If it is coincidence then it is a remarkable one. Disparate democracies the world over seem to be making a right turn. Japan was in the van, electing the nationalistic-minded Shinzo Abe as prime minister for a second time. President Barack Obama’s somewhat loose, confused, direction of policy at home and abroad is paving the way for the Republican Party to retake the White House in 2016, in the manner Manmohan Singh is easing Narendra Modi into power. The French socialist president, Francoise Hollande, after the debacle of his party in recent elections, considered appointing Marine Le Pen of the right-wing Front National Party as prime minister before hoisting another politician of similar persuasion, Manuel Valls, into the post.
Elsewhere in Europe, in line with Norway’s lurch rightwards with the election of the Conservative (Hoyre) Party heading a coalition government, inclusive of the extremist Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet), Holland is seeing Geert Wilders, best known for his Islamophobia (“I don’t hate Muslims; I hate Islam)” and his Party for Freedom driving the Dutch polity to the right, Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party is beginning to make waves in Britain (after beating the Liberal Party chief Nicholas Clegg in a recent television debate), and the Golden Dawn party is rising fast in Greece. In each of these instances, the people seemed fed up with the excesses of socialist misgovernance.
What’s superficially common to these developments in Europe is that the conservative outfits are uniformly anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and reflective of the growing anger in the host societies with proliferating numbers of legal and illegal immigrants and their unwillingness, as Marine Le Pen put it, to “assimilate” into the local culture instead of merely seeking “integration”, a concept she dismisses as “Anglo-Saxon” which permits social groups to retain their separate ethnic/religious identities constituting, according to her, a permanent affront to domestic peace.
In India, too, there is a problem of Muslims, not because they are caught between and betwixt assimilation and integration, but because they seem unable to reconcile religion with secular education and economic opportunity, which explains their backwardness. A traditional madrassa certificate (the only formal learning most Indian Muslims undergo) does not, alas, prepare youngsters for jobs in a modernising economy.
The depths to which the system of secular education in the country has plunged means that even if Muslim youth were to get the usual abominably poor public sector schooling, they’d be only slightly better off than those among them from the madrassas and, in any case, find themselves in the same hopeless situation as the rest of the youthful horde in the country joining the ranks of the unemployed and unemployables. This is where the central and state governments have failed. Rather than instituting a meritocratic educational system, offering remedial courses to pull up those lagging behind to competition level, universalising English-medium education, and proliferating vocational schools to afford the young a passport to jobs in an industrialising economy and the global marketplace, they offer caste, religion, and ethnic identity-based quotas and reservation as palliative. But because public payrolls can be padded only so much, a growing army of malcontents and lumpens with little to do and enormous potential for mischief roam the city and the countryside relying on odd jobs, or taking to crime and Maoism/terrorism.
It is this signal failure of the “socialist” Indian state in harnessing human resources that is the deep reason for the political tumult motivating the people today to throw out the Congress party, which installed the overweening state and has presided over it for the last 60 years. The alternative, however, was withering in plain sight. The Swatantra Party was founded in 1959 by C Rajagopalachari, one of the four pillars along with Mahatma Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel, and Jawaharlal Nehru, of the freedom movement because he was disillusioned by socialist solutions that only grew the government, not advance opportunities or economic progress. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Bharatiya Janata Party, rather than stressing what the Swatantra Party did—free enterprise and free trade, which it was ideologically in sync with—fell into the Congress party’s policy rut.
Vajpayee’s BJP represented, as the Congress still does, the statist impulses of Clement Attlee’s Labour Party in post-War Britain. Except in the UK the squalid socialist state was torn down by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. The new BJP promises to do much the same thing in India because its unquestioned leader, Modi, refreshingly, is of an Burkeian bent of mind, his signature message of “Minimum government, Maximum governance” mirroring the conservative Burke’s basic suspicion of, and antipathy to, the nanny state. Modi’s emphasis on the primacy of individual effort and private sector industry, moreover, has led to the employment-generation issue being twinned, significantly, with entrepreneurship in the 2014 BJP manifesto.
Entrepreneurship is the acme of individual endeavour with the individual’s will to make it as the motor, and nobody manifests this better than Modi himself. His impoverished youth without formal education, early adult years as an itinerant preacher depending on bheeksha (alms) of food to survive, is a soul-stirring story. That these experiences enhanced the man rather than embitter him says something about Modi’s fortitude and character. That he, thereafter, rocketed from being a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak to run Gujarat as a model state, and is now bidding fair to rule the country, is an astonishing development in Indian politics. As an incorruptible and modernising visionary with clear views about fiscal restraint, India desperately needs him. Every other politician’s rags to power story pales before Modi’s. His ascent also reveals the BJP as a party where merit works.
Thus, to compare Modi with a callow Rahul Gandhi and the BJP with a clueless, congenitally corrupt, retro-rhetoric mouthing, and dynastic Sonia Gandhi-led Congress party is to reduce political analysis to a joke. Surprisingly, by harping on Modi’s supposed anti-minority-ism, that is precisely what some Western media and interfering US government organisations such as the Commission on International Religious Freedoms, hurrahing a Rahul-led Congress regime as the better choice have done. Do they really believe what they say counts?
[Published in New Indian Express, 18th April 2014, at http://www.newindianexpress.com/opinion/India-is-Moving-Right/2014/04/18/article2174275.ece ]