serve narrow interests. He could fill the need, Rajaji writing in his newsletter, Swarajya, in August 1957 voiced, for “a strong and articulate Right” stressing small government and good governance, and a big ideological void as well.

[Published in ‘New Indian Express’ on Saturday, Sept 24, 2011, at http://expressbuzz/op-ed/opinion/Message-from-Modi/316608.html ]

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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