National Interest: Left, Right or Standstill

Modi has another option: to walk into the reformist space abdicated by the Congress and AAP

Written by Shekhar Gupta | Updated: January 18, 2014 11:42 am
Two of these landed on my ancient Nokia phone even before Rahul Gandhi had finished speaking at the AICC, and Arvind Kejriwal had visited the Union home minister. Two of these landed on my ancient Nokia phone even before Rahul Gandhi had finished speaking at the AICC, and Arvind Kejriwal had visited the Union home minister.

Modi has another option: to walk into the reformist space abdicated by the Congress and AAP

In this season of conspiracy theories involving “evil” corporates, here is my humble contribution. That our greedy, thieving and cruel private telecom companies now employ full-time humorists to invent SMS-friendly jokes 24×7. And as these go viral, they make money. How else can brilliant jokes land in your inbox before you have even absorbed the headlines that instigated them?

What else can explain such incredible sense of timing?
Two of these landed on my ancient Nokia phone even before Rahul Gandhi had finished speaking at the AICC, and Arvind Kejriwal had visited the Union home minister. The first: Rahul Gandhi says the BJP sells combs to the bald, AAP offers haircuts to the bald and the Congress promises them a Right to No Hair Loss Act. The second was even nastier: I took a Delhi autorickshaw. Told the driver, aage signal se Kejriwal le lo. Chap was so perceptive, took a U-turn.

Both display a sharp understanding of our politics that will put most of us columnists to shame. The second is even more effective than the first because it is more prescient and can so easily be employed in a manner that, for want of a better word, you can call modular. For example, and particularly after today’s AICC speech, what if you asked a smart auto driver, “Aage se Rahul Gandhi le lo?” He will most certainly turn left. And then you run into a slight problem. What if you told him, instead, “aage se Narendra Modi le lo?” He will not know whether to go left, right, make a U-turn or stay still, and even the AAP has not yet empowered its autorickshaw supporters so much that they can levitate. Maybe all he will say is, “Sorry sahib, aap kisi aur ko poochho, main toh Modiji ka vision document dekhne ke baad kuchh keh sakta hoon (you ask somebody else… I may get some idea only once I see Modi’s vision statement).”

This Saturday’s National Interest is not about SMS jokes, but on serious issues like economic and social ideologies that must make the dividing lines in a robust, contentious democracy, which sadly does not happen in India. Every major political party in India claims to be both secular and socialist. The fight, in each case, is only over who is more socialist or secular than the other. It is difficult to think of another significant democracy with wider consensus on social and economic ideologies. This leads to an ideological mish-mash that makes our electoral politics more personalised (Modi, Kejriwal) and feudal (Rahul Gandhi and other dynasts), and the voter is left confused. Since we are taking liberties with the serious business of politics today, it is a bit like a Sixties formula film, separated-at-birth-or-at-a-mela and then reunited at the end. You know the story, you know the ending: a happy group photo and also who all will be smiling in it when the police jeeps arrive to pick up the corpses of the bad guys. The only product differentiation then was the film’s star cast.

That is how static and personalised our politics has become. India deserves better than this freeze and two recent developments — the unveiling of the AAP’s economic agenda and Rahul’s hard left turn — open up a real possibility that the discourse could become more diverse and therefore richer. People deserve to be offered a choice better than between faces and families. Give them conflicting ideas and ideologies to choose from, and trust them to make better choices.
Kejriwal’s party has opened the window on economic policy. In what it has unveiled so far, it is our most leftist party ever. None of the leaders of our parliamentary Left (the CPM, CPI, etc) has threatened to roll back any reform, or to renationalise anything. Not since George Fernandes threw out Coca Cola and IBM in 1977.

They all know the consequences of such economic adventurism. And even if doubts clouded their minds in the heady days of the NDA’s defeat in May 2004, these vanished the moment A.B. Bardhan’s “bhaad mein jaaye disinvestment (disinvestment can go to hell)” statement sent stock markets crashing 330 points in one day.

The traditional Left thereafter preferred nuanced caution. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee even justified this by stating that he did not believe he had been elected to implement a revolutionary agenda and that he had to work within the Constitution. Now that hypocrisy has been challenged by the AAP. A brilliant Indian diplomat and a friend of mine (yes, I have friends in the IFS), loves to say that at JNU (his alma mater), “we consider the CPM a very dangerous rightwing party”. So JNU now has a clear choice in the AAP, the revolutionaries in white topis. That should wean them away from the Gandhians with guns, as Arundhati Roy famously described the Maoists. No matter what Rahul promises, how much more free gas he gifts us, no matter how many projects his chosen ministers block, he cannot beat the AAP at povertarian socialism. His panicky, copycat partymen can cut power tariffs, offer free medicines, but it won’t work, just as it didn’t for Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan. He has to search for something else.

Narendra Modi can look at this as a challenge or an opportunity. Challenge, because his own party, in its utter bankruptcy of imagination, has also chosen socialism as its economic philosophy. Years ago, confused and short of ideas, and inspired by the Neanderthals of Nagpur, it proposed the concept of Gandhian Socialism (1980), and please do not ask them how touching the RSS sounds promoting anything Gandhian.

Socialism is the most persistent virus in Indian politics and the party has never even tried to get rid of it. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s reforms, particularly disinvestment, were blocked more by his own party’s pinkos than the Congress’s or the Left’s. In fact, the Congress even helped him pass some reformist legislation, including the most significant of them all, allowing FDI in insurance. Modi’s stature, personality and track record now give him the opportunity to change the script as Vajpayee failed to, despite wishing to do it so desperately.

If Modi is building his entire campaign around economic success in Gujarat, the idea and dreams of growth and global strength and respect, he cannot do it by promising 24 free cylinders of LPG or cuts in power tariffs or even a Right to Free Khakhra, Dhokla and Oondhia and Butter Chicken Act. The fuel growth needs, is entrepreneurship. Which, in turn, needs lesser, cleaner government, fair and clear regulation and a market-friendly environment. The Congress, and now the AAP, have fully vacated this space for him. He doesn’t have to make the BJP the new Swatantra Party. But he can certainly benefit from moulding his party’s economics more to the ideas of Vajpayee. Nobody would believe him if he said he was going to be as non-threatening to Muslims as Vajpayee.

If he lets the other two rivals, therefore, polarise this election only on the basis of secularism (identity), he will come up short. But if he is willing to take a risk and create a genuinely new platform on growth and free markets, he may just have an exciting new product in a tired, bored market. Rahul’s Congress cannot be more socialist than the AAP, so it is banking on being more secular than Modi. Modi can’t be more secular or socialist than either. So the only way for him is to be more reformist. He can listen to Amartya Sen, even if he is no fan of his. Sen said at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Friday that he would want India to have a party believing in free-market economics that does not do the politics of religion. Or he can think of the auto driver of Delhi, who waits for his vision document to decide whether to turn left, right or stand still.

sg@expressindia.com

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App now

First Published on: January 18, 2014 2:57 am
  1. A
    Ajay Kumar
    Jan 18, 2014 at 12:31 pm
    For Modi to win India, the answer is simple.Economy and development, stupid. Just talk of economy and development.
    Reply
    1. A
      Arvind Deodhar
      Jan 18, 2014 at 2:59 pm
      Reforms without appeat, can be a main theme!Please think 100 times, before voting for AAP.A vote to AAP, will create hung parliament.A vote to AAP, is a vote for uncertainty, vote foranarchy, vote for chaos!A vote to AAP, is an opportunity for so called thirdfront wolfs like Mulayam, Mayavati, Pawar, Lalu, Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha, DaveGoudaThese wolfs care only for their family, their castand creed. They will never care for the nation.This uncertainty will make the foreign investors togo away from India. The industries will suffer, creating unemployment,increasing inflation.What is more serious is, now some communal Muslimsare openly saying, that through AAP, they will have their own Prime Minister!Then you will have to repent for voting to AAP. Butthen it will be too late.NEVER VOTE AAP!
      Reply
      1. V
        Vedic Rashtra
        Jan 20, 2014 at 1:13 am
        In this information rich world, where ppl have a ton of ways to gather info. The writer looks at party's manifestos. Please come out of your drawing rooms and google the foll1. Bhadbhut Barrage2. Dra SI ask you rickshaw wala to stop giving you a lift, you are clouding his vision by your narrow views.
        Reply
        1. L
          Lakshmi Chatti
          Jan 18, 2014 at 11:26 am
          Modi should focus on innovation for economic growth-the ideas needs to centre around inclusive growth.Empowerment and not enlement should be the mantra for uplifting the weaker sections.The division of people in the lines of caste ,creed,religion,region for implementation of policies and programmes should altogether be done away with.Identification of target groups on economic lines basic on deficiencies and capabilities may yield better results.
          Reply
          1. A
            Arun Kumar
            Jan 18, 2014 at 10:22 am
            I think Mr Gupta has not been listening to Narendra Modi's speeches at the economic, businees and scientific fora. If he did he would change the script of this piece, because Namo is saying exactly he same things which SG would have him speak.
            Reply
            1. K
              K H
              Jan 18, 2014 at 3:53 pm
              Shekhar jiCongrats for a nice write - up on economics devoid of politics. This is what I call objective journalism and you are becoming its flag bearer.
              Reply
              1. D
                Dhanasekar C
                Jan 18, 2014 at 4:19 pm
                Let him be reformist with a socialist mindset, else he will not last more than a election
                Reply
                1. S
                  Sreenivasan Ravichandran
                  Jan 18, 2014 at 1:06 pm
                  As long as people remain ignorant and stupid, nothing much can happen in India.
                  Reply
                  1. G
                    Gautam Majumdar
                    Jan 19, 2014 at 1:21 pm
                    Market economics really make sense to people who understand it. Sadly most of Indians have little or no understanding about fundamental economics. We are a nation of suckers for anything free. See how many products scream 'muft' on TV . Another factor is that Congress has spoiled a section of the voters ( loan waiver for farmers, subsidized food grain,etc ) Changing the mindset will not be easy. Modi's core idea remains market economics, but he might have to be diplomatic regarding freebies to get the fence sitters on the side of BJP.
                    Reply
                    1. S
                      Shridhar Shettigar
                      Jan 20, 2014 at 11:15 am
                      Market economy could be used to generate wealth, then for inclusive growth we can very well have socialistic policies...
                      Reply
                      1. K
                        Kerala Varma
                        Jan 18, 2014 at 2:38 pm
                        There are few things the rank and file of national political parties know beyond what hurts him/her at any given moment. AAP did take a wide hit at reducing cost of services such as water and power supplies rather than giving free bees such as TV sets, computers or even subsidized breakfast and lunch at the cost of the tax payer in towns/cities. Jokes apart inclusive growth that RG's party preaches have fewer takers in NaMo's party whose mantra is development and employment generation however skewed that be.We cannot agree even on who should rule us and that is where everyone seems to agree that let the general elections decide as to who has the right to govern uninterruptedly . Even that looks a fractured exercise because we cannot agree on anything for everyone's well being. What is sauce for the goose is not necessarily good for the er.
                        Reply
                        1. N
                          Namit Kumar
                          Jan 18, 2014 at 2:48 pm
                          Modi's walk into reformist space is doubtful as we have seen his atude towards FDI in retail....being industry friendly to wipe out the taint of 2002 is another matter.
                          Reply
                          1. S
                            Sanjay Kumar
                            Jan 19, 2014 at 4:21 am
                            If he was declared PM candidate, Rahul hi would have committed suicide due to depression from fear.
                            Reply
                            1. o
                              one_genuine
                              Jan 20, 2014 at 2:31 am
                              Hi SG, Appreciate your economic analysis. Have you given a serious thought to the following two points - (i) Can market economy be inclusive and pave the way to poverty eradication. It will only be great if you can write a blueprint of the route it will take - howsoever hazy - in this regard. It will be educative and I will love to read that And, (ii) Dr. ManMohan Singh claimed in his interaction with press that the entire development during his stewardship was based on 'inclusiveness'. Do you see that validated when you travel across the country, particularly, rural India?
                              Reply
                              1. D
                                dashrath patel
                                Jan 20, 2014 at 11:23 am
                                SG, atleast Modi at Gujarat Govt. put in budget surplus position from budget deficit. this was the policy first emplo by BJP against Digvijay in MP when first BJP defeated Cong. that earn the money and then spend against cong. policies that only spend money and take loans or do loss to exchequer. the same was the policy of BJP during Atalji's govt. put the economy on robust ground while controlling inflation and building infrastructure with a high pace.i had read your article about Atalji and Advani when they are figting election against Narsimha rao govt. and they come to know that india had given a un accounted loan to Rasia. from than i became fan of you but not seems your jernalism is little bit partial against modi. i hope you may again gain the reion of that neutral jernalism.
                                Reply
                                1. A
                                  A.K. PATTABIRAMAN
                                  Jan 19, 2014 at 3:42 pm
                                  I think Sekar Gupta has penned this before Modi's today Delhi speech. His speech is very clear cut, straightforward pronunciation of his vision for India. He wants five Ts - Tourism, Talent, Technology, Trade and Tradition. These are the real vehicles of growth. Countries which embraced technology have gone sky high - US is a clic example. Trade is an imperative necessity to earn foreigh exchange - our trade defict is causing Current Account Deficit. Torusim not only generates money but also creates good will. Talent is our geat hope - the IT, I mean Indian Talent , if honed up with diligence, will transform our entire society. Tradiition is our ancient heritage given to us by God. He has promised Tax Reforms Labor Reforms, Judicial reforms thus enhancing the confdence of level of investors. He underscored the importance of job generation as the core strength of his economic platform. His vision is centering round rural poor. He has promised remunerative price for small agriculurists. He has indicated the use of technology towards that end. He has talked about women empowerment, children caare. His philosophy is inclusve growth in action. Mody is clear headed leader and this country cannot have better leader than NaMO in the current context. Vote for Modi - and discard others. A.K.PATTABIRAMAN
                                  Reply
                                  1. R
                                    rakesh
                                    Jan 18, 2014 at 12:52 pm
                                    A thoughtful article which does not seem to have stimulated the debate that is so necessary for India's future. The AAP Delhi manifesto has a staggering 193 poll promises. This is no policy doent it is a prescription for a strait jacket. Yes there is a need for a safety net for the poor in India but beyond that there also has to be a pathway towards a brighter future. It is this pathway where BJP has to go forward and not left and not right. The data is pretty clear that where there are larger governments and ociated budgets there is more inequality, inefficiency and corruption. By contrast where there is private entrepreneurship there is job creation and wealth creation..
                                    Reply
                                    1. R
                                      Rufusd
                                      Jan 18, 2014 at 5:58 pm
                                      Frankly, Shekar's column comes as a surprise to those of us who thought that Narendra Modi was already the chosen vehicle of the corporates' (both Indian and international) ride to power post '14 general elections. The RSS connexion of Modi should not pose much of a problem since those poor Nagpurians are least bothered about the fate of the poor and very poor or even the all pervasive corruption that plagues the nation as long as they can implement their social agenda of taking the country a millenium back in time
                                      Reply
                                      1. S
                                        Sachin Khandelwal
                                        Jan 18, 2014 at 11:23 am
                                        If you ask the Auto Rickshaw walla aka a convenient synonym for common man (not to be confused by mango man), "Aage se Modi le lo", he will smile and say "Yes Sir, this will lead me to prosperity and pride".
                                        Reply
                                        1. S
                                          Sachin Khandelwal
                                          Jan 18, 2014 at 10:55 am
                                          If you ask the Auto Rickshaw walla aka a convenient synonym for common man (not to be confused by mango man), "Modi le lo", he will smile and say "Yes Sir, this will lead me to prosperity and pride".Perhaps the learned editor perhaps just needs to read articles of his leading political lady fellow columnist to be more aware of Modi vision..Frankly, with no offence to any intellectual, the ruling dynasty worshippers who otherwise are intellectually gifted find it difficult to admit that NaMo has the right answers and vision and is backed by proven track record and is the right choice for a progressive Bharat
                                          Reply
                                          1. S
                                            sangeeth
                                            Jan 21, 2014 at 4:42 pm
                                            To me Modi represents the strength of Indian Democracy. If some one coming up from such humble origins can become the Prime Minister of India facing so much of opposition and conspiracies then I am sure India rocks! It will be similar to an Obama moment in US.
                                            Reply
                                            1. Load More Comments