Narendra Modi: Barbarian at the gate?
Narendra Modi wants a complete breach from the imperatives of Nehruvian socialism. This is quite evident. However, it is a cause of a great deal of consternation not only in the grand old party but also among sundry experts, intellectuals, and even in the Bharatiya Janata Party. The personages of the Congress system fear him as an outsider, and a Rightist who would not hesitate to boot one who threatens to demolish their coteries, caucuses, cocoons, and salons – like a barbarian at the gate.
It needs to be mentioned, though, that Modi’s tilt towards the Right is not philosophical or intellectual; it does not seem to have emanated from the study of or belief in Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Fredrick Hayek, or Ayn Rand; its roots lie in instinct and experience. In a rare interview, in June 2012 with The Economic Times, he said, “The government has no business to be in business. It should play the role of a facilitator. In my state, investors don’t have to grease the palm of politicians or bureaucrats. There are well laid-out policies. I believe that country can progress only if we end red-tapism. No red tape, only red carpet, is my policy towards investors.”
This statement is not the product of a homegrown political philosophy, certainly not of any Right-wing Indian ideology. What passes off as political thinking in India is anyway a mishmash of Gandhian sentimentalism, Nehru’s fascination for Fabian socialism, grandiloquence of pre-Independence grandees about a mythical past, the mendacity of Mandalites, and the pedantry of the tenured. The official ideology of the BJP, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, was a little better. While his intellectual and moral courage to challenge the certitudes of the Nehruvian age was commendable, the same cannot be said about the philosophy of Integral Humanism that he expounded. In short, there is not much in modern Indian from which Modi could have sought intellectual sustenance.
This is also in sharp contrast to the Right turn that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan effected in the 1980s; with the duo, the classical liberal principles of free market and limited government, which had become somewhat unfashionable, were given a new lease of life. For Thatcher, conservatism was a way of life and free market a matter of conviction. Reagan was the beneficiary of three decades of a Right-wing intellectual revolution in the country, the revolution which helped resuscitate economic freedom. But the point is that the interred ideas could be excavated because they were there in the first place. In the case of Modi, there is no philosophical or ideological tradition he can build his economic and political tenets upon.
So, his electoral campaign revolves around the amorphous term called ‘development.’ Everybody talks about development, but few are willing to spell out its architecture. For it is this architecture that differentiates between statist overreach and real, liberal progress. Otherwise, Nehru will also be called a pro-development leader; indeed, he is promoted as ‘the builder of modern India’ by the Congress and sympathetic intellectuals. He did build dams, undertook infrastructure projects, and set up public sector undertakings. He also fashioned a foreign policy, national defence and internal security paraphernalia, and legislation. But almost everything he did had a baneful impact on the nation; in fact, most of his policies became a hurdle in the path of growth and development. Yet, he will be regarded as a champion of development till the term remains nebulous.
Unfortunately, critical questions are rarely asked: Who would spearhead investment—government or the private sector? What would be the role of a state? Would state monitor and/or regulate the content of development? What would be the extent of monitoring and regulation? Even if private enterprises are given liberty to function, would government set the rules of functioning and, in effect, regulate them? Or would they be allowed to perform in whichever way they want to as long as they don’t break the law of the land? What is to be done with the myriad entitlements that the Sonia Gandhi’s regime has thrust upon the nation? Or, the more fundamental question, should there be subsidies? What to do with subsidies?
Neither the supporters of Modi nor his detractors are asking these questions. Modi himself wants to steer clear of these issues; this was evident from his party’s election manifesto which hasn’t mentioned anything, apart from labor reforms, that would raise many eyebrows in the political-intellectual Establishment of the country. He knows that Sonia’s rights-based ideology has failed miserably and caused widespread anger at the mess that has ensued; he wants to capitalize on this anger and storm to 7, Race Course Road. This may be a good tactic, but this cannot be a sound strategy.
Modi has to ensure the birthing of a sound, rational Right-wing ideology, around which the BJP, and even others, could orient policies and programmes. India has had enough of trials and errors in terms of policies—Left-wing economists and experts coming up with their outlandish ideas and thrusting them upon people; the failure of outlandishness tormenting the exchequer, the productive sections, and the poor; the search of new such ideas and their implementation ad nauseam.
Modi has had the perspicacity to discern the rot in Sonia’s regime and the courage to point it out. He is also likely to get the opportunity to negate or minimize the ill effects of Congress rule. But he has to do more: he has to posit the roadmap for the future.