Third, we the people of Urban Middle India have to come together in a way that has never happened before. We have the technologies to make it happen – mobile and social networks. We have the reason to make it happen – our future, along with that of our children. We have a leader who can bring about real change in Narendra Modi. If we don’t do it now, when will we?
India needs to outgrow its love for the Congress and the Gandhi-Nehru family. The BJP itself has not covered itself in glory as a compelling national alternative. But in Modi, there is a person who can lead and deliver the India we envision. And for that, if one has to support the BJP as the alternative, so be it. The next election has to be a wave election – because we want a leader whom we believe can truly transform India. And we have a give him a mandate that will allow him to govern. Change has to start with us. Our vote, our volunteerism, our support is what can create the India of our dreams.
I have written in the past about the need for a single party to get to 275 seats in the Lok Sabha in the next election so we can get to the business of governance without being constrained by regional satraps wanting their say in every policy. I don’t think I went far enough in outlining what it will take to transform India’s policy future.
First, we need a massive wave of anti-Congressism. People in India need to realise that the real enemy of economic growth is the current Congress. It is their policies through the decades under the dynasty that have kept India poor. This doesn’t seem obvious to many voters since they still keep voting for the Congress in large numbers.
Second, we need to put our faith in a leader who has demonstrated leadership and delivered results in the past decade. That leader is Narendra Modi. Gujarat’s model of governance and development needs to be replicated at a national level if India has to get out of this trap of sub-standard performance.
In this context, it is worth reading what William Antholis of the Brookings Institute wrote recently about Modi after a meeting:
In person, Modi comes across as an effective administrator, a proud Indian nationalist, and a committed if not zealous Hindu. He also is a policy maven—introverted, precise, and even passionate about the most technical of subjects. On almost all of these issues, his Gujarat is pushing, not following, New Delhi and India.
…he is a talented and effective political leader, and will continue pushing New Delhi and not following. He has successfully tackled some of India’s toughest problems, but also has touched its most sensitive nerves. He is wrestling with major global challenges, with all the complexities that implies for a man with strong nationalist convictions. One thing is certain— he will continue to be a force in Indian politics.”
On the political side, the Fronts are multiplying. Sensing weakness in both the Congress and the BJP, the regional parties are trying their hand at talking about various alternative formations for the next elections. One of them, the Samajwadi Party, has already sounded the bugle for mid-term elections. It almost seems like 1995-6 all over again. Everyone thinks they can become India’s next Prime Minister, even if it is for a day.
At the heart of the dreams of power lies the belief that the best way to come to power is by keeping Indians poor. As Tavleen Singh wrote in Indian Express on Sunday:
I have concluded that the real reason why poverty has not disappeared is because our political leaders do not want it to disappear. If there were no poor people left in India, where would their voters come from? As they saw from the sort of people who joined Anna Hazare’s protest movement last year, the middle classes ask too many questions. And, they complain too much.
There are hundreds of thousands of villages in India where electricity remains elusive, erratic or unavailable. This causes immeasurable harm to agriculture but because the average Indian farmer is too poor to protest, he accepts his lot silently. But, let the lights go out in a middle class Delhi colony for more than a couple of hours and women hurling abuse and brickbats appear in the streets. Let the water stop running in their taps and they can get even nastier.
It is because poor people rarely indulge in this sort of bad behaviour that our politicians love them and do their best to ensure that they remain poor forever.
And so it goes on. India stays poor because of flawed economic policies that keep the ‘pro-poor’ politicians in power.
The Economist, in its latest issue, featured India’s fading optimism on its cover. It wrote:
This dispiriting scene is in turn mainly caused by two political problems. The gradual fragmenting of voters’ allegiances has made India’s parliamentary arithmetic excruciatingly tight. The Congress party, which has ruled the country since 2004, depends on fickle and populist coalition partners. Congress itself is in a mess. The elderly ministers who run the country serve at the behest of Sonia Gandhi, the hereditary chief; an attempt to promote her son Rahul as the next dynast has gone badly. The government has not passed a big reform for years and seems preoccupied by holding a ragged coalition together until national elections in 2014.
The second kind of political problem has to do with limited ambition. The recent budget saw tweaks to tax rates, debt quotas and duties, all implausibly heralded as big steps. Struggling to pass reforms such as a new nationwide goods and services tax, and unwilling to tackle state monopolies and vested interests in industries like energy, even reforming politicians now settle for yanking a few rusty levers of the bureaucratic machine. Administrative improvisation is being taken as a substitute for genuine reforms that open up the economy.
So, what happens now? Are we doomed to a darkening future?
The misplaced optimism that India would pursue a path of economic growth, good governance and development after the 2009 elections has evaporated. It is now clear that we are not just heading in the opposite direction, but doing so rapidly. Politics is, once again, hurting India’s economic and aspirational future.
Just in the past couple weeks, we have seen a theatre of the absurd. The Railway Budget increased passenger fares after many years. This was actually welcomed by most people who want to see a safe and efficient Railways. Mamata Banerjee disagreed, and so we had a rollback. The Union Budget amends an Act retrospectively since – hold your breath – 1962, so it can go after corporates and taxes. The CAG draft report talks of a coal scam that is incredible in its magnitude. Growth, once projected to be at 10%, has now dropped to 6.1%.
When the country needs leadership most, we are getting a vacuum. When the country needs reforms most, we are getting more state control, more freebies and more subsidies. When the country needs forward-looking decisions, we are getting disasters of our own making.
Is this the bright future that we had anticipated?
I will be speaking at Columbia University’s India Business Conference (organised by the Business School) to be held on April 14, 2012 (Saturday).
I did by MS in Electrical Engineering from Columbia, so its always good to go back to the Univ. Have many pleasant memories of the year I spent there doing my MS and living at Hogan Hall on 114th and Broadway.
The last few weeks in March and the first few in April are when plans get made for the next financial year. Targets get set, new ideas are brought forth, reviews are done. Even though business is a continuum, the March-April switching is a good time to reset things. Thats what has also been happening with us at Netcore.
Ideally, the planning process should begin somewhat earlier in Feb, but it rarely happens in my experience. Everyone is too busy focusing on hitting numbers for the final quarter in the year to think too far ahead for the next year! By mid-March, most of the quarter is cast in stone, and then attention can turn to the next year.
An annual plan is a good exercise. Even as the numbers are distilled to quarters and weeks, an annual target is important to keep the long view and big picture in mind.
Abhishek and his cousins (ages 7-10 years) have been spending an incredible amount of time on Club Penguin. It is an online virtual world for kids. I have also had to gift them paid memberships ahead of their April birthdays.
A lot of discussion revolves around penguins, puffles and the like! Its a very nicely done environment. The kids have also learnt to use some of the ‘cheat sheets’ around the web, and make their way like pros around.
Last year this time, it was beyblades. This time around, an online virtual world. Progress?
Tuskers is an unusual name for a vegetarian restaurant in Sofitel in BKC. Equally unusual is to find an only-veg restaurant at an international hotel chain in India.
I had a business dinner there recently, and the food was outstanding. The Jain food was also very well done.
So, if you are looking for a good lunch or dinner place at BKC, look no further than Tuskers!
I saw Kahaani recently. Very well crafted suspense thriller. Good to see Bollywood make movies of a different genre.
Vidya Balan carries the movie on her shoulders. Kolkatta has been shot beautifully.
There as a full house when I saw it on the second weekend. That says a lot about the pull effect of the movie.
What the BJP needs to propose to its allies and potential partners is a two-pronged electoral model where BJP contests seats in urban areas in states even where the alliance partner is strong. For the alliance partner to agree to such a proposal, there must be a visible national wave for the BJP so that the partner also benefits across the state.
This will open up new opportunities for the BJP in states like TN, AP and WB with potential partners like AIADMK, TDP and TMC. In these states, the BJP could add 30-40 additional seats.
Such a dual relationship would create a stronger lock between the BJP and its alliance partner as is there in Punjab.
Admittedly, this idea may be far-fetched. But the time has come to think hard about out-of-the-box solutions to India’s political and policy challenge. All our futures are at stake.
Besides the obvious elements that the BJP needs (mass leader and an aspirational agenda, to start with), I think that the BJP also needs to craft a new political model keeping in mind the federal structure of India.
The existing approach that the BJP has will probably limit it to a maximum of 200 seats in the best case scenario. (BJP’s previous best at the national level is 182 seats.) Even a national wave for the BJP is unlikely to propel the BJP close to 272 because it is almost non-existent in four key states in India.
A figure of 200 still leaves it 72 seats short of a majority, and it will then entail taking support of 4-5 parties (including allies). That by itself may not help with governance given that key ministries will be given out, and any ally could put a stop to any decision it doesn’t agree with. (Case in point: TMC in UPA 2.)
So, is it possible to create a new construct in India’s political sphere that can get the BJP past 272 on its own?
India’s political future, thus, has four possibilities after the next elections:
- A Congress- or BJP-led majority government: this is the ideal scenario
- A Congress-or BJP-led minority government: the stability of this government will be dependent on the quantum of support needed from the smaller parties
- A Third Front government: this will be inherently unstable given that it is likely to cobble together 10-15 parties, with no clear anchor
- A Third Front government supported from inside or outside by the Congress or BJP: such a government will be at the mercy of its big ally, who could choose to withdraw support at any time. Also, given that many of the smaller parties compete with one or both of the national parties, it could be difficult to put such a formation in place
Given the anti-Congress sentiment that is prevalent, the BJP is perhaps best placed to start thinking how it could create a government at the centre in the next elections – with a majority of its own.
Regional parties rule many states in India already. Each one has the potential to win 20-30 seats in a national election. Since many of them do not have a footprint in more than one state, in theory, they could all come together and try and cobble a government after the next elections if the Congress and BJP aggregate falls to less than 272 (the half-way mark).
That is easier said than done. The inherent differences and leadership aspirations will probably make it very difficult for any sort of stable government to emerge. Once again, policy-making and governance will suffer.
Of course, the alternative is that one of the Congress or BJP gets a majority on its own. That seems highly unlikely as of now. But two years is a long time in politics.
As one looks ahead, India’s political and policy future does not look bright. On the policy side, government interference in business is increasing. The ban on cotton exports is one example of where the government is needlessly meddling with the markets. With a budget coming later this week, socialistic handouts are expected to increase under the names of NREGA and Food Security Bill. Religion-based quotas also do not seem to be far away. With a desperate and weakened Congress, sanity in decision-making may take second place to protecting and prolonging the dynastic legacy.
The BJP also has failed to emerge as a national alternative. Without a mass national leader, without a clearly defined differentiated agenda and without recognisable local faces, it is not winning over the anti-Congress votes. These votes are instead going to a clutch of regional parties where they exist.
These trends mean that India could be back in the 1996-1998 era wherein the Third Front experiments held sway.