governance, political economy, institutional development and economic regulation

God and Inclusive Growth

 

Indians are born believing in God but get initiated into inclusion and growth. Conversely, Westerners are born believing in inclusion and growth but end up becoming devotees of God on reaching India. This illustrates how the two beliefs converge if citizens have the freedom to choose.

Can the devotion that God inspires be evoked for the State? The example that comes immediately to mind is of Indian soldiers spilling their blood for the nation. Overcoming the instinctive desire to save oneself is an outcome of intensive training; peer pressure; personal loyalty to the group and role model type leadership on the battle field.  This is accompanied by close, often, quite intimate, habitation and isolation from the external non-military environment and of course the harsh disciplinary regime to which everyone is subjected.

Despite Arnab’s helpful interview with Rahul yesterday, the nation continues to pin its expectations on Modi’s India and Kejriwal’s Delhi. Once Modi is PM, the expectation is that India will fall in line. Politicians will be disciplined to cease making a sorry spectacle of themselves. Babus will become decisive and diligent. Citizens will become responsible versus their duties and responsive to the needs of others.  

Modi himself is certainly an exemplary role model of growth; an inspiring story of an individual who used institutional mechanisms to break through caste and class bonds to touch the sky, though he could have done a better job of taking all his soldiers along, rather than just most of them. Kejriwal speaks for citizens, across the fault lines of religion, caste and ethnicity, when he fingers corruption and elitism as the enemy.

Translating these worthy objectives into results however requires a huge social transformation.

First, citizen duties have to trump citizen rights, as in China, so that community harmony trumps individual preference. The East Asian flying geese pattern is aerodynamically beneficial, but only if the gaps between the geese are strictly regulated. This goes against the egotistical grain of the “Argumentative Indian”.

Second, to make more palatable, the erosion of private rights and the enhancement of private duties, powers and resources would need to be transferred to participative local communities rather than centralized in remote governments. Community empowerment is incidentally healthy for minorities since they tend to locate themselves cohesively. But this will upset established elites feeding off centralized powers.

Third, if justice is to be speeded up our judicial system which presumes innocence till proven guilty, shall need to be replaced by the presumption of guilt, till proven innocent. Our system favors rich and powerful criminals (barring exceptions like Tejpal and Raja), who can get bail and stretch out a case endlessly, whilst the poor remain incarcerated in judicial custody as under trial prisoners

Lastly, every leader needs a vertically integrated and empowered party cadre, which becomes her eyes and ears (as with Didi, Amma, Bhenji or Netaji) but the cadre can undermine the constitutional arrangements for oversight (executive, judiciary and legislature). Modi doesnt have a party he can trust. Kejriwal doesn’t have a party.

Despite the likely political and social upheavals from such difficultagendas, it is astonishing how popular they are with the electorate. Kejriwal would win 60% of the votes in Delhi today and is likely to get around 20 seats in the Lok Sabha polls 2014. Modi is set to sweep the 2014 polls.

This illustrates that India may be ripe for a social makeover, loosening forever, our tenuous strings to the colonial heritage of processes for fair play and equity and political architecture.  This model has not lived up to expectations.

Formal political plurality has morphed into elite control of identity groups rather than into parties espousing different visions for implementing the Directive Principles of the Constitution. High caste Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jats, Kurmis, Ahirs and Dalits with sub clans at local levels, ethnic and linguistic groups all jostle for their share of the national pie. Perversely, as in Egypt, the right to choose ones representatives has resulted in governments divorced from the tenets of liberal democratic thought; liberty, equality, fraternity.

The scale of corruption has exploded post-liberalization in 1990.  Russia, India and China are all threatened by unbridled corruption, as the rigid State apparatus for managing the economy is peeled away. Apologists, of the Washington Consensus kind, would say that there is no net loss since what is corruption today, was State inefficiency, previously. They would point instead to the gains from the growing pie and reduction in poverty.

What they are unable to explain however, is why the World is more unequal today than in 1990? Why is it that more than 50% of the benefits of growth go to a miniscule segment of the creamy layer not deeper than 1% of the population?  What indeed are the limits of greed in India?

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Audi, Mercedes, BMW and other super luxury brands (each car worth between INR 4 to 9 million) sold more than 20,000 cars in 2013. But there are only 44,000 taxpayers with a declared annual income of INR 10 million or more. Only around 400,000 people pay tax on an annual income of above INR 2 million.  Wealthy Indians may be privately generous but they hate to share their wealth with the State and no one thinks any the worse of them. Indeed, the salaried employee is pitied because she has no avenues for evading tax. Compare this with the 1962 war when even middle class women donated their gold to help the nation fight the Chinese. Our moral fiber has weakened.

If Modi and Kejriwal fail to address the core issues of moral fiber in public life, they shall fail to achieve many of the goals they set themselves. The first test of moral fiber is for the leader to come clean before the citizens. Confess your failings. Share your good deeds. Speak the truth and act upon it. Limit your needs. Seek to benefit citizens not identities. That is the only way to reach God and inclusive Growth simultaneously.   

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