If you lurk about Delhi’s corridors of power, you hear a lament these days that rises above all other political commentary. This is that India needs a Leftist opposition party to rise out of the debris of the Congress. It was possibly because of this that we saw friendly vibrations between bitter enemies like Sitaram Yechury and Mamata Banerjee at Sonia Gandhi’s party for Jawaharlal Nehru’s 125th birthday last week. And if in Bihar we now see Nitish Kumar smiling happily in the company of Lalu Prasad, whom he once accused of creating ‘jungle raj’ in the state, it is for the same reason. In the TV studios I routinely visit to discuss weighty matters with weighty pundits, I hear the lament even more loudly. Alas, the realms of Indian academia have long been controlled by Marxists, crypto-Marxists, socialists and semi-socialists. And they now cling together to fortify their bastion.
In a country in which every political party is Leftist, the lament is puzzling. More so because neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor the BJP is Rightist in the real sense of that term. Modi may admit privately that India lags behind the world because of Leftist economic policies, but would he publicly claim that the solution is capitalism?
The truth is that even in the social and political ideas that the BJP represents, it is very far from being Rightist. In education, a Rightist political party would work towards breaking down the licence-quota raj. Instead we see signs of centralisation and more stringent controls. Worrying, because if this continues, there is no chance of India building the 1,500 new universities that we need to meet the demand. Shrimati Irani has indeed permitted Hindutva-minded RSS types to give her advice, but bigotry and chippy revivalism do not qualify in any way as examples of Rightist thought.
To be counted as genuinely Rightist, you have to believe that democracy and capitalism are better at ending extreme poverty than socialism, planning commissions and statism. My own journey rightwards from woolly-headed Leftism is because I have seen India ruined by the ideas that became the founding principles of the Congress. Since this party has been India’s longest ruling party after Independence, it should be easy to deduce that its political and economic ideas did not work. The people who suffered most because of this were our poorest citizens because they did not have the option rich Indians have of paying for private healthcare, schools, electricity and clean water.
If Narendra Modi wants to bring ordinary Indians closer to ‘achhe din’, he is going to have to turn the BJP into a truly Rightist party. He must not allow any of his ministers to settle into the moulds they inherited because then nothing will change. And he must keep at a distance the so-called economists that the RSS will regularly send his way, because any more talk of ‘swadeshi’ and we can simply forget the ‘Make in India’ dream he has sold so well on his foreign travels.
In Australia, where he was given yet another ecstatic reception by local Indians, he talked of how he wanted them to come and invest in India so that he could create jobs for our vast population of young people. He knows that the problem is huge. According to people who understand these things better than I do, India will need to create 300 million new jobs by 2030 if we are to end the curse of poverty that has haunted us in all our Leftist years. This can only happen if the BJP makes a serious effort at transforming itself into a Rightist political party that embraces publicly the idea that democracy combined with capitalism works best to end poverty.
In the six months that the BJP has been in power for the first time with a full majority, it has shown no signs of being Rightist economically, politically or socially. The result is that not only have investors been shy of investing in India once more, but there are no signs of change in such crucial areas as education and healthcare. There is no point pretending that the Prime Minister can do nothing in these areas since they are state subjects. He can do a great deal. But, only if he acknowledges that he has to take charge of explaining to ordinary Indians why things need to change.
He has already started doing this when it comes to such things as foeticide, sanitation and public hygiene. But he seems to hesitate to speak bluntly on economic matters. He has said often that he sees no reason why India should be a poor country, but he needs to go a step further and tell people that India is poor because of Leftist economic policies. And, so it is time to turn Right.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh