Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister will be the biggest tectonic shift of India’s Economic and Political center ever since Independence. It will splurge several notches to the right. What was considered far right on the economic scene will become commonplace center and so also what was considered far right on the political spectrum be considered the appropriate center of discourse.
When Nehru became the PM, well meaning politicians of all hues and spectra aligned with a left liberal Socialist approach to build institutions and thus subsequent policies were developed centered around that base. While there were a few parties like C. Rajgopalachari’s Swatantra Party or Sardar Patels’ own views, these were offset by Nehru’s hold on the Congress and held sway without much public discontent. With the death of Sardar Patel and subsequent elections there was not much challenge to the Left centrist model that Nehru proposed. The only opposition that Nehru nurtured was due to his superficial westernized mannerisms and approach and this gave rise to a Lohia faction that had a ‘son of soil’ persona, but whose politics and economics did not wander much off Nehru’s own chartered course. Many of them are dominant in almost every political party including the BJP or have had affiliations.
With the political spectrum frozen along those leanings, it was expected that Non alignment, closeness to the Socialist bloc, antipathy to the Capitalist West would be the center norm. Most think tanks and Institutions in the formative stages of the republics chartered their doctrines/ objectives to this reality and it became the unquestioned center of political and economic discourse in India. Sociologists, Economists, Thinkers, Statesmen, Historians all emerged from these Institutions and made their mark on the discourse in India. Many were extremely tall personalities and held sway on this discourse with much ease. Within 25 years of the Republics’ existence the social, political and economic top echelons were so deeply rooted in this Left ‘liberal’ socialist political and economic world view that nationalizing industries and implementing a hard license raj system was implemented with extreme ease and little opposition. It however had it’s limitations and hundreds of millions could barely emerge from the struggling village ecosystems. Growth rates remained subdued and even as the divide between the rich and poor nations kept increasing, the capacity to self introspect and make the necessary shift in political and economic centers could not be reached. While protests and dissatisfaction grew, an arrogant and confident Government even suspended fundamental rights and imposed an Emergency. The leadership that fought off the Emergency was tall and rooted in our soil, but the fundamental flaw was that that they did not have the depth to change the center of political and economic discourse of the nation. That possibly required an extra tinge of vision, deeper understanding and a passion to really make more than superficial changes. The lack of that was manifest in Morarji Desai and Ch Charan Singhs’ terms at the helm of affairs. Instead of bringing the necessary change required, they made the mistake of pushing the center of discourse even more left than was the usual for the Nehruvian Dynasty.
People would not forgive this for a decade at the minimum as Indira Gandhi and subsequently Rajiv again swept into power comfortably and continued with the same center. Budgets were status quo’ist, the railway budget was more important than the national budget. Many remember how people would tune into a Philips Radio set and discuss a Rs 3 reduction in some non AC sleeper fare and a Rs 17.53 increase in the AC 2 Tier fare. In the main budget if there was drop in excise on match boxes, there would be a extra surcharge on table fans. Between the Lambretta and Vespa, the Kelvinator and Alwyn, the Ambassador and Fiat, Beltek and Weston you’d be gleaning a 5% reduction on some scooter part import, a 3.21% increase in some Auto part import. It was that trivial and yes tens of millions tuned into that discourse. Stalwarts like Pranab Mukherjee with grim or beaming faces presented these inane status quo budgets. Experts with an eye to detail would analyze how that Rs 12 reduction on the Howrah-Bombay 3 Tier class would help travelers and the sagacity of the ‘wise’ FM in balancing the losses out with a Rs 24.32 increase in the 1st AC fairs. A really forward move from the ministry would be making some change where the delivery time of a Scooter after paying up full and booking would be reduced from 7 years to 3 years. For those who are young, this indeed was the discourse and the accepted reality.
So while Wealth tax remained at 97% and import duties in few hundreds of percent, realization emerged among the ruling elite that money could be made in this License, Subsidy raj scheme of governance. It started attracting a number of people who entered the political arena because a quick buck was not just quick, but it was big too and with dollops of intoxicating red beacons, status, power in addition to the immunity from prosecution. The nexus between the corrupt politician, the police, underground mafias began to emerge. As elections became bigger this nexus became the source of massive funding and riches. No one benefiting from this scheme of things wanted to end the License and Subsidy Raj. All the misery that socialism worshiping Indians felt was attributed to a Capitalist and Western conspiracy, till one die hard left leaning socialist politician decided that since the criminal nexus is becoming so apparent, why not fight an election on corruption. Mr VP Singh fought the first Indian general elections on an Anti Corruption plank, but ended saddling the country with Mandal and left the economy even more in ruin. Cynicism started developing and an abhorrence for the political setup slowly became widespread. It was at that juncture that many new political entities and challenges to the INC started emerging. One was the BJP. Yet that too was focused on the Temple issue and comprised largely of the Lohia’ite/ Nehruvian left socialist economic school of thought. The center of political and economic discourse just would not budge.
With the population still unable to get a leadership that would lift it out of the self imposed Nehruvian/ INC leftist economic model, it still remained in the sway of sentimentalism. A wave of sympathy following Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination propelled the INC back to power. An almost retired politician with nothing much to lose was put in charge. With the economy in shambles, major borrowings to keep afloat were a given. The IMF imposed conditions that were reluctantly imposed. This was the first step at shifting the economic discourse center slightly to the right. All that was done was to reduce import gold duties, decrease wealth taxes, free up forex regulations a bit. Almost overnight gold smuggling, forex black markets started easing out. Money started making an entry into India and it’s finances started looking better than ever before. More important than the fiscal improvements was the ‘pro-reform’ lobby that emerged and kept getting bigger and more powerful, that lobby started challenging established left centric positions of experts.
With the advent of the NDA setup the center of discourse did undergo a shift, it was not tectonic. The political, strategic, and economic centers still lay near about a notch or so right of the Rao setup. The Institutions were hitting back and it was only that a few infrastructural initiatives along with the IT revolution that emerged that led to pick up in growth rates. The result was that GDP growth rates stuck at 4.5% rose to 8.4% at the end of Vaypayee’s tenure. Yet the NAC controlled UPA made sure that the Nehruvian License, subsidy raj bounced back and through massive handouts wrecked the rise back to the 4.5% mark.
This is where Narendra Modi steps in with his clarity and vision. A vision that dreams of massive infrastructural shakeups. A vision that professes faith in minimizing the Government and maximizing Governance. That of intolerance to corruption both low and high level not through some additional Lok Pal kind bureaucratic community and vendetta based punitive action, but through sensible laws and acknowledgement of an individuals desire to acquire wealth legitimately. The faith that Shauchalaya needs to precede Devalaya. That urgency that people require good quality water and power at the minimum as soon as can be achieved. These imperatives drive Narendra Modi and he has amply demonstrated that in Gujarat where a power and water deficit state was turned around only during his tenure. That of pulverizing Planning commission doled targets of 4.5% agricultural growth with a sizzling decadal 11% growth.
To do that on an India scale however, will require a major upheaval of staid institutions and planning commissions. The shake that can awaken that lot is only a major few notches lunges to the ‘right’ shock. Modi possesses the will, aptitude and support from the people to deliver that. Once these Institutions are shaken up awake in the public domain with accountability, India cannot be the same any longer. On the political front, Modi supports the Tibetan movement and expresses sympathy to their plight. He is not averse to discussions on Art 370. He is very keen on developing the North Eastern part of India. His speeches at the Chambers of Commerce, Institutions all point to that. He lives, breathes and sleeps on development. He cannot be corrupted. He cannot be deflected in his objectives. The Institutions will have no options but to adjust to newer centers of discourse. When these adjust the old Nehruvian left socialist guard will have to go. Those sociologists, economists, historians of yore that peddled status quo will have to be replaced with a new attire and mindset rooted in delivery of fast paced development. The foreign policy satraps that have had a nice time cutting ribbons, sipping fine whiskies based at embassies abroad may still do all that but will have to deliver in trade and relations.
Once he delivers on that these fronts, it will be impossible to revert to the NAC freebie throwing days. While the left socialist model groups encouraged clamor to be in some special category to avail of govt jobs, college admissions, the shift Modi will bring will encourage groups not to seek special rights through caste, religion etc, but avenues in their areas whereby they inculcate in the young the right skill sets to be able to be absorbed in the emerging developmental mileau. The tectonic shift is just that: When the locals stop clamoring for reservations or OBC kind of status, but demand schools, colleges, industries, services in their districts so that their youth are gainfully employed in the big shift. That will give impetus to a breed of politicians that will campaign not for doing parochial caste or religion based favors, let alone doling a bottle of rum or whisky to buy votes, but those that promise and deliver the infrastructure and tools for participation in their constituencies. If in 60 months Modi can bring that change, he would have done something that has never been done in the last 60 years. And that is exactly what Modi has been saying and conveying in his speeches and in his fierce criticism of Nehru and his ideas. This is not an opportunity to be missed.