The Gujarat CM Mr Narendra Modi gave a 2 hour speech at the India Today Conclave on Mar 16 2013. It offered a rare glimpse into the political philosophy of the man. Here is my take on where he stands with respect to the various democratic institutions that are in place.
To start you would have noticed the repetitive use of the following phrase :
“Kya ye hum nahi kar sakthey!”
In English this translates to “Can we not do this”. I have marked the word “kar” (action) in red because that is the operative word here. How many of us get that funny feeling in the stomach when we travel overseas to countries like Singapore, Korea ?. You see the order, visible, touchable development outside and the pride of the cab driver inside and go ‘This isnt fair, Why cant we pull this off. Certainly these folks arent that much smarter?”. The funny feeling – which can be described as a mix of shame and guilt – stays with you for a while. Whatever your individiual achievements are, you feel small and worthless because your country is mired in third world filth and all you hear is some mumbo jumbo about why we deserve to be in this state. It is like wandering into a glamorous party when your mom is sick. Some get sloshed at the open bar and put the thought out of their minds. Some get out of the party, take mom to the hospital, get her treated, then come back. The idea is not to withdraw into a shell. It is to come back to the party next year and rock the hell out of it – this time free of guilt and shame.
I sensed this with Modi.
He is unable to accept that India cannot do things that others like Korea have demonstrated can be done. If you put this on top of everything else, the rest of Modi’s approach falls into place.
Utilitarianism in disguise ?
Will Modi pursue an exit out of third world by throwing human rights under the tyres? This is a common fear that might be drummed up by the media in the coming days. I dont think there is any evidence to that effect. I dont think that would work in India either. The inherent resistance to centralized oppression in India is too strong. What is likely however is that he will not entertain group demands for consensus before works are taken up. In other words, no group can have a veto because their arguments for a guaranteed minimum pro-rata share are simply not heard. In that sense he is certainly a utilitarian. He even said in his speech that his government is legitimate as long as it provides goods. The 10-minute video at the start that had no mention of any hyphenated-identity group is his certificate of legitimacy. Such a person is very senstive to HDI numbers as his entire philosophy rests on this belief – develop and welfare will come. When figures of malnutrition, even if they are lagging indicators are put before him – he sits up and takes notice. He isnt trying to impress the glitterati assembled in the Conclave ballroom – but if evidence is tumbling out that welfare doesnt follow such visible development, it scares him. It invalidates in one shot his deepest convictions. In this case, his state reacted by investing Rs 2000 Cr in 1yr to address this. Even if you consider him a utilitarian, his model of social welfare is far superior to the current one. You pursue production first, then if some specific indicator lags you isolate and hit that with a vengeance. Then on to the next indicator. This is far better than front loading programs like NREGA with an outlay of $40B without telling us what it is you are trying to solve.
Special protections & law
Someone asked Mr Modi what place special protection for minorities had in his scheme of things. His reply was “no protection for anyone”. I suspect what he meant was he was for equal protection not special protection. He is a rare politician that gets the “majority rule with minority rights ” concept right in its original sense. It is the cornerstone of democracy but not in terms of religion or some other identity. What is means is the winners at the election cannot rape and loot the losers. So the losers – belonging to any group – can always rely on protections that are immune to the machinations of the transient majority. This simple concept is perverted in the Indian scenario by our intellectuals. He also counts on traditional restraint and commonsense found in Indian society to power his agenda rather than seek approval of specific constitutonal provisions. So he is unlikely to be a constitutionalist in the sense that some right leaning folks will expect.
His dig on the endless parade of “Right to XYZ Act” hit the right spot with me. He says that these rights are inherent and covered in some general sense in the constitution. They do not need to be encoded as a positive right because what is needed is “Action” and not “Acts“. This is a huge paradigm shift from the Congress which views positive rights, even samaritan rights, where one group has justiciable claims against another, as something that is desirable. For Modi, positive rights merely result in huge costs, endless litigation, moral dillemmas, leading to a general sapping of energy. Not worth a price to pay for things like education, information, food, shelter which can be provided for simply by acting upon it. I think a fall back to the basic principles of law, sometimes mockingly called by Indian liberals as ‘first principles style’ is much needed. We need to step away from the current trend to challenge at the drop of a hat – ‘Lets take it to the Supreme Court’.
Mr Modi might well be the only politician in India to propose that private players be allowed access to railroads. He comes across as an idea-man who has on multiple occassions approached the PM and Planning Commission for schemes such as solar parks along the border to compost dumps. His idea of letting private trains run has to be singled out for special mention. The current UPA mentality is to tom-tom marginal improvements to Tatkal, which is merely a way to contain the impact of a pervasive socialist shortage Things have gotten so bad that if you say during normal interaction that you arrived by train, people look at you with awe and admiration. People might scoff at the simple idea of pilgrimage trains, but I think there is a massive potential there for national integration.
I think the participants squandered a great opportunity to get his views on communal riots vs development. Instead of an in-your-face adversarial approach, they should have nudged him to articulate his vision on the matter. It is evident that in the face of tangible development Gujarat has managed not only to be riot free for the past decade but even caste flare-up like Dharmapuri or Maharashtra any of the innumerable caste riots have been absent. The basic idea is if you empower folks with real skills, as he outlined in his earlier SRCC speech, and put them on a positive spiral then the incentive to breakout in violence at the drop of hat is absent. Everyone’s mind is a occupied about how to scale up to the next level as they believe in the PROJECT not because of some numbers measured by Indian Statistical Institute but because they can see and touch for themselves what growth means for them. The UPA is moving in the opposite direction by moving its attention of skilling and into a minefield where values are substituting real skills. Lessons have to be learnt from Korea who shown the way of creating a knowledge based society. It means hard work and stressful exams, so sorry to say that.
In conclusion, even if you were a believer in the redistributive model and assertion of hyphenated identity rights – you need to stop and take a hard look at Modi. We need to first pull ourselves out of abject poverty and third world squalour so that these liberal models of development make sense.
I believe Modi is the man to do it.