governance, political economy, institutional development and economic regulation

Posts tagged ‘Nehru’

The new Modi fan club

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Hindus, across caste lines, believe that the Modi Sarkar will usher in better times. But there is disquiet amongst the Muslims, in particular, but also amongst Christians. Both religions are of foreign origin and linked to religious regimes located elsewhere. They fear the whip-lash of a possible “India for Hindus” sentiment akin to the “Africa for Africans” sentiment in the 1970s, leading to the exodus of non-Africans. Also a consolidation of Hindu votes can make minorities less politically relevant as a vote bank.

Such fears are understandable. The potential for anti-foreign religious mania builds on the traditional Indian geo-political stance of self-determination and against “domination” by external actors. Nehru, a romantic, shunned geo-political alliances and grew the idea of “non-alignment”. Indira Gandhi, was more practical and whipped up phobia against the “invisible” hand of the West in geo-politics and leaned towards the obliging Soviets.

The BJP view on geo-politics is no different from that of the Congress in the recent past or indeed that of the Chinese; to do everything which builds the domestic economy and secures the country’s interests. However, there is one variation in the BJP strategy, which finds no place in that of the “secular” Congress.

Just as Amma’s geo-political stance is determined by how it affects Tamil interests (in the context of Sri Lanka), the BJP is likely to boldly pursue the cause and interests of Hindus overseas. Is this horribly unsecular?

Those who think so, must consider who else would weigh-in when Hindus are denied human rights in religious States like Pakistan or the Middle East? India is where Hinduism has developed and it is extremely odd that the Indian government should shy away from this duty. Should not a “secular” BJP be similarly proactive in protecting the rights of persecuted Christians in Egypt or South Sudan for instance, or allegedly persecuted Muslims in France or the US?

Whilst siding with a generic commitment to the Human Rights doctrine, the BJP rightfully believes that it is for States (much stronger than India in economic and political clout), which ascribe to these religions, to do this front line job. These nations do so in any case, even in the context of alleged human rights violations of Indian Muslims and Christians. In contrast the Hindus have no one, except India, to bat for them.

“Secularism” has acquired a shrill, hollow, politicized tone in India, which is at variance with our global interests. This is not to say that India should change the Constitution and become a Hindu State. Far from it. Secularism, in so far as the relationship between the State its citizens is concerned, should become even more sanitized of religious dogma to reassure Indian minorities.

The State must disengage totally from all religions, starting with religious rituals at State functions. Multi religious prayers and the construction of temples, mosques or churches in government buildings, especially the defence forces and police establishments, must be shunned. Warships should be launched, not by breaking coconuts on their hulls, but by a secular ritual. At state funerals, a clear distinction must be drawn between the role of the State, the party and the family concerned. The State must withdraw from the function, once religious rituals take over. The display of calendars with gods, goddesses and religious symbols must be banned in public offices and a code of religious conduct introduced for public servants.   

The romantic notion that the State can “adopt” all religions and yet remain secular, is fanciful and lies at the root of competition between religious denominations, for privileges, government funds and political power.

Has Indian “secular double-speak” been conclusively defeated in the 2014 elections? Unfortunately no. The political cleavages between Hindus and Muslims remain as deep as ever. Caste based politics has been papered over but remains a potent political instrument at the sub-national level. 

The BJP remains essentially a Hindu party. The real political conundrum facing it, is whether proactive outreach to secular Muslims and secular Christians, is likely to compromise its appeal to its new pan-Hindu, caste rainbow, voter base?

The longtime BJP supporter; Punjabi refugees from the Partition (now on the demographic wane); the Banias; Pandits and Thakurs of North India and a smattering of in-between castes, no longer constitute the bulk of BJP supporters. The baton has passed to aspiring youth frustrated by the lack of decent jobs; shoddy public facilities and a poor quality of life. These voters increasingly gel along classic, class lines. Kejriwal shrewdly tapped into their frustration but did not have the mind space to lead them. Modi has stepped into this breach and scaled up the strategy nationally.

But one major problem the BJP faces is that it’s “traditional Indian” image does not square with the aspirations of the modern Indian woman. This antediluvian caricature of ‘Indianess” and the role and relative status of a woman, is derived mostly from the BJP’s base in the North, where the status of women is the worst. Under Modi’s leadership, hopefully, the more enlightened, gender neutral cultural norms of Hindus in the West, South and the East of India shall prevail.

After all, unlike other leaders of his generation, Modi encouraged Jashodabehn to get educated and self-actualise, just as he was trying to do. But now the battle is done. Both Modi and Jashodabehn have voluntarily sacrificed their marriage and it is time to acknowledge their unbreakable bond of friendship and mutual respect. Jashodabehn is Modi’s biggest fan. She should not be discouraged from being so publicly.

Finally what of the poor, all 700 million of them, who earn less than US$2 per day. Modi was one of them and they are his primary constituency, irrespective of religion or caste. This must reflect in the government’s policy on reservations and positive affirmation in general, through a poverty criterion.  

There are three things the poor fear most of all; (1) insecurity, (2) inflation and (3) financial shock. They are the least prepared and the most exposed to all three. The Modi agenda already assures that social protection schemes, started by previous governments, will be made more effective, not shut down. If he can kick start domestic manufacturing by systematically cutting red tape and encouraging babus to deliver; boost infrastructure construction through public finance; incentivise tourism and private investment, the poor can be assured of a steady supply of decent jobs.  We need to generate 10 million a year.

One hopes that the false pride, associated with an appreciating exchange rate or hollow but unsettling jingoism, will not scuttle the sustained development of an internationally competitive, Indian economy. Modi is a practical man and a master strategist. He shall not be found wanting. Ache din aa gaye hain.

 

Hate and its adherents

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Hate is a powerful emotion. A sense of rejection, powerlessness, consistent negative discrimination or perceived persecution; any of these can invoke it. In India it is a common, albeit not a publicly expressed sentiment. But it lurks very close to the surface.

Who hates whom, is an easily answered question. But why the poor do not hate the rich remains a puzzle.

Whilst income inequality between the lowest income earner in the middle class (defined as a family of five earning more than Rs. 20,000/- per month) and the very wealthy is high and rising, what binds the rich and the middle class together is common aspirations.

My flat may be just a studio space and not a mansion. I may have only a cooler and not central air conditioning. I may travel by “reserved sleeper” rather than private jet. I may drive a scooter (with a Jaguar or a Mercedes logo on the front wheel cover) and not a Bentley. My family’s weekend outing may be to India Gate and not Chiang Mai but I empathize and fantasize with and emulate the very rich. We go to similar schools, read the same magazines and watch the same shows and movies. We wear the same clothes and have similar tastes and habits even if we do not have similar expense accounts. The “imitation rich” fit seamlessly, if sometime tenuously, into the world of the “real rich”.

In contrast the divide between the poor and the “rich and the middle” is deep and unbridgeable. Functional illiteracy is the killer, as is the absence of family safety nets for ill health, accidental death, fire or joblessness, which are often the involuntary entry points into a downward spiral of hopelessness or hate. The Naxalites earlier and the Maoists now, seek to politicize this incipient hatred of the poor for the oppressive rich.

But neither have succeeded. Blame it on our passive culture; the stickiness of traditional identities or on democracy which lets a murky light of hope shine through. Credit it to our bureaucracy and judiciary which, albeit creaky, still manage to crank out basic justice and fair play.  But the most potent reason why the poor do not hate the rich is because they have been skilfully taught not to.

They have been manipulated by the Indian elite, across caste, religion and region, to sublimate their incipient hate for the empowered rich into hate for the “other poor” who belong to a different caste, religion or region. This zero sum game appeals instantly. More for “them” means less for “me” and vice versa

Much of the notional “plurality” of Indian politics (regional; caste or religion based political parties) derives from this cynical use of “traditional identities” by politicians as electoral instruments to create “vote banks”. The result is an “empowered” group of elites in each caste; religion and region and in the many sub groups that coexist. In this three dimensional matrix Dalit/Christians/from the North are differentiated from Dalit/Muslims from the North. Ahirs, Kurmis and Jats view Dalits and each other, as competitors for state largesse. Sunni Muslims out maneuver Shias.  Bengal cannot see eye to eye with Tamil Nadu and Kashmir remains in splendid isolation.

Meanwhile, the elites of each of these groups share business interests; frequently co-habit; enjoy bonhomie and populate a common power network of amazing reach and strength. It is this trans caste, religion and region elite which has been the real gainers of Indian democracy, whilst studiously keeping at bay the real question- what is in it for the poor, of which around 70% (over 800 million people) earn less than US$ 2 per day.

The AAP has come closest to spontaneously mobilizing the disempowered. But post their “death wish” renunciation of power in Delhi their appeal has shrunk. It is now down to primarily the urban poor, who were justifiably impressed by the instant reduction in petty corruption and harassment, which had become the hallmark of State interaction with the disempowered in Delhi. But AAP is very far from being a party of national revival.

The Congress certainly has the latent potential. But it is constrained by the suffocating management control of the party, by the Nehru scions. Whilst they may deride Modi for sublimating the BJP in his own image, right down to his signature “white lotus”, one detects traces of envy. He has pipped them to the post, in their own game of “family takes all”.

This leaves the BJP as the only national party with some element of inner party democracy. However, their natural bias is towards the North and the West regions and within that to industry and trade. Also the direct linkage with the RSS does not help. A national party cannot be aligned to any one culture or religion and the BJP needs to travel a long road in that direction.

Modi shall be PM on Modi day- May 16, 2014. His incentive would be to remain PM till 2024. For someone, as savvy as him, surely the path to political longevity cannot lie through sectarian strife or caste wars. Yes, growth, jobs and better public services will be on his agenda but so must Kejriwal style, visible outreach and responsive security for the poor.   

 

 

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