Where Modi succeeds and why BJP fumbles and fails
By Shankkar Aiyar
08th December 2012 11:29 PM
The short answer is that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi knows what he wants to do, where he stands and where he wants to be. The BJP, in stark contrast, doesn’t know where it stands on most days. On Friday, Arun Jaitley, the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, eloquently quoted from Alice in Wonderland to counter Commerce Minister Anand Sharma. He would know best that the BJP is stranded ideologically; like Alice, it is seeking directions to a destination it is yet to decide on. Born in 1980, the BJP is undoubtedly going through early mid-life crisis. The BJP has migrated from a confident party which rode to power with the slogan ‘Abki Baari Atal Bihari’ in the Nineties into a diffident outfit wrecked by the ‘Agli Baari Meri Baari’ ambitions of the top leadership.
Modi’s success is built on confidence. He speaks about a Vibrant Gujarat. He deploys the terminology of can-do, he catalyses the spirit of ‘yes-we-can’. He speaks about ‘Swabhiman’, about a swarnim Gujarat. This has helped Modi confront every major challenge of development—from rural electrification to management of water to agricultural growth to land acquisition to investment and road connectivity. In the brilliantly researched book, Gujarat Governance for Growth and Development, Bibek Debroy says, “In every part of the country, there are disgruntled people, dissatisfied with their lot, full of complaints. Compared to that, Gujarat was like a breath of fresh air… the sense of optimism was pervasive.”
Now you could argue that Modi being in power would articulate hope. Being in opposition is vastly different. But is it necessary to be xenophobic? Perhaps, it is the company that the BJP keeps. As members of the Sangh Parivar, they would know the critical importance of ‘sangat’ in the evolution of thought. It is one thing to rope in the Left to bolster the Opposition against the opening up of retail and quite another to speak its language. Is Marxism the new holy cow that they will nurture? The point is not about the defeat of the motion. The ability of the Congress to Google a majority stands unmatched. The worry is about the defeat of rational thought. Leader after leader rose with borrowed sepia-tinted metaphors to paint a picture of doom.
The key to the success of Modi has been his ability to build on the faith of a young India. Those who crafted the strategy of debate failed to imbibe this while articulating to their opposition to the government’s policy. Even in his election meetings, the point Modi makes—and very forcefully—is that the UPA government acts under pressure of foreign governments against the interests of Indians. That is vastly different from wailing in mourning before death.
The parade of doomsday scenarios painted by leaders of the NDA would rob any generation of the little confidence that it has in its political class. Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha declared that the opening up of retail will lead to a shutdown of factories and shops. Jaitley rightly raised the point on sequencing reforms by highlighting the issue manufacturing competitiveness—the persistence of clearance raj, the high price of capital, the transaction costs imposed by lack of infrastructure are crippling manufacturing—and then he went on to mess it up by arguing that India will be reduced to a nation of shop girls and boys.
Are we arguing here that India is so incredible that a shopkeeper from the US or anywhere, whatever the depth of his pockets, can overwhelm its governance systems, regulatory bodies, institutions and judicial apparatus? Is it the case of the BJP and other members of the NDA that once the policy is through and Walmart comes in, the government and the Opposition will be mute witnesses to predatory pricing, anti-trust positions, exploitation of farmers? Are we saying that the half-a-dozen and more Indian companies invested in organised retail are wimps who will roll over and play dead?
There is little doubt that opening up of retail will cause disruption. Indeed, the government failed in impressing on Parliament and the people the rationale for the policy and its timing. The notion that cold chains and logistics will sprout overnight and redress income viability is romantic. The Ministry of Food Processing was created in 1988. A quarter of a century later, barely 7 per cent of agri produce is processed and over `44,000 crore worth of produce is wasted. The reality of the clearance raj, poor road connectivity and lack of power will visit foreign investors just as they visit Indian big retail. There is no doubt that so-called prosperity that the UPA government is promising is enveloped in a web of ifs and buts.
Be that as it may, surely better is expected of the principal right-wing party of India. Can political discourse be only about problems and not about solutions? In its advocacy on the cause of the few—the 200 million dependent on retail—the party ignored the aspirations of the many in the billion-plus populace. And it is not an accident that Gujarat is one of the three NDA-ruled states that have not yet opposed the policy in writing. The BJP could have argued for a more stringent regime, it could have supported its cause with a more nuanced approach. The BJP has missed the point that every second Indian is under 25 years of age and belongs to the new “can-d0” generation.
Where Modi succeeds is in his comprehension of this new India. The inability to understand the tectonic shift in the mindscape is why BJP fumbles and fails.
Shankkar Aiyar is the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change
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