India’s third inflection point

Modimania marks an inflection point in India’s history, just as Nehruvinism did in the 1950s and Indira Gandhism did in the 1970s.

Nehru’s inflection point (apart from Independence) lay in the curious blend of political and social “liberalism” (anti-caste, secular, inner party democracy, consensus rather than confrontation) and progressivism with economic quasi-socialism and the “big State”. This set India on the path of public sector led growth via industrialization, high taxes and the undermining of communities and local governments. The result was a politically integrated but backward India, shackled by red tape, inefficiency and shortages.

Indira carried through Nehru’s “socialist” legacy and entrenched it by “Nationalizing” banks and private industry. She undermined the residual, formal privileges of the Royals, in a populist move to level social differences. In politics however, it was a complete reversal as “authoritarianism” became the credo. The bureaucracy was brought to heel and made subservient to their political masters. Simultaneously “big and intrusive government” grew to an unmanageable size and power. Political and administrative centralization became the mantra of political survival. The concept of inner party democracy in the Congress disappeared. Political confrontation replaced political accommodation. The result was a shattered economy, rising corruption and the loss of two decades (1970s and 1980s) while economic growth in China and East Asia outstripped India by a wide margin.    

Modi’s inflection point in the 2010’s is derived from three features: (1) The “Bill Clinton” moment in India, illustrating formal democratization of national leadership. Modi, a man of working class origin, a rank outsider to the New Delhi policracy, breaks in, based on nothing but his bravado, energy and competence.  The only previous PM to claim such credentials was Shastri. However, whilst he was of humble origins, as compared to his peers, he was still from the educated middle class of his times and he was never an “outsider” who snatched power. Others in this queue could be Bhenji and Didi who wait for their Bill Clinton moment. Interestingly, all three are unmarried and embody the traditional “Indian” concept of the “selfless” leader, though their personal traits vary from the ascetic to the acquisitive to the romantic. (2) The tentative formal commitment of the BJP to economic growth, as the basis for poverty reduction (a rising tide lifts all boats principle). This reinforces its 2000-2004 shinning India image. (3) The prevalence of the Rule of Law. The end of an era of hypocritical and false allegiance to pseudo secularism, masking vote bank politics. The potential emergence of strong, modern, secular Muslim leaders who are focused on providing economic growth, in communities where Muslims are in dominance, rather than playing “identity politics” by pandering to the justifiable fears of a religious minority, fueled by an unfortunately “aggressive” Hindu majority.  

Over the next two decades to 2030 India shall (1) reduce poverty to 3% as in China today. (2) It shall move towards decentralization as regional solutions are preferred to local problems. The powers of Delhi shall stand sharply reduced to core sovereign matters (Defence, Internal Security, Diplomacy, Macro economic stability, External Trade, Interstate Trade, Communication, Transport and Migration). Matters of social and economic development shall be managed at the State government and Local levels. (3) Most Indians (including women) shall speak at least three languages (English, Hindi and a local language), would be literate and educated at least up to High School. (4) “Unattended” childbirth would be rare. Pre and post natal medical care would be routinely available to all. A universal medical insurance scheme would ensure basic preventive and curative care. (5) All homes would be electrified. (6) Improved sanitation and clean water would be available to all (7) Private transport would be a luxury in metros whilst, mass transport would be the rule.

Modimania can start us off on this long journey. Meanwhile the Congress should regroup as a cadre based, democratic, party over the next five years and strike abiding alliances at the national level, with regional parties in readiness for 2019. If the Congress fails to do this, other smaller parties shall collaborate, step into the vacuum at the national level and bleed it of talent. This is already happening.

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