Modi has positioned himself not just as a leader, but also as an object of mass consumption — a strategy that speaks of our times.
Political parties must do more than just pay lip service to universal healthcare in their election manifestos.
A multi-stakeholder governance system must be worked out.
What India needs more than anything today is a leader with a new economic vision. A leader who understands the need to make India count among the richest countries in the world, instead of the poorest. India has every reason to be rich. Few countries in the world have been blessed with all the resources needed to create prosperity on a mass scale, but India has remained incapable of providing even drinking water to its people because of bad economic policies and a stunted, shabby idea of our place in the world.
So we need a new kind of leader after the next general election. And, sadly what Rahul Gandhi proved through his first TV interview was that he is not that leader. What he proved is that he has more interest in reviving the Congress than in reviving India and that he is a strong supporter of what has come to be known disparagingly as ‘Sonianomics’.
This has, in the opinion of your humble columnist, taken the Indian economy down to almost rock bottom. It is based not on making Indians rich but on throwing largesse in the direction of the poor.
So if you are an Indian living below the poverty line, under a government that has failed to provide you with clean water, sanitation, healthcare and schools, you can bring cheer to your miserable life by collecting your rations of cheap food grain. And you can consider yourself privileged to have the legal rights to information, education and a hundred days of work a year. Of course, if you are desperately poor, you will not have access to the justice system but, what the hell, be grateful for the fact that Sonia Gandhi and her son care more for you than they do for the rich.
If Rahul’s long interview is any indication of how he thinks, then it is clear that he shares his mother’s vision. Other than a hint that he has grasped that India has missed becoming a manufacturing hub, everything he said was about “empowering” the poor and the voiceless. Noble ideas but not possible with just noblesse oblige. What is needed are massive investments in schools, healthcare, rural infrastructure and the creation of jobs. The solutions devised by Sonia’s National Advisory Council to these problems have proved less than adequate, but Rahul babbled on about RTI, MNREGA as if they were revolutionary ideas. They are not.
So does Narendra Modi offer us an alternative economic vision? Let us be clear that the BJP certainly does not. But to hear Modi talk about using urbanisation as an opportunity not a challenge came as music to my jaded ears. Modi talks of the need to invest in tourism as a tool of economic change. Our poorest states are those with the greatest potential to attract tourists but have done nothing to do this because in their bleak, socialist vision, tourism is seen as a frivolity for rich people. Actually the infrastructure that is built to attract tourists becomes a permanent asset for the poorest citizens.
Modi in his speech to BJP workers on January 19 made it clear that he was against “dole, dole, dole” and that what he believed in instead was development and changing methods of governance to make delivery systems more effective. He described the next election as being one that will bring “hope and change”, and asked to be given 60 months to show what he could do compared to the 60 years that Indian voters have given the Congress.
Rahul also talked of change, but only in the context of changing a mysterious “system” that he charged even with killing his father and grandmother. What is this system? He said it was this system that distributed tickets at election time behind closed doors and the change he was trying to bring in 15 constituencies was a new system of primaries.
Before saying this publicly, he could have had a quiet word with Mummy and learned that when it comes to giving out tickets, she is the supreme boss. Not a single person in the Congress would dare challenge her on this without risking expulsion and the end of a political career.
So we seem to have two distinct ideas of what the next general election has to offer. Does Modi believe enough in his vision to combat his own party that has faithfully supported all of Sonia’s economic ideas in the past 10 years? It’s hard to say, but he deserves a chance. If you are wondering why I have not mentioned the Aam Aadmi Party factor, it is because I do not believe that Arvind Kejriwal is in the running to become India’s next prime minister. Lucky for India because his economic ideas are statist, leftist and doomed to fail. They have before.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh