Message to Modi’s constituencies — free market advocates, the middle class and the Hindutva brigade
[dropcaps round=”no”]A[/dropcaps]ll political parties in India are socialist — government-control freaks upholding the notion that sarkar is maai-baap even in the age of democracy. Make no mistake about it. In fact, the Election Commission forces a sacred pledge on parties seeking registration that they would be committed to the ideology of socialism as enshrined in the Constitution, thanks to Indira Gandhi government’s amendment in the 1970s. This makes the free market-advocating backers of Prime Minister Narendra Modi impatient; one may well ignore criticism by those who did not vote for this government. While the BJP government stayed dedicated to the idea of state control forced on it as explained above, we had a plethora of objections to things Finance Minister Arun Jaitley did or did not do over the past one year raised by the economic right wing. Much as these protests were grounded in ideology, the ignorance of politics that determines this country’s economic policy is fraught with the risk of inviting back to power a party or coalition that would be worse: Contrary to the BJP that is socialist by compulsion — with the knowledge that the people have been brainwashed with Nehruvian ideals for more than six decades — the Congress, the loosely held Janata parivar, a variety of state chieftains and a municipal-level AAP that the media promotes so much that it sometimes looks national, are dyed-in-the-wool socialist or are simply in love with the idea of attracting votes through doles. The performance of the latter was evident not only over the past 10 years but also between Independence and the 1980s and in the last 100 days that the Delhi government has on record. In between, in the first half of the 1990s came PV Narasimha Rao, whom the Congress is embarrassed to own, and for whom reform might never have been the agenda but for the Balance of Payment crisis. The choice in front of libertarians should, therefore, be clear: The present of compulsion-driven socialism versus the past of compulsory socialism. Do they wish to bring back that past in the future?
But then, PM Modi did make a mistake right at the stage of inception of his government. He put a reluctant reformist at the helm of the country’s finances — influenced either by the fact that Jaitley sympathised with him in the 90s when he was sandwiched between Keshubhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela, or by the consideration that he stood by the side of the then Chief Minister of Gujarat during the riots of 2002, or by the pragmatic deliberation that parliamentary management and industry’s confidence demanded a well-networked, Delhi-based politician. Modi was, however, not closed to the idea of course correction. He first gave the finance minister a deputy in the form of Jayant Sinha and then, perpetually, began saddling him with advisers and executives who swore by liberal economics: Arvind Panagariya, Bibek Debroy, Arvind Subramanian, Rajiv Mehrishi et al. The result was visible in the form of the first full Budget that had a sound sense of direction unlike the Vote on Account the previous year that sounded like a speech prepared by bureaucrats and read out by the minister, allocating Rs 100 crore to a hell lot of projects. Given the political risk of inviting the ire of a networked Jaitley, this is the course Modi is likely to take throughout his tenure. In the meantime, the intelligent Jaitley must read the peril in continuing to look like this government’s liability.
On the social front, the expectation from a mythical ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ was always misplaced. In his 13 odd years as the chief executive of Gujarat, Modi never betrayed that tendency, all unprovable allegations hurled at him for 2002 notwithstanding, as he was neither found wanting when illegal temples had to be demolished in Surat nor seen as provocative when Ahmedabad was rocked by terror bombings — a time by when he was fully in charge of the state administration unlike in 2002. At the same time, if Hindus are disappointed by the sight of Modi entertaining false grievances of a bunch of Christian and Muslim clerics, who are passing off acts of petty criminals burgling churches and mosques as communal attacks, the complaint is legitimate. The government must instead explain to the Press how none of these incidents was of the ruling party’s making. As for rants by the likes of Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Sakshi Maharaj, Giriraj Singh and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, one must bear three aspects in mind: One, they do not represent the government’s view; two, some of them have risen from the lowest stratum of society where intemperate parlance is natural lingo; three, which is the most important, Modi has reined them in. Beyond the government, there is the RSS, which, as an NGO, is entitled to its views — right or wrong. To say that this government is responsible for the Sangh’s utterances because it largely draws its personnel from that ‘family’ is legally untenable.
Amidst all this, Modi has been remarkable on the foreign affairs front. A long list of overseas trips were necessary to quickly correct India’s history of poor diplomacy, which was first impractically moralistic and then surprisingly laggard: from the years of a didactic Non-Alignment Movement to playing subordinate to the Soviet Union to supporting Najibullah in Afghanistan to looking on like a spectator while China encircled us with its ‘string of pearls’. The evacuation from Yemen and humanitarian help to Nepal have been the cherries on the cake.
In all these aspects, if the one-year old dispensation came across as a one-man show, do not carp. A BJP without Modi on top was inspiring nobody’s confidence even as the Congress-led UPA was getting exposed in one case of corruption after another. As expected from the ruler with an iron fist, there has been no allegation of high-level corruption under Modi’s watch.
Finally, this is a phase of transition as far as the country’s economy is concerned. If the growth in GDP has risen — never mind the new method of calculating it — the prices of some edibles have risen disturbingly high. If rich farmers can reach end consumers directly, even if FDI in retail is not allowed, food will turn affordable to all. The daily-waged tiller, meanwhile, must be allowed to diversify to urbane jobs, which calls for a big push to lacklustre skill development and passing of the NDA’s amendments to the UPA’s Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, through a joint sitting of Parliament. Elsewhere, once subsidies turn leak-proof, thanks to banking inclusion, there will be less pressure to raise taxes to fill the emptying coffers of the exchequer. ‘Make in India’ is a long haul; give Modi at least a decade to bring it to fruition. It’s the initiative of Swachh Bharat where the government is all at sea, without a comprehensive waste management policy in place except a plan to build toilets for all; give it workable ideas instead of lampooning it with snide remarks. These are all aspects of the economy that can some day address the communal situation, too; remember, the more affluent a person is, the less political he turns; for, business cannot afford activism. Wish the nation a lot of money — implying a lot less strife. For that, you must keep the compulsive socialists at an arm’s length.