Every other day the American and European media publishes some convoluted rumour about Narendra Modi’s extremism, only adducing corroboration, which even the repulsive Teesta Setalvad has ceased daring to purvey. He has apparently committed genocide (sic!) against Muslims in Gujarat and represents a form of Indian nationalism akin to fascism, of an unexplained Hindu variety of course. And Washington’s arrogant refrain, prompted by Christian fundamentalists and their US-based Wahhabi allies, is that it will not allow him to enter the US. Modi has not sought this exalted privilege, though torturers and mass murderers, who are supine American allies, are not denied entry. Besides, admission to the US cannot be refused should Narendra Modi propose to attend a UN event in New York as India’s head of state.
The worst offenders, abusing Modi and fabricating pure rubbish against him, are America’s allegedly liberal east coast broadsheets. All of them instruments of US foreign policy goals. In Britain, their counterparts are the duplicitous Guardian and Independent dailies, their India correspondents ever the most assiduous and malicious India-baiters. In Britain itself the House of Commons hosts sombre meetings, organised by hard left activists with known Jihadi connections, to libel Narendra Modi as a Hindu fascist. Some of these self-righteous far left activists have evidently attained a state of grace in academia since their days calling for revolt on behalf of the mass murderer, Mao. If this wasn’t enough reason to inspire Indian voters to support Modi what else could?! India’s most determined foreign detractors despise him and tell lies in a forlorn desire to thwart his ascent or prompt a Jihadi assassination attempt by repeatedly broadcasting provocative untruths.
Interestingly, a very similar calumny was aimed at Jawaharlal Nehru soon after Indian independence in 1947. The US State department disdainfully denounced his India as the successor to Japanese fascism, even as it eagerly seized profoundly tainted research conducted, in the most brutal experiments imaginable, by Japanese scientists on prisoners of war and civilians. These vile experiments, including severing frozen limbs and injecting fatal bacteria, were conducted while the victims were alive and conscious. It was to be followed by dire US military threats in 1971 against India, which sought to end the worst human rights violations the world had witnessed since Nazism. The US also offered unqualified support to the country responsible for perpetrating them. Not a great deal has changed in deep-seated US attitudes toward India, but the global geopolitical situation has changed.
The US won the Cold War, although tensions persist because of it is determination to administer a coup d’grace to Russia, but the accusation against India of being a Soviet lackey has lost potency. The rise of China has even made India a potential collaborator, but on US terms rather than in any relationship of give-and-take. There is little regard or respect for India, and India’s current status as whipping boy on international trade issues, amply confirm. The consent for the Indo-US Nuclear Accord is the exception that actually proves the rule. The US authorities are apparently also determined to have a say in choosing India’s future prime minister. It is no longer content to merely choose Indian cabinet ministers, which it has been doing owing to Indian folly that began with the late Rajiv Gandhi’s premiership.
The self-serving, media disinformation hostile to India’s well being and future is obscuring the hugely positive impact Narendra Modi is poised to have on the country. His aspirations remind of Japan on the eve of its momentous Meiji restoration in 1868 and the onset of its dramatic socio-political and economic advance. India is not Japan, the latter having a firm basis for development in pre-existing agricultural transformation.
Although India overcame formal imperial tutelage, it remains a victim of its dismal conquered past, both colonial British and worse earlier. They haunt it through intellectual backwardness and absence of a settled civilizational consciousness that could create a sense of common national purpose. The recent colonial experience also left behind seeds of self-doubt, worsened by various forms of subversive proselytisation under the cover of secular freedoms. These have instituted and deepened national divisions on multiple spurious axes, including fraudulent leftist pipedreams and religious chimeras.
For the first time since Indian independence, a politician, in the shape of Narendra Modi, is speaking boldly of the Indian people as a nation and not in terms of their myriad caste, religious, linguistic and regional identities, which comprise its injurious vote banks. It is true that a possible virtuous conjuncture of political and social maturity that underlies it is a youthful Indian population and urbanisation, instituting cultural and political sensitivity less anchored to a parochial past and more forward looking. The prodigious information revolution, which Narendra Modi and his supporters are using to such good effect for the election campaign, has a bearing on this fortuitous situation. Everyone is better informed and most share common aspirations, across superficial divides, for a better life. The urban Indian is also more patriotic, a constituency that Modi’s BJP predecessors miraculously managed to disillusion although it should have been their natural ally!
Significantly and almost unnoticed, a huge swathe of the educated, many apparently from Anglicised social backgrounds and nominally from privileged castes, have lined up enthusiastically behind Narendra Modi. The dream of this man, from humble beginnings, is their dream too. It is their intervention through the social media that unhinged a bewildered Home Minister and has humbled the serried ranks of self-important and powerful media gangsters, happy to sup with the devil for crumbs from the table! They and their political masters are befuddled and quite unable to comprehend the oceanic forces lapping at their feet, soon to sweep them away into socio-political oblivion. A historic moment has arrived when the rulers are unable to carry on as before and the ruled, no longer willing to accept. Of course their mundane material interests are threatened, precipitating a disgraceful defiance from this detritus of the past, indifferent to causing massive injury to the nation.
Narendra Modi has seized the moment and is enthralling an emerging one nation of the Indian people. He is promising to sweep away the inherited quasi colonial political instincts, administrative structures and practices that have endured unseen beneath the surface, shaping and bedevilling the functioning of Indian society. These have retained their influence despite countless reforms because their undemocratic feudal underpinning and mindset only changed slowly. They have undermined successive reforms, for example, to devolve power away from the Centre. The regional satrapies of the ruling party could not reconcile local political aspirations to the domineering political instincts of the Centre until truculent breakaway fiefdoms emerged, uncomprehending of a national purpose.
It is this fragmented political reality that genuinely sharing political power, in exchange for mutual responsibility, a common developmental national agenda will address. This is the one nation to which Modi’s promise of good governance and development has appealed across the length and breadth of the country. Narendra Modi’s one nation, experiencing genuine participatory authority will combine with radical new economic forces that have eluded India too long, only appearing uncertainly to retreat again. The tired debate between markets and state enterprise has not been laid to rest because a coterie of over-rated Indian academics and mediocre policy makers have invested much of their failed careers defending India’s bizarre economic arrangements. India’s economic system encourages and facilitates rent seeking on a grand scale and curtails entrepreneurial activity. It has established the worst manifestations of private property and capitalism, which is its crony variety, designed to plunder the nation for the enrichment of the few.
It needs to be remembered that an error of historic judgement by Nehru in the early 1950s has had momentous negative consequences for India’s economy and its people. It led to the Indian economy being dominated by the state, with misplaced faith in capital goods production leading to high growth. These were mistakes of the era, because markets had suffered huge setbacks and the Soviet model of the 1930s beckoned. However, much of the rest of Asia wisely chose a more rational path later, based on their existing capital, labour and natural endowment assets. As a result, South Korea, which was poorer than India in 1960, competes for the high-end international consumer market today. China, with a lower per capita income than India in 1992, followed suit in 1978 and is the world’s largest manufacturer today. India was left to lag behind, debating inanely about socialism, affirmative action proliferating mindlessly and affected by Maoist whims that had been resolutely abandoned by China itself.
India wasted huge national savings and curtailed its immense national entrepreneurial resources for more than four decades, only falteringly adopting some market discipline in the 1990s. But it has been abandoned for the past decade of shocking politicisation of economic policy and the outright plunder to which it inevitably gave rise. The most hapless in India is small and medium size enterprise, the source of the greatest employment generation and potentially the most dynamic sector of an economy at India’s level of per capita income. They have been strangled by regulatory mechanisms whose purpose has ended up as predatory political and bureaucratic larceny. One example of this is the veritable reign of terror in which the tax and customs authorities of India are engaged.
Narendra Modi’s promise to unite the people of India as one nation, with a common purpose and dramatic administrative reforms to usher in rational governance, will be accompanied by a transformative economic trajectory. The Indian State is not going to fade away, but will redefine its role as a regulator of essentially private endeavour. A determined retreat from the current massive ownership of low productivity and unprofitable assets must surely be a radical step ahead to energise the Indian economy. All redistributive measures will not disappear, impossible in a country with India’s level of poverty and destitution, but reform and thoughtful targeting are almost certain.
In addition, much will need to be done to overcome infrastructure bottlenecks and ensuring freedom for economic activity, without the State acting like a greedy and disciplinarian overseer, only anxious to pre-empt its illicit share. Labour reforms, a rational land acquisition policy and sane environmental approvals are essential for implementation at the earliest opportunity. Some of the pain of the transition is best suffered in the early months of a post-election, political honeymoon, which will be succeeded by employment growth, the only real basis for sustainable improvements in the living conditions of the majority.
India is capable of achieving explosive economic growth if the regulatory environment permits and this is what Narendra Modi is hoping to craft.
(The author taught international political economy at the London School of Economics)
Dr. Gautam Sen taught international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science for over two decades.