First impressions of the Modi era
by Krishnarjun on 26 Jan 2015 2 Comments

The year 2014 brought in momentous changes to Indian politics; it’s a year of Modified India. The year gave the nation a government led by a party with a full majority after a gap of three decades. It is also the first majority government for a party that claims to have roots in Hindu nationalism, a first decisive political victory for an ideological group in eight decades, though it is very clear that it was Narendra Modi, his persona, his track record and his agenda for the future that won the confidence of the people. Many astute political observers have no doubt that the BJP would have slipped below the 100 seat mark if not for the leadership of Narendra Modi.


The BJP government completed half year by the end of 2014, during which time it scored impressively in a series of State elections, forming governments in Haryana, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand, and improving numbers significantly in the Jammu & Kashmir assembly. The city-state of Delhi goes to the polls on February 7, and in a surprise move, the BJP admitted Kiran Bedi and made her the Chief Ministerial candidate to against Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The impact of this gamble would be known on February 10, but this turn of events reveals the complete hold of Prime Minister Modi and his lieutenant Amit Shah on the government and party.


Winning elections to consolidate political gains may be important in the short term, but Mr Modi’s mandate is also for changing the rules. Without fundamental changes in the political system there can’t be any lasting changes in the country and governance. Political reform has to start with how political parties function internally and how leadership evolves from within. A political party is not a business entity for party members; it is accountable to public inside government and also in conducting its internal affairs.


There is a reason why India did not opt for a presidential system; its diversity needs gradual evolution of leadership, not corporate style sudden transplantation of a CEO from anywhere to head a party or government. Democratic culture is not dictatorship of election winners; without a process of leadership evolution from the grassroots, democracy can be hijacked through momentary manipulation of public opinion in favour of untested, questionable persons imposed at the top by vested interests. The process of leadership evolution inside a party is as important as contesting and winning an election.


The existing leadership culture in India is Delhi-centric. Any player who operates from Delhi and manages the top party bosses instantly becomes a key player in national politics and eventually a national leader. Access to television studios in Delhi, promotion by Delhi media, speaking in polished English has become a short route to the power elite. This is why Delhi ‘studio leaders’ and ambitious persons from all parties never dare to question the media even after repeated mudslinging; they need the media and media uses them.


Changing Delhi’s incestuous culture is important to those who overwhelmingly supported Narendra Modi through social media and other means. The reason why the dynastic Congress managed to hold on to power for six decades is lack of proper political culture and leadership evolution in parties that challenged it. Dynasty remained the default glue of Congress and also a large section of the political class in the country.


Under the Atal-Advani duo, the BJP followed Congress-style politics with its own Delhi durbar culture shutting access to talented leaders from states. They selectively promoted those with no potential of their own and this coterie of non-electable leaders lorded over grassroots leaders in states and out of natural jealousy towards real mass leaders in the states, created problems for them and even pushed the party to extinction in many important states. This was the scenario when Narendra Modi took over the BJP and with his sheer persona, talent and track record not only pulled BJP back from extinction but led it to stupendous victory.


Added to the Delhi non-leadership syndrome is the problem of Sangh Parivar interference and tantrums. The Sangh Parivar bosses believe BJP is answerable to them and not to the people. They have so far prevented BJP from emerging as a full-fledged political party, constraining its natural growth and inhibiting its intellectual evolution as a serious political party. The reason why BJP has a severe paucity of intellectual talent in its ranks is that it has psychologically delegated thinking to some largely unknown RSS ideologues who have little clue outside their cocooned world. Hence, BJP in government experiences a talent crunch and has to import experts from outside, who openly mock at its ideology and agenda.


The BJP has to evolve as a full-fledged party and emerge as an example for a model party with a credible political process that can serve this diverse nation in coming decades. Eventually this process has to find its place in the constitution through political reforms. It has to institutionalize intellectual evolution within its ranks without psychological reliance on an external organisation or motivated think tanks. A party teaching module that can provide quality exposure to geopolitics, policy and ideology to the ranks may be needed. An internal mechanism to promote leadership from grassroots without interference from ideological bosses outside the party is necessary.


People often take India’s political unity for granted. But without institutionalising unity through a systematic political process in which parties play decisive role, we could be vulnerable to games played by enemy forces to disintegrate the country. Indira Gandhi style ad hocism only created resentment among many sections, leading to fragmented polity and growth of regional parties.


Narendra Modi has an opportunity to change the existing ad hoc approach and institutionalise an organic political process. Though his foot soldiers and grassroots leaders may overlook the recent surprise choices in Delhi as a one-time exception, if it becomes the norm they would be seriously demotivated and lose faith in the party system and process.


Prime Minister Modi surprised even ardent admirers with his deft diplomatic moves, emerging seamlessly on the world stage and silencing habitual critics who mocked at his lack of foreign policy exposure. This again proves that foreign policy exposure and geopolitics is not the privilege of the Lutyens power elite. It seems that Mr Modi follows his declared “India First” mantra in foreign policy; his moves are entwined with his economic and security vision for India. His whirlwind foreign visits and hectic meetings with world political and business leaders show his eagerness to realise India’s potential.


On the economic front, India is slowly but surely emerging out of the policy paralysis and negative sentiment. The government effort for financial inclusion through Jan Dhan Yojana is hugely successful with a bank account opened for almost every family in the country. This program would be the bedrock for government policy and welfare measures and would curtail petty corruption. The Swachh Bharat programme is laudable and inspiring, but its success depends on creating infrastructure in cities to process waste.


Make in India is primarily for import substitution, as explained in Mr Modi’s Independence Day speech, with focus on defense, electronics and energy where imports are high. But it seems that so far not much investment has come from outside the country and that even India Inc is not very responsive to the Prime Minister’s efforts to improve indigenous manufacturing.


The impression is that Mr Modi has a clear economic vision that is inclined to economic self-sufficiency with sustainable growth that creates jobs, self-employment and takes care of the environment, but he faces a severe crunch of economic talent to implement his vision on the ground. His economic team is not in sync with his vision, but he has little choice than relying on conventional experts given paucity of in-house talent.


The BJP and its extended family have severe shortage of reliable talent and often they are more reactive than pro-active. They haven’t created a detailed economic blueprint for their swadeshi vision though the idea is as old as Indian civilisation and was seriously discussed during the Independence movement and thereafter in different forms. Organisations like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh are addicted to cheap publicity during BJP rule, which is when they come out of their cubby-holes and give random statements opposing everything. The same tactics are followed by other constituents of the Sangh Parivar, to the merriment of a hostile media, which cumulatively create an impression of a regressive government not in control.


Ultimately, Mr Modi may have to rely on PSUs in defense, high-end manufacturing and energy infrastructure to trigger meaningful growth. He may have to efficiently use the banking system to finance his plans through PSUs to create a support system that would advance manufacturing through SMEs. He needs to proactively interfere in the banking system to bring it in sync with his economic vision.


Farmers are eagerly awaiting the implementation of the promised MSP formula. All Mr Modi’s herculean efforts to improve Infrastructure and manufacturing in the country will fail him in the 2019 elections if agriculture goes down. To win the confidence of this important segment with 50 per cent share in the population, the share of agriculture in the GDP has to increase from the present 13 per cent to 20 per cent by 2019. The coming budget is eagerly awaited by farming community for its plans to deal with the agrarian crisis.


Overall, the general feeling is that country is in safe hands after a long time, the security scenario has improved and the government is not coy to provocations from hostile neighbours. While it is still too early to judge the regime, the early impressions are positive.   

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