Saturday, Sep 20, 2014
The most serious political argument against Modi concedes that he will have to function in an institutional framework, but it believes that, other than the EC, India’s institutions are so weak that one can’t bet on the institutional taming of his firebrand politics. The most serious political argument against Modi concedes that he will have to function in an institutional framework, but it believes that, other than the EC, India’s institutions are so weak that one can’t bet on the institutional taming of his firebrand politics.
Written by Ashutosh Varshney | Posted: April 29, 2014 3:30 am | Updated: April 29, 2014 3:34 am

What to overlook, what to watch out for, in the prospect of a Modi government.

Unlike the radical simplicity of the economic debate over Narendra Modi — economic growth versus social indicators — the political debate continues to be highly contentious. A sense of exhilaration in one camp and steeply rising anxiety in the other have polarised the atmosphere, reducing space for rational argumentation, a space we need to open up for scrutiny and debate.

I would like to suggest that the political arguments about Modi fall into three categories. The first is the argument about inner truths (androoni sach). This argument identifies Modi as a diehard Hindu nationalist, whose hatred for the minorities, especially Muslims, is deep and unchangeable. He allowed a pogrom to take place in Gujarat in 2002; he never visited Muslim relief camps; his Gujarat Shining stops at the Muslim ghetto of Juhapura. If a man like Modi, the argument continues, is allowed to rule India, the nation will descend into a deep communal abyss, even fascism. India will become a greater Gujarat.

For two reasons, the discipline of political science, which I have taught for two decades, fundamentally disagrees with this view. First, we know of no theory that would view the future as a linear extension of the past. Second, and more important, this view is “institutions-free”. Politics works with and through institutions — parties, parliaments, constitutions, interest groups, federalism, oversight agencies, non-governmental organisations etc. The inner truths of leaders are constrained by the institutional frameworks within which the leaders must function. This second view can be called the institutional approach (sansthhaayik vichardhara).

What are the implications of this view for Indian politics? Let us look at the institutions exercising oversight on the government. The Election Commission exists to make sure that the incumbents do not abuse their power over the police and bureaucracy to steal elections; India’s incumbents have often lost. The Supreme Court, which has increasingly exercised its power over the executive, sometimes overzealously so, is unlikely to become a proxy for the executive’s wishes. Some policy decisions in India can be made through executive fiat, but most such decisions must seek parliamentary approval before becoming the official policy or law. India’s Parliament can make it very difficult for the executive simply by not functioning, as has repeatedly happened over the last 15 years. The government needs to find a way to cooperate with Parliament to pass laws. continued…

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