The first statements by any elected leader returned with a huge majority are a fairly good indication of what’s to come. By this reckoning the country can expect, as the previous post noted, a more populist swing towards social welfare-ism without any compensatory trade-offs in terms of off-loading — privatizing if you will — all socialist-era white elephants in the industrial and services spheres, all of whom are loss-making. So Air India will continue to fly to far corners with deplorable service standards, the railways will hobble along, the defence PSUs will keep producing stuff the military doesn’t want and ordnance factories will output shells that split the barrels of artillery guns, this even as the telecommunications prospects of the country have brightened with private companies allowed to enter the field marginalizing the public sector telecom entities. But it is lessons from which experience — that privatizing government owned units will fill the treasury and improve the economy — that the Modi government will studiously ignore.
In fact, a BJP leader is quoted with respect to Modi’s flagship political venture — ‘Make in India’ as saying that it will be an employment generator. It doesn’t apparently matter what’s manufactured within the country as long as it provides jobs. This is manifestly the wrong way, I have long argued, to go about the business because it will lead to more and more international companies dumping their obsolete production jigs and assembly lines in India to output completely useless goods and hardware marketable in no other country in the world. Like the F-21 fighter — a strange attempt by the US defence major Lockheed Martin to resurrect, nomenclature-wise at least, its old Northrop-Grumman F-20 Tigershark built as a “low cost fighter aircraft” for the Third World India of President Jimmy Carter’s time, except instead of the then newly designed Tigershark, the old and weary F-16 is being led out of the stable dressed up suitably for a brain-dead Indian government to go gaga over and the Indian Air Force, which knows better, to accept this wretched warplane that the home-grown Tejas can run circles around. This when Tejas can spearhead the country’s intent to rely on armaments it designs itself and to make India an arms exporter of note. Except, a Defence Ministry note to be put up soon to Modi reportedly places these same malfunctioning DPSUs and Ordnance factories in the lead for increasing arms exports. Well, Good Luck! And also, good-bye to achieving genuine arms self-sufficiency.
Consider the first effusions from Prime Minister Narendra Modi stepping into his second term in office. Most striking of all were the terms in which he congratulated the PMO — his personal secretariat which pretty much runs the entire show because it does very little thinking and merely takes cues from the boss — and headed by babus he has long worked with, won’t contradict him, and trusts implicitly. The PMO’s success, Modi said, was because it strove not for “effectiveness” but “efficiency”! With this as metric one can see why he prizes bureaucrats able efficiently to carry out his orders and realize his instructions than domain experts able to think up more effective solutions for the myriad problems facing the country. And why his second stint in government will be as bereft of expertise, and grand new but risky ideas emanating from the top — because his own strength lies only in effective and efficient politicking. And why the same plodding policies will be pursued that promise only incremental gains (which by 2024 and the time of the next general elections will be totted up as huge benefits for the people).
This deficiency will be particularly evident in the foreign and national security areas where staying with the policies of his first term which, in turn, were a continuation of the themes from the Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh eras, will not only ill-serve the country but ensure India flounders among the also-rans. In keeping with a shrunken view of India’s place in the world, Modi’s initial words were equally galling. India he declared has “national ambitions” and “regional aspirations” which suggests, correctly, that during this Prime Minister’s time in office, India can say good-bye to any role that will have global impact or even result in a consequential impression in Asia, and that it will reduce its sights to South Asia and to playing the “Dada” on the block whom Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan and perhaps Myanmar, defer to. With Modi’s willingness. moreover, to play footsie with the transaction-minded US President Donald Trump, gone too are the big plans for consolidating relations with Iran and enlarging India’s footprint in Afghanistan and Central Asia ex-Chabahar. But Washington’s potential objections to upsetting the status quo will also mean that the one thing Modi can do with the majority he will soon have in both Houses of Parliament to amend the Constitution by removing Articles 35A and 370 that endow Jammu & Kashmir with special status within the Union, he will refrain from doing. This will guarantee that the Kashmir issue remains on the boil and the entry point for diplomatic intervention by extra-territorial powers, namely, the US, China, UK, et al to the detriment of India’s sovereignty, security and national interest.
Then again, Delhi’s condescending, big brother, attitude will likely obtain a Pakistan, Nepal, etc that will prefer to be tributaries of Beijing than kowtow to Delhi. None of this really bothers Modi, who seems content to play second fiddle to an aggressively expansionist China in Asia and the Indian Ocean basin and to the entirely unreliable US in the ‘Indo-Pacific’. This while Modi is being jollied along by Washington and West European capitals with warm hospitality shown him in return for capital purchases (mostly antiquated military hardware) from their countries. Meanwhile, the short-sighted idiots in GHQ, Rawalpindi, will happily keep providing the periodic excuses of terrorist acts for Modi to mount “surgical” strikes, Balakote-type “attack” sorties, and to thump his chest. (Who is to say the Pulwama episode which set up the Balakote operation didn’t swing the elections for Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party?) So the PM’s restricted ambition for India is apparently for it to be the Tarzan of the subcontinental jungle!