Fifth column: Economic freedom at last?

To deliver on his promises of change and development, Modi will to have to first deliver on his assurance that there will be 'maximum governance and minimum government'.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Updated: May 25, 2014 6:23 am

You might find it hard to believe, but the most intelligent reason I have heard for Narendra Modi’s stunning victory comes from an illiterate, young woman who has spent her whole life on the pavements of Mumbai. Her name is Surekha and I have known her since she was a child and watched her struggle to survive under the economic jackboot of the Indian state. She sells flowers, her husband does odd jobs, and the authorities make every effort to prevent them from earning a meagre living.

The Indian welfare state provides them with no access to basic healthcare. So Surekha lost two sons and now fights hard to keep her three-year-old son alive. She so badly wants to have a roof over her head that she and her mother once travelled to Delhi to try and meet Sonia Gandhi. They had heard that Sonia was giving houses to the poor. Of this election she said, “We have always voted for the Congress and our lives have never improved. So this time, we are going to vote for Modi because they say he can bring change.”

The man who will be sworn in as India’s next prime minister tomorrow has himself said that this election has been about hope. But, this has escaped political pundits in India and abroad. Leftist pamphleteers, who fancy themselves as liberals, have been the noisiest in their prophecies of doom. But they have been abetted by an assortment of activists, secularists, self-appointed guardians of ‘Indian pluralism’ and Bollywood actors.

Since none of these worthies has experienced the economic jackboot under which someone like Surekha has to live, they bang on about social justice and their concerns that the poor will be forgotten under Narendra Modi. Were they remembered in the six decades of Congress rule? If they had been, why is every other Indian child malnourished and every other Indian family living on less than Rs 20 a day?

If there are 300 million Indians who are official members of the middle classes, it is because they have somehow managed to fight their way up despite the efforts of the Indian state to keep them down. In this the poor suffer more, but the rich suffer as much in different ways. If there are Indian corporations today that count among the biggest in the world, it is despite the efforts of the government of India to destroy them.

These efforts became more strenuous in the past decade. Businessmen have been subjected to bizarre changes of policy, tax raids and public vilification. But for Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal, they have been the villains of the piece. During the election campaign, these two leaders rarely made a speech in which they did not charge Modi with promoting the ‘Ambani-Adani model of development’.

What they appear to not have noticed is that without private investment, and vast amounts of it, there is simply no possibility that India will be able to build the infrastructure she needs to catch up with even small, troubled Southeast Asian countries like Thailand. What worries me more is that they seem not to have noticed that what they are suggesting is that we put the economy back into the hands of officials and go back to the days when it was considered economic blasphemy to speak of private enterprise.

The truth is that the opposite needs to happen. If Modi wants to deliver on his promises of change and development, he is going to have to first deliver on his assurance that under him there will be “maximum governance and minimum government”. He could start by closing down the Planning Commission and half the ministries of the government. We do not need several ministries in charge, but one with total charge. For instance, of energy and transport. If he goes ahead with the administrative reforms Dr Manmohan Singh promised when he first became prime minister, he could find a hundred ways to hack through the layers and layers of red tape that have strangled economic growth and made it impossible for Indians like Surekha to escape the horrors of extreme poverty.

People like her need hope and change more than almost anyone else. And on my travels during this election campaign, I met people like her in nearly all the towns and villages I passed through. People with middleclass aspirations who are forced to live in poverty and squalour because the Indian state has been unable to provide them with jobs. And every time they have tried to lift their heads up, they have felt the economic jackboot slam down hard. So those who currently fear that under Modi there will be no concern for the poor and no thought for social justice, need to look around more carefully and see if these things ever existed.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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First Published on: May 25, 2014 12:28 am
  1. A
    Ajay Kumar
    May 25, 2014 at 3:10 pm
    she is a journalist, not a charity worker. And Mr. apolitical, do not use words like "stupid". It is very uncivil to use it, especially a lady. I understand your rage and concern. Ask Ms. Singh for Surekha's address, go and meet her and help her out. That action will justify your concern, not calling someone stupid.
    Reply
    1. B
      Bhantunana
      May 25, 2014 at 1:18 am
      Tavleen deserves all the praise for reading the public mood much in advance of the election and like Rajat Sharma she has started supporting Modi as the future PM much in advance. She is the one who wrote a blistering and most factual article why the establishment in Delhi including opposition, does not want an Outsider Modi.
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      1. D
        drsarojkmishra
        May 25, 2014 at 12:00 am
        Excellent article. Thank You Tavleen.
        Reply
        1. K
          Kazuma
          May 26, 2014 at 3:26 am
          LOL!!! You need to grow some brains before spouting nonsense like India was always agricultural so it should stay in agricultural mode in the future also even though agriculture has hit the ceiling in how many people it can support and as income source for the people that are dependent on it. Every single developed country has gone through a phase where people moved out of agriculutre and into manufacturing things that brought with it more income and better standard of living. What India and Modi needs to do is get industries going especially labor intensive to absorb all the people coming out of agriculture and into more productive things like making cars and SUVs.
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            Damaru Prasad
            May 26, 2014 at 2:27 am
            Advani should be retired on the promise that he will be the next president. He deserves it.
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            1. L
              lalit bagai
              May 25, 2014 at 12:49 pm
              they helped rober vadhra
              Reply
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                lalit bagai
                May 25, 2014 at 12:47 pm
                your own paper has supported the dynasty- and maligned modi.my posts are deleted- i only read your article, because we think alike
                Reply
                1. G
                  Guru
                  May 28, 2014 at 5:01 pm
                  You can't compare Raga and Kejriwal with her. She is a private citizen and is enled to her opinion. You may not agree with her. What Raga and Kejriwal tried to do was to mislead the people of India with their lies. Indian voters are smarter than these two losers.
                  Reply
                  1. H
                    Harish Advani
                    May 25, 2014 at 12:37 am
                    Very well written Tavleen.I wish after this decisive mandate the the Congress and it's acolytes shut up and introspect..With the time differance I always look forward to read your article before going to bed.So good night.
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                      DragonBallZ
                      May 25, 2014 at 5:29 am
                      Modi won because he gave hope to poor...but it does not mean congress never thought of poor...Congress has always done well for social sector
                      Reply
                      1. J
                        Jesse James
                        May 25, 2014 at 6:41 am
                        The babel of ministries under previous regimes is symptomatic of a lack of leadership & governance in all regimes past. Merging these will provide a more unified purpose, clarity of end goal & accountability of spending outcomes.For e.g. the Minister of ENERGY could merge 4 existing ministries (Petroleum and Natural Gas, New and Renewable Energy, Coal, Power),and the Minister of TRANSPORTATION merge another 4 (Civil Aviation, Railways, Road Transport and Highways, Shipping).Similarly HRD could merge 8 (Health and Family Welfare, Social Justice and Empowerment, Labour and Employment, Tribal Affairs, Minority Affairs, Women and Child Development, Youth Affairs and Sports).
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                          pedro sam
                          May 25, 2014 at 10:24 am
                          Good article indeed. Not because she is supporting Modi but she is practical and writes what is good for the country
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                          1. J
                            jey emm
                            May 25, 2014 at 10:22 am
                            They did everything for votes. Here is a man who is doing everything because he empathies with poor people.
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                              jodharora
                              May 29, 2014 at 7:38 pm
                              I agree with you. She was born with silver spoor in her mouth and lucky enough to be married to Governor of West Punjab. She is great writer and can easily write about imaginary interesting episodes.
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                              1. B
                                BSK
                                May 25, 2014 at 12:00 pm
                                The most important point is that Congress wanted to get votes by freebies when people wanted employment where they earn their livelihood respectfully and not be treated as beggars by every government employee and politicians. Congress tried and succeeded in creating the atmosphere that people are beggars and they are the donors. High time they are thrown out. We need leaders who lead us to better life with Dignity and not who want to win and rule by promising free food.
                                Reply
                                1. S
                                  Shyam Madan
                                  May 25, 2014 at 9:59 am
                                  She is an overrated journal ist. Alway anti-congress.
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                                  1. M
                                    Mahen
                                    May 25, 2014 at 1:48 am
                                    Fantastic!
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                                      naidu kare
                                      May 25, 2014 at 10:20 am
                                      so you watched a young woman living on a pavement her life long and you gloated over her children's death too. You must be a devil. Inspite of your standing in the society could you not do some good to her. ?? You sound so stupid to narrate it all here.
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                                        naidu kare
                                        May 25, 2014 at 10:21 am
                                        will it bring back the much talked about black money
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                                          naidu kare
                                          May 25, 2014 at 11:04 pm
                                          will the government insute a commission to probe vadra and send him to jail if he is guilty? Or is it all merely political rhetoric
                                          Reply
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                                            Velumuthu
                                            May 25, 2014 at 1:57 am
                                            If Modi's cabinet is the rightsized then we can ume that he will deliver on his promisesstead if he buckled under pressure for a bigger cabinet then his govt will be disastrous...................
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