governance, political economy, institutional development and economic regulation

Auld Lang Syne

New Year

The Scots are a practical people. What’s done is done and best forgot albeit with a tipple. If only we Indian’s were as straight thinking, life would be easier. Why waste time worrying about the past when you have a lifetime ahead of you.

Of course Historians hate this approach since it does them out of butter and bread. Economists love it because memory loss ensures no one can identify how many times they got it wrong in the past.

As we head into 2015 for India it is most certainly time to forget. PM Modi has initiated a dual agenda. One which encourages us to forget our past cynicism and pessimism, dream big and work hard to realize the dream. The other is an agenda which cuts deeply at the strings which still tie us to the past; an immediate past of farcical socialism; a recent past of colonial subjugation and a more distant past of foreign invasions.

But it is difficult to forget selectively. The modern mind is so stressed and overloaded that blunt instructions work best. The “forget the past” strategy risks deleting the entire cache of history we have to our credit.

India is a composite of everything which has happened in the last 5000 years – some of it is fact and a lot is legend, myth and fables. Communist China adopted the “forget the past” strategy to forge a new national consciousness. The question is now being asked what is it all about really as China descends from the clouds of collective achievement to the reality of slowing growth, civil stress, corruption, mis-governance and the conundrum of choosing between discipline – the “old economy” driver and innovation – the basis for growth in an open economy.

But forgetting selectively has its problems. The mind is free to roam and no one can prescribe what people will remember and what they will forget. This is especially tricky in relatively new and heterogeneous countries like India where groups have a past of antagonism. Best then to forget wholesale and move on via a Truth and Reconciliation process.

There is some indication this is happening. The likely PDP-BJP link up in Kashmir to form the new government is the most recent example where pragmatism is trumping ideology and past political battles.

The warming overtones in the relationship between PM Modi and President Obama on the one hand and the warmth between him and President Putin are similar signs of putting the past behind us.

More of this bon homie would be visible domestically if the BJP recognizes that they have been voted into power for five years and their primary responsibility during this period is to deliver what they promised. Ensuring that they get another five years is a secondary goal and not the primary one. This is not merely rhetorical. Choices are being made every day between the two objectives. If the BJP chooses its longevity in office over delivery, how then would it be different from the “dynasties” it seeks to replace?

The good news is that the choice is simpler for the BJP than others. Voters perceive it as the party which delivers so that is the objective it should maximize. Of course in politics there is no guarantee of success. But following the “dharma” is at least as important as the results.

India is blessed. There can be no other explanation why we have remained a growing economy and a vibrant democracy when so many other countries have gone under. Much of this is because of the quality of our people and our institutions but a significant amount of credit must also be given to our leaders, present and past, all of whom did what they could in public interest.

So as the magic hour nears and 2014 fades into 2015 lets follow the Scots and fleetingly, remember old times and acquaintances, for we are nothing but a collage of everything they made us become.

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