Sunday, March 30, 2014
India's Journey: From Manmohan to Modi
India's election in 2014 is going to be a defining one. Whoever wins, and whoever becomes India's leader afterwards, it is going to be a definitive break with the Post-Independence Republican experiment. And, though it is far from certain that Gujrat's Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, will finally prevail, powered by a carefully orchestrated campaign by the American firm APCO Worldwide, his prominence is symptomatic and an indicator of things to come: Hence, the title of this post.
There are lots of things in balance. The balance between the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the city and the village, the English Speaking and the non-English Speaking, the Big City and the Small City, the metropolis and the regions, the Majority and the Minority, all the balances that the constitution makers had to grapple with, during the founding days of the republic, are up for grabs again. The foundational principles, yet again, need to be interrogated.
However, we are perhaps over-emphasising the break represented by this election, and it is perhaps right to see this in the context of the developments of the last two decades. The controversial, arrogant figure of Narendra Modi may well represent the spirit of this new India, but it had a long transition - better represented by the fading, ineffectual outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Dr Singh, as Finance Minister in the early 90s, was a key figure in unleashing globalisation into India, and then as a two-term Prime Minister in the last decade, oversaw the consequent ripping off of India, destruction of its republican institutions and values and reconstitution of a self-obsessed, get rich quick society: India has come to embody corrupt globalisation and disintegration of institutions more acutely than most other societies, explored in detail in this essay in The Economist, with the percentage of Indians who have paid a bribe now exceeding Nigerians and Indonesians with similar experience, and the recent Billion Dollar scams made the Bofors controversy, which brought down a previous Indian government, look puny with its $50 million haul. Mr Modi is merely the best representative and a symbol of the political culture of this broken society.
Seen in this context, Mr Modi will be a continuation of Dr Singh's legacy, may be its highest manifestation. He is possibly the best man to create the Disneyland of Capitalism that Indian middle class dreams for: The land where the rich operates with license to do anything they like, the majority can enforce their will without accountability, and better roads and easy mortgages wipe out the need for compassion for the less fortunate and every other social obligation that we may have. The institutions like the rights of the minorities, the democracy, all the unnecessary checks and balances the constitution makers put in place to maintain the balance between the diverse citizenry of India, and which are indeed a serious roadblock in the path to 'progress', can go, should go and will go under Mr Modi's administration. This is the promise he is running on.
Where Dr Singh and Mr Modi differ, however, is what they provide in place of the things they wreck. India's multicultural, diverse, democratic identity is not just an idealistic construct: It was meant to be a pragmatic one, fit for poor country, where everyone is in the minority. All these divisions were carefully plastered over in a very modern idea of India, constructed to provide the sense of identity that Indians may not readily have, and to hold the nation together, may be even to build the nation. Dr Singh's globalisation gamble, which put the modern bond traders and emerging market investors in the pole position, chipped away this social compact block by block, putting the priorities of money (and short term gains and bonuses) ahead of the balance and cohesion of the nation state. And, indeed, with everyone looking after their own, the nation state has come to a breaking point (with insurgencies in Central India and elsewhere challenging the viability of Indian state outside its cities). Dr Singh, and his Congress party, was unwilling and unable to provide an alternative narrative of the nation to go with their policies: This is where Mr Modi has something to offer.
It will not be out of place to sum up Mr Modi's doctrine of identity, presented hand in hand with his 'development agenda' using the following words:
"1. (The New Concept of India) wants (Indians) to be active and to engage in action with all their energies; it wants him to be manfully aware of the difficulties besetting him and ready to face them. It conceives of life as a struggle in which it behooves them to win for himself a really worthy place, first of all by fitting himself (physically, morally, intellectually) to become the implement required for winning it. As for the individual, so for the nation, and so for (the world). Hence the high value of culture in all its forms (artistic, religious, scientific) and the outstanding importance of education. Hence also the essential value of work, by which man subjugates nature and creates the human world (economic, political, ethical, and intellectual).
2. Anti-individualistic, the conception (of New India) stresses the importance of (India) and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of (India), which stands for the conscience and the universal, will of man as a historic entity. It is opposed to (Nehruvian) liberalism which arose as a reaction to absolutism and exhausted its historical function when (India) became the expression of the conscience and will of the people.
3. No individuals or groups (political parties, cultural associations, economic unions, social classes) outside (India). (The New India) is therefore opposed to Socialism to which unity within the State (which amalgamates classes into a single economic and ethical reality) is unknown, and which sees in history nothing but the class struggle. (The New Idea of India) is likewise opposed to trade unionism as a class weapon. But when brought within the orbit of (India), (this new idea) recognizes the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of (India)."
There will be more, but these words are certainly true to the spirit of Mr Modi's "India First" message. Indeed, as everyone would be able to figure out, these words are not really Mr Modi's, but excerpts of Benito Mussolini's 1932 'Doctrine of Fascism' where I inserted the 'India' and 'the idea of India' words. But a close reading of the whole document (read here) indeed renders, in my mind, a clear pointer to Mr Modi's idea of India, which can at once maintain a national identity while allowing capitalist 'development', of the kind Dr Singh presided upon.
Surely, the battle for India is on, and it is early to declare that this one idea of India has decisively won. Rather, my point is to say that Mr Modi is not really a break from the past, but just its continuation, in its most virulent form. His visions represent a departure from the founding ideas of India, for sure, but he is merely giving expression to the path we are already set in. In short, his is not any revolution, but the degeneration of the kind we are used to, perhaps its highest and last stage.
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How To Live
"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T S Eliot
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