Friday, May 26, 2017

Fifteen Years for Prime Minister Modi

Fifteen Years for Prime Minister Modi

Economic reforms have been set in motion, as epitomised by the implementation of GST. Surface transport infrastructure is being upgraded at a never before pace. FDIs are flowing in. New industrial projects are on the anvil. Power generation capacities are being enhanced. There are also reports of providing quality medicare and education for all. But these are long gestation projects. We will have to be patient…

When a polity is caught in the maelstrom of debates focusing on its fundamental character, rest assured, great changes are in offing – for better or worse. This is what we are witnessing in India presently. Long held beliefs are not sacrosanct anymore, vigorous efforts are being made to re-evaluate national icons, and the polity as well as the media are being polarised like never before. Strangely, all this has not caused any outrage among the majority of people. The response from intellectuals too is neither unequivocal nor undivided.

Ever since independence, India has been negotiating strange and perilous contradictions. Despite its pluralistic nature, the polity failed to facilitate significant variety in socio-political narratives. There was a near unanimous tilt towards the left-liberal worldview. Since the left-liberals had been monopolising the national narrative on almost every aspect of our polity, we hardly got contrarian viewpoints on history in general and our independence movement in particular. Similarly, there was little by way of reimagination of various systems and structures pertaining to governance, education, economic development, handling of political dissent and even insurgency. It was considered heretical to question the wisdom of the extant political establishment and its intellectual mentors, who had actually reduced themselves to the status of courtiers.

Undeniably, there was vigour in the initial years of India’s independence – a vigour fortified with Nehruvian idealism that put a fractured and traumatised nation on the path to unity and self-discovery. Great and enduring national assets were built – be these multipurpose dams, nuclear establishments, sophisticated IITs and IIMs, or new urban centres. Although Nehru had envisioned a substantial role for the private sector, things went astray after his demise. The burden of living up to his weighty ideals was obviously too much for our effete elite, and hypocrisy replaced the earnest naïveté. His vision was subverted and a perverse form of ideology ushered in an era of romanticised poverty. It became fashionable to identify with the underdog and profess empathy with the suffering humanity.  Economic policies became povertarian instead of becoming prosperity oriented in approach. As a result, while the poor stayed poor, the rich became richer, as did the bureaucrats and politicians.

A new ruling elite emerged that developed a vested interest in keeping India backward, underdeveloped and poor. Corruption became our national character. Democratic ethos was quietly buried and a political mutant replaced it; it was neither an oligarchy, autocracy nor socialism, although our Constitution assures us that we are a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular Democratic Republic. But in practice we have been witnessing medieval feudalism married to fascism garbed in socialism with all the traits of an anarchy that naturally favoured the rich and the powerful.  

Unsurprisingly, political dynasties became the norm both at the centre and in the states. This was further complicated by the rise of strong leaders who formed parties that fully exploited the mindboggling faultlines that exist in our country. SAD, DMK, AIADMK, SP, BSP, JDU, BJD, TMC… the list is endless. They all claim to be secular. They all profess to be people oriented. And they all promise good governance. But, all of them are essentially exploiting partisan sentiments of the masses for the benefit of the few. Even our Grand Old Party, the Indian National Congress has fallen to this syndrome of dynastic rule plus cynical exploitation of faultlines for gaining and retaining power.   

As dynasties began to corner power in almost every state, neo-feudalism became the new normal in the nation’s political life. Its institutions of governance began to be systematically subverted and commandeered to serve the privileged few. In this, they were ably served by our bureaucrats – who had imbibed the culture of Jee Huzoor during the British Raj and were now giving it full play to serve their current political masters. So, in less than three decades after independence, India became a neo-colony of Brown Sahibs. These were the people who actually believed that they got India its independence. Therefore, they were entitled to rule it any which way they wanted. This sense of entitlement was inherited by their progeny too. Thus, was born an aristocracy more exploitative than anything India had witnessed during even the British times. Their children received the best of education in foreign lands either at the cost of public exchequer or subsidised/financed by foreign countries. That they also got the cushiest of jobs in MNCs or Indian PSUs goes without saying. In the INC’s socialist India there were, and continue to be, educational institutions for the super-privileged. Here, it’s not just state-of-the-art educational infrastructure, but a whole range of facilities fit for royalty which are being provided. Facilities for golf, horse riding, swimming are usually afforded as are airconditioned classrooms where there are hardly five students per teacher. Latest educational hi-tech aids are available. Who foots their bill? Are our babudom’s salaries that high? And the politicians, how do they rustle up funds for sending their wards to such luxurious educational institutions? Your guess is as good as mine. But, just compare this with the ’real’ Socialist India where schools, overflowing with students – often eighty per class – have been functioning under trees. Where teachers are ill-trained and educational aids are absent. Where ‘senior’ students and even peons double up as teachers.

Since the neo-aristocrats had no stake in them, the educational institutions in India began to decay even in the supposedly better provided urban areas, the public utility services – such as they were – stopped being of much utility to the common man. Hospitals, schools, public transport, water supply, electricity generation… you name it and it stank. Worst of the lot were the police and other security agencies who were treated more or less as the politician’s henchmen to terrorise the common man into perpetual submission, to settle personal score and silence and intimidate opponents.

But even as these neo-colonialists were behaving as if their reign would never end, something inexorable was happening. A new, aspirational middle class emerged; its members exposed to foreign lifestyles. They realised how many of the current highly prosperous countries were in fact way behind India on development index just a few decades back. The reason for their phenomenal progress was the quality of political leadership and governance. This didn’t merely make the burgeoning Indian Middle Class impatient but positively enraged. This is when Modi arrived at the scene. He had dreams to sell, and he sold them well like a consummate dream merchant. The Indian voter began to virtually worship him.

However, contrary to what some informed analysts aver, it would be far-fetched to draw the parallels with the rise of populist-rightist western political outfits like Donald Trump’s Republican Party, Sweden Democrats, the National Front in France, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and others on the far right that advocate that their once open countries closed up and turned inward. I say this because, whatever be the subtext, Modi never openly propagated xenophobia. His perceived anti-minorities stand reflects the average Indian’s disgust with the Congress brand of secularism which accentuated communalism for vote-bank purposes.

When he came to power, Modi had dreams, but no clear roadmap to India’s growth. He could convince the masses about the serious drawbacks in the functioning of the UPA regime, but what alternatives did he have to offer? For this lack of alternative vision and narrative one must squarely blame the right-wing intellectuals. They focused on the flaws of the UPA but had nothing to offer for removing those flaws. Therefore, Modi wisely continued with all the economic policies and programs and reforms designed by Manmohan Singh, after making some cosmetic changes – and understandably so.

Economic reforms have been set in motion, as epitomised by the implementation of GST. Surface transport infrastructure is being upgraded at a never before pace. FDIs are flowing in. New industrial projects are on the anvil. Power generation capacities are being enhanced. There are also reports of providing quality medicare and education for all. But these are long gestation projects. We will have to be patient for the results – which will show up provided the government takes on the challenges that remain on several fronts. Unemployment is rising. Agricultural growth is disheartening. If these are not serious enough, the nation is witnessing the rise of a new class that feels entitled to play with the country’s law and order. Unprovoked and uncontrolled violence against defenceless citizens can be dangerous to the country’s stability. It can also hurt our international profile as an attractive destination for investment. The last thing we want is the rule of mobs.

There is an urgent need to overhaul our police system, to reform the functioning of judiciary and to assert the rule of law to obliterate anarchist tendencies permanently. Our law and order machinery must be highly efficient and responsive. We need the state to re-establish its supremacy, which good governance alone can ensure.

PM Narendra Modi has his task cut out. And, from all indications, he is aware of this. All he needs is time and cooperation from his political opponents from within and without. As for us voters – let us give him fifteen years at the helm.

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