Why Modi's development model may not match India's diversity
The two years of his rule have been lacklustre.
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A little over two years ago, along with a Zee TV crew, I had met Narendra Modi, who we thought then was doing a great job of galvanising young Indians into active voters.
That meeting was at his Gandhinagar residence. The social media army of the BJP was doing a great job. Modi himself was making those great speeches all over the country and showing the public how pale Rahul Gandhi, or even Sonia Gandhi for that matter, was in comparison, in terms of presence and oratorical skills.
During the meeting, I asked him what he thought of Manmohan Singh, the UPA prime minister. This was the time when poor Manmohan was the target of many jokes. He was called "Mauni Singh". He was "Sink is King". He was "Puppet on a String". And so it went. Modi replied that if Manmohan had worked as much as Modi himself had as the Gujarat chief minister, the country would have been in a better shape.
However, two years down the line, the customary euphoria that accompanies change has vanished. In Delhi/Gurgaon, a dozen bananas cost up to Rs 60. That pretty much applies for just about everything. The crash in oil prices has shored up the government’s resources a little. But it might have been offset by the slowdown in India’s exports. There is no job creation.
It’s true that Modi has pumped enormous energy into a sleeping system. The foreign visits he has made, if nothing, are an indication of his drive and zest. It’s another matter that that active diplomacy is yet to bear fruit. The government will say in its defence that these things take time.
Fair enough. But equally, it seems to a neutral observer that Modi’s naiveté in these matters — an infantile hope that personal bonding will quickly translate into real business - was a guiding principle of his world vision.
You will recall that famous photograph of Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping sharing a swing overlooking the Sabarmati river in Ahmadabad.
Not much has come from that kindergarten frolic either. That swing was perhaps the maximum the two political leaders could do without drawing titters from onlookers.
This is not to take away the good intentions of Modi for India. But the foreign policy - imperative for attracting capital inflow - that is crafted by Modi for all practical purposes, is a strange mixture of naivete and confidence. It is, however, the essence of Modi’s personality.Modi with Chinese president Xi Jinping.
When Modi began his march to 7 RCR two years ago, this writer had a rather ironical faith in the man’s determination to be remembered in history as the architect of modern India. My reasoning was that if in semi-arid Gujarat, Modi could introduce three-phase power supply to the state’s industrialists after a discussion with its water-starved farmers for an understanding in sharing supply, the rest of India would do reasonably well under him. Gujarat seemed relatively corruption-free in ten years of his regime, and the country might benefit from his administrative experience. That's what I thought.
One also thought that Modi’s personal ambition to be the best prime minister India had ever seen would persuade him to rein in the extremist Hindutva forces.
All said and done, he has been rather successful in doing the last, thereby limiting the RSS' potential for inflicting damage. Also in the last two years of his rule, no major case of has come to light.
However, the point to debate really is not the performance of Modi’s government. Much of what he said before the general elections that catapulted him to power is what he said on Thursday (May 26) at Sharanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
Uttar Pradesh would hold Assembly elections early next year, and the results there would be decisive for both the BJP and Congress, three years from now, when the general elections come about. In Thursday’s speech, Modi said his government was for the poor, for the farmers, he was for development, and that prosperity will bring peace. These wishes constituted the underpinning of his election campaign two years ago.
The point to debate is the old one: can India be governed to progress? Call it this writer’s personal bias, but the answer seems to weigh on the wrong side of the court. One wouldn’t go as far as to say that it is a race problem. But there most definitely seems to be a cultural mindset as displayed in the great contempt we have for means, if ends can be met. There is a proven economic value for ethics. We sadly lack it as a people.
Surely, this is not Modi's problem. Neither is this Rahul Gandhi's. If in the next general elections, Rahul - recently endorsed by The Economist because Modi, in its view, was divisive - came to power, one is not likely to see much change.
That’s a harsh thing to say. Neither the Congress nor its leaders yet consider being in power in the near future as a real option. If they did, you would be at least seeing a shadow cabinet, critiquing the Modi government’s policies. What the Opposition is doing is waging daily skirmishes, without a battle plan.
To come back to the central question then, no matter which party is in power at the Centre, we need to ask ourselves, as a people, are we meant to succeed or fail? A visionary leader will raise this question and see it as crucial.
In the West, the cultural movement of enlightenment accompanied industrialisation. But they were helped by the relatively homogenous nature of their languages and rituals.
The chaotic and exploding diversity of India may not encourage uniform development.
Kerala, for instance, is far advanced that Uttar Pradesh in all respects. Not just because of its petro-dollars. Reformist movements led by people like Narayana Guru and cultural movements led by the then Communist Party contributed immeasurably in readying Kerala for the great export of human resources to the Middle East. The state was positioned well to take advantage of the opportunity arising from the Gulf. The prosperity was a result of a certain culture. Kerala has its drawbacks. But lack of awareness and education are not among them.
The question in the context of Modi government’s lacklustre performance at the end of two years is: do we yet have a model of development suited to our diversity?