Reverse Swing: Dear Mr Modi, more growth, less Hindutva

The ruling party should leave secularism alone. Economic reform is what will save India from itself

Written by Tunku Varadarajan | Updated: February 28, 2016 5:47 am
File photo of PM Narendra Modi File photo of PM Narendra Modi

India awaits its Budget not with a spring in its step and hope in its heart but with a weary limp and an irregular heartbeat. This isn’t only because its Finance Minister is better able to navigate the swamps of Delhi’s cricket politics than the roadmap of economic principle. It’s because India has lost the thrill and optimism of May 2014, when it believed it had elected a PM who — for all his flaws of character and, shall we say, a not unblemished history — would change the country for the better.

Well, he hasn’t.

This isn’t to say that the mess in India today is the same sort of mess that the country lived with for a decade of Congress-led stagnation. It isn’t. But what we see around us is just as ugly, unappealing, depressing — call it what you will. If anything, it is worse, because it comes with the painful sting of being let down, of being taken for a ride.

India was expecting a rapid undoing of Nehruvianism from this government. And it has got that. The problem is that Modi & Co. are taking an axe to the wrong side of Nehru’s legacy. The part that India needed to lose most was the statist economy, the government’s intrusion into the making and selling of things; the bureaucratic stifling of the labour market; the pseudo-nationalist opposition to foreign investment, where the legal strings attached serve as nooses around the neck of any investor; the damagingly amateur attitude to the taxation of transnational entities; and the pernicious attraction to subsidies and handouts.

No one would say that Modi loves these approaches to economic management, but he has offered us very little evidence so far that he hates them. He has only tinkered with India’s structural problems, preferring to substitute slogans and verbiage for concrete action. He’s like a barber who refuses to do any more than trim the sideburns of a man with a head full of lice — when that man is crying out for a total tonsure.

It doesn’t help Modi that his economic “deputy barber” — Arun Jaitley — has other ministerial jobs to do, adding an inability to pay full attention to what needs to be done urgently to his inherent lack of economic expertise. (Question for Modi: Dear sir, why is your Finance Minister also the Minister of Corporate Affairs, and of Information & Broadcasting? Is this in the country’s best interests? Obviously not: so he holds three jobs, including the most important one in India after yours, for all the wrong reasons.)

The part of Nehru’s legacy that has been under siege by the present government is the one that India needed to lose the least: that of secularism, and of a nationalism that transcends crude religious dogma and obsessions. India is not a Hindu Rashtra. It never has been and — by the grace of my ancestral deity — it never will be. Its ideals are those of tolerance, co-existence and (to use a word that English-speaking Hindutva-types hate) syncretism. That means that India’s whole is greater than the sum (and scum) of its parts; and that the religious and cultural ingredients of India are naturally inclined to combination, not separation. India is greater than its component religions: every single one of them.

I end with the plea that Modi reorient his anti-Nehru radar, driving against those parts of India’s political legacy that keep the country poor, backward, un-modern and uncompetitive. He mustn’t dismantle those few precious parts that keep India sane.

 

The writer is the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Follow the author on Twitter: @tunkuv

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  1. A
    Aap
    Feb 28, 2016 at 2:55 am
    The question here is, Why do they need to talk about secularism and communalism. Just because they think their ideology and survival is based on it. This wrong belief has shaken them from inside. Now the country's development has peen put aside and only party's survival is in focus.
    Reply
    1. H
      hayatlives
      Feb 28, 2016 at 11:02 am
      lol...barbers...ie. HAJAAM's in charge of affairs. Save India from Itself .... GEM
      Reply
      1. H
        Harry Achari
        Feb 28, 2016 at 2:50 pm
        So called crawl out of would when country has a progressive regime at the center. They were in deep sleep for 65 years. Keep supporting our governments progressive agenda my friends. Freedom of speech doesn't mean to mislead people. We have a stable economy while the word is suffering from crisis. Indias name is in all news media in the world recently as a vibrant economy. People should ignore those ill minded " intellectuals" like varadrajan. We are in good position now and our government will bring us to a brighter path. Good performance is already visible.
        Reply
        1. R
          Raja
          Feb 28, 2016 at 11:01 pm
          Industrialized states get to lose some money and the non-industrialized states set to gain some money by the GST regime. When Modi protested in 2010 UPA did not want to talk to him, leave alone negotiate with him. Some accommodations have been made and now disadvantage of industrialized states has been reduced.
          Reply
          1. R
            Raja
            Feb 28, 2016 at 8:33 pm
            The author I am sure is aware of the obstructionist stand taken by Republicans against Obama. Their only Mantra is to make sure that Obama fails on every front, the country and people may suffer. And that is exactly the same approach adopted by the Congress, the communists, and the other Jihadi, and aniti-national elements. The author complains that Modi hasn't made structural changes to economy and he forgets that all the bills such GST and Real-estate are being scuttled by the obstructionist elements. I am sure the author knows of these obstructionists and doesn't want to talk about it because half-truths are better sold by today's sold media.
            Reply
            1. V
              Vikrant
              Feb 28, 2016 at 6:29 am
              So does sedition. So does terrorism. The fact is you parasites are troubled for 2 reasons - that your anti national agenda is getting stopped and the free money you were getting earlier has stopped.
              Reply
              1. V
                Vikrant
                Feb 28, 2016 at 7:56 am
                What happened for last 60 years when the so called sickulars were ruling the country?
                Reply
                1. V
                  Vikrant
                  Feb 28, 2016 at 4:57 am
                  Why not hindutva? If shouting anti national slogans is free speech if asking for disintegration and destruction of india is free speech then why the idea of akand bharat should be curbed?
                  Reply
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