The Arthashastra of Arun Jaitley - Decoding the top BJP leader's school of political philosophy

Jaitley has become to Narendra Modi what Manmohan Singh was once to PV Narasimha Rao.

 |  5-minute read |   10-07-2018
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Arun Jaitley, while recuperating from his kidney ailment, did his best to defend his government on economic and legal issues. By virtue of being the Union finance minister, he became BJP’s top economist. Going by his long-time profession, he is also the top lawyer the party has. He is a long-standing Rajya Sabha member and a credible spokesperson of the BJP in Parliament and outside it.

Jaitley’s role in running the financial set-up of India after the BJP came to power in 2014 has been hugely "underestimated" by the nation as well as opposition parties, including the Congress.

As far as the Modi government is concerned, Jaitley's role is akin to that of Kautilya, the erudite adviser to Chandragupta Maurya. From making Modi chief minister of Gujarat in 2001 to defending him throughout his tenure, Jaitley has played a key role.

In fact, it was Jaitley — the most vocal English-speaking intellectual of the party — who played a major role in projecting Modi as the BJP's PM candidate in 2013. Just like Kautilya knew Chandragupta Maurya's potential, Jaitley too had assessed Modi’s skills and capacity quite well.

Jaitley, a suave English-speaking Hindutva intellectual, is acceptable to all other intellectuals as well — from the Stephenian to the Harvardian and the Oxonian shetji-bhatji combines (to put it in Mahatma Jyotiba Phule's words, the moneylenders and the priestly class).

artha_071018032209.jpgKautilya to Modi's Chandragupta? (Photo: PTI)

But, above all, Jaitley knew that his ultimate goal could be achieved only by supporting Modi till the latter became the PM. So, he supported Modi's candidature even when many intellectuals were against the idea, given Modi's communal past. But Jaitley found a way around the media and other intellectual channels to rally behind Modi.

Even now, many "Modi enemies" from the intellectual class are Jaitley’s friends. In Delhi, this group is popularly known as the "India International Centre (IIC) Circle".

The English-speaking elite of even opposite ideologies meet here to "resolve" the nation's problems. Be it the Nehruvians or the Golwalkarites, anyone from St Stephen's, or the Harvard or Oxford-Cambridge communities could come and brainstorm here.

Jaitley, whether or not he is a frequent visitor to the IIC, belongs to that small bunch of elites from the BJP.

iic_071018032658.jpgThe India International Centre, where the elite of Delhi come to brainstorm. Photo: iic.nic.in

Jaitley is known as an expert, at least among Modi worshippers, who knows how to drive home an economic agenda to establish a "Hindu Economic System", apart from the "legal system", backed by his Columbia-based "Hindutva school of economics". This school is as powerful as the "Amartya Sen school of Cambridge", Nobel Prize or no Nobel Prize.

Jaitley and Modi are long-time associates. After the 2002 Gujarat riots, Jaitley supported Modi at every step, even in the face of a global campaign against him. Within Delhi, Modi’s enemies (some of whom were Jaitley's friends from the same intellectual club) perhaps came to know more about Modi’s "qualities" from Jaitley.

To draw an immediate parallel, Modi depended on Jaitley the same way PV Narasimha Rao trusted Manmohan Singh and made him his finance minister, paving the way for the historic economic reforms of 1991.

Rao — an experienced politician with good knowledge of the global economic pulse — saw the potential in Singh, a well-trained and experienced economist with stints in various departments of government and international monetary systems.

Together, they managed to drive the country out of the Nehruvian socialist raj (known as the "licence raj" by the desi Columbia club) to privatisation, globalisation and liberalisation (PGL), with a lot of skill and care.

But, unlike Rao and Singh, Modi did not have any experience of working in Delhi, while Jaitley did not have any serious reading of economics. Nevertheless, both believed that he is an expert in Arthashastra. The BJP, too, believed so, perhaps because they had no other option.

narshimha_071018034009.jpgAnother power couple. (Photo: The Hindu)

Jaitley was their best bet.

And thus started Jaitley's journey of deploying Columbia economists to institutionalise an apparently anti-welfare and pro-monopoly capitalist "Hindu economic system". These economists know Modi’s ambition, rhetoric and relative ignorance of global and national economic affairs. They have dismantled the time-tested Planning Commission. Modi must have agreed to it because it was seen as Nehruvian. Instead, they put in place the Niti Aayog (with a Hindutva look and feel) without any systemic understanding. While the Planning Commission was aimed at consciously integrating India's political and socio-economic well-being by replicating successful international models, the Niti Aayog was not even experimented with at Ram Rajya-level. It is a future visionary system of "Hindu Rashtra economics".

Since Modi has more friends among Indian monopoly capitalists, Jaitley’s team went into an industry appeasement overdrive — completely ignoring the Indian agrarian economy.

Sadly, in this thought-process, agriculture is almost absent. Hindutva’s economic agenda has been anti-agriculture and anti-poor. It seems in Jaitley’s Arthashastra, hard-working people in the fields should be denied, and big industries should be fed. Industrialists opposed to the Congress’s "walking on two legs economy" — equal priority to public and private sectors — were much-relieved to welcome this Modi-Jaitley combination.

Jaitley’s Arthashastra is not learnt from the Delhi School of Economics. Rather, it is based on the Hindutva ideological heritage. This school doesn't bother to study the economic planning of China. In fact, the Columbia club hates Communist planning (which Nehru also borrowed from).

Jaitely’s ministry ignored this as not so consequential in the background of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s all-round understanding of Indian economics, from the past to the present.

The Indian poor and the agrarian community has already got a taste of the early days of this economic "Hindu Rashtra". If the BJP storms back to power in 2019, they will be forced to live in a full-fledged "Hindu Rastra".

Also read: Hindi is becoming a rallying point in Tamil Nadu politics again

Writer

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd

The author is political theorist and social activist.

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