June 11, 2013

The case for Narendra Modi

As a schoolboy growing up in the seventies, I realized early on that India was no place for commoners. That India was a country which provided little or no hope for a person from the middle class. At that time, India was a failed state, a basket case ruled by autocrats through a network of sycophants. All the exhortations in text books to be a patriotic Indian citizen felt hypocritical. Sare jahaan se achcha rang hollow. I was a disillusioned puppy. The brief moments of joy came when we won the occasional cricket match. So I decided to take care of myself and let everything else take care of itself. I left for the United States right after college. I took the first flight out. It was a no brainer.

Imagine how screwed up a country had to be for one of its impressionable young citizens to take the first flight out. Why did things come to such a pass?

Jawaharlal Nehru did many things in his distinguished life, not the least of which was to make huge personal sacrifices for our freedom cause. I was not around when freedom happened. But I was around when Nehru’s policies reverberated through a post independence India. It turns out that Nehru made a bad bet. His wager on socialism was a costly one which sentenced the citizens of his country to spend 50 years in dark and gloomy shadows. It was a bet which led an impressionable young college student to catch the first flight out.

Hindsight is 20/20. It’s easy to sit now and criticize Nehru for taking us down the garden path. The fact is that in a 1940-s post World War world, it wasn’t apparent that the capitalist US model would beat the socialist Soviet model. Nehru’s mistake is pardonable. I’d like to believe that he meant the best for us. What is unpardonable is to take Nehru’s deeply ideological socialism, and degenerate it into crass vote bank populism. It is unpardonable to stick your head in the sand and deny reality. It is unpardonable to go around telling people in 2013 that they have a right to this and that. Folks, it’s time to suck it up and admit that there is no such thing as a right to employment. It’s unpardonable to spend state coffers on freebies and deplete public sector bank funds by writing off farm loans. It’s unpardonable to invite foreign companies to your shores and then change rules on them retro-effectively. It’s unpardonable to be arrogant. It’s unpardonable to steal the people’s money. It’s unpardonable and insane to keep doing the same thing again and again and expect different results. The nine years of the UPA are frankly unpardonable, especially the last four, for the reason they have wasted critical time. It’s time for Congress and its MNREGA mindset to go. And if they persist with this vote bank socialist mindset, I’d like the Indian National Congress to be gone forever from this land.

It’s time to change the cast or the India story will die. We need someone else. This brings to me to the man – Narendra Modi.

Where the rubber hits the road

If you buy into what I’ve said above, the case for Narendra Modi begins to appear. Modi has a track record of successful governance in the real world. He has a reputation for being business friendly. Someone named Ratan Tata will attest to this. Millions of Gujaratis will agree. Narendra Modi has influenced the course of Gujarat towards its present prosperity. He has won two back to back elections without resorting to populism. One can debate endlessly as to whether he gets sole credit. In my book, he gets full credit since it happened on his watch. If we’re going to blame him for 2002 riots, it’s reasonable that we also give him credit for the good stuff which happened in his tenure. That’s the way things ought to work.

Instead of rattling off more reasons in his support, let me focus instead on where the rubber hits the road. There are essentially two questions about Narendra Modi which you have to answer for yourself. I’ve given my take below.

Can Narendra Modi repeat the success in Gujarat on a national scale?

Yes would an optimistic answer. Governing a state with a majority can be very different from administering a nation with the accompanying pressures of coalition dharma. But, this is one of those questions which have to be answered in a relative manner, taking into account the alternatives at our disposal. Modi is not an unreasonable bet considering that the alternatives are either a former Reserve Bank governor who has failed as a Prime Minister or a man who makes his case solely on a famous last name. I have little hesitation in recommending that we bet big on Modi on this front.

Is Modi good for India?

Now, this is a question that has to be answered in absolute terms. We cannot resort to the “the other guy is equally bad or worse” argument. This is a thorny unavoidable question and has to be answered honestly. And the answers can only be but deeply personal.

It’s hard to be objective on this. But, let me try. The answer is ‘I don’t really know.” The 2002 Gujarat riots are not the reason for my diffidence. In fact, the courts have ruled out Modi’s wrongdoing. If the courts have gone over this with a fine comb for a good part of a decade, perhaps it’s time to put this to rest and move on.

My ambivalence has to do with the fact that Modi has his roots in RSS, a pro-Hindu organization. The point I’m trying to make is that even if 2002 riots hadn’t happened, I might still be diffident about Modi’s ability to be a neutral, trusted leader of a country with close to 200 million Muslims.  If I was a Muslim, would I feel comfortable voting for Narendra Modi? As context, I used to live in the US and the open Christian bias of the right wing of the Republican party at times unnerved me. I am familiar with being in the minority in a large country.

I happen to believe that India is not just for Hindus. I don’t believe in Hindu Rashtra. I don’t even define myself as a Hindu anymore. I believe that India (and indeed the whole world) should be a place where like minded people can get together, be able to do amazing things and lead peaceful and dignified lives without fear of persecution. While I may or not believe in the greatness of Sanatana Dharma or Tibetan Buddhism, I certainly don’t wish to foist it upon unwilling recipients. I happen to believe that Hindutva or Zen (or whatever I call my poison) is a state of mind to be kept within the confines of my personal world, and not something to be broadcast from rooftops. This is my secularism.

I also believe that there are imbalances in India on this front. That we have gone far too long with a misguided notion of secularism which horrendously mixes matters of state and religion. I believe that balance has to be restored before my version of secularism can even see the light of day. Perhaps the wheel has to turn fully before it can come out of the ditch. And I believe that Modi will turn the wheel. So, if you are a Muslim, should you vote for Narendra Modi? If you deploy the utilitarian “bad for few, good for many” argument, you might. But it would be understandable if you chose not to. Like I said, this is a deeply personal choice.

Whichever way you go, it’s time to discard the failed socialism and dangerous secularism that Congress practices. It’s time for a new approach. If we don’t do that, I will guarantee you that another generation of impressionable young men and women from India will have no choice but to catch their first flights out of this country in about a decade from now.

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