Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The state of Indian Democracy

India heads for the biggest and greatest democracy show in Apr-May 2014 as the country of 1.2bn and registered voters of more than 800M goes to elect its new government in the center.

The election this year is very unusual and interesting from the past precedents. This years election is focused more on individual personalities that would potentially lead this country of old civilization and young population out of the longest period of moribund since early 1990s. At the center of this high pitch drama is Narendra Modi, the decade old recalcitrant Chief Minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat largely credited with engineering one of the fastest state level GDP growth.

Narendra Modi has also other feathers in his hat than just Economic development ( a preception that is selling like hot cakes in India as the country rellies from one of the slowest growth in more than a decade, rising inflation, unemployment, and never ending goverment goof ups driving scarce capital). Mr Modi is largely perceived as having covertly been a accomplice of the 2002 pogrom of the Muslims (13% of the population) under his watchful eyes in his state in 2002. A accusation that he has neither accepted and never rejected. A Supreme Court enquiry let him off the leash largely due to lack of substantial 'evidence' though the US Govt revoked his US visa and banned him from travelling to the US due to his alleged role in the genocide.

The whole campaign of the right leaning, nationalist Bhartirya Janata Party whoes PM candidate is Mr. Modi is foused on this superlative economic performance of Gujarat attributable to solely and squarely to the leadership, vision and dicision making skill of Mr. Modi. We will not go into cross examining the authenticity, and statistical analysis of that perception  here. Though sufficient to add in this context, that Gujarat has historically been a state with GDP growth higher than that of the aggregate India and Modi's autocratic and dictatorial style has earned Gujarat capital investments from national and international businesses at the expense of sidelining (sometime by force and other coercive methods) other interest-such as displacement of poor, land acquisiiton, environment, etc. A heavy handed approach indeed has its benefits, particularly in terms of raw economic growth as reflected in the 'China Model'. However India's political and economic setup is very different from that of China (Indian is the worlds largest democracy and China is the worlds largest communist). Albeit the only similarity between the two is entrenched political corruption, rent seeking and the nexus between the businessmen and politicians.

What is very puzzling and equally disappointing is that millions of Indias support Modi (including millions who knew nothing much about him and his achievements before his candidature for the top post) with the same fevour as they support their national Cricket team (India has almost no sport to talk about except Cricket). What they fail to realize is that they are choosing a leader to head a democratic country as vast and diverse as India, someone whoes values, past track record and very achievements are precisely an antithesis of democracy. All that sacrifice, based only on perception and expectation of being able to bring India on track of enviable economic growth. That is indeed a great sacrifice, as it reflects the mentality of average, mostly educated, Indian of today. He is ready to overlook (almost forgotten) the governments role in the pogrom that killed over 1000 of his fellow contrymen only a decade back, plus countless other miseries such as rapes, displacement, illegal appropriation of assets, and discrimination at work place, education institutes, and public offices of the minorities. He is ready to overlook the fact that: long term development, that is more meaningful and equitable, than just raw GDP data; it is necessary for the goverment to tackle issues that pose challenge to the 'capital investment' based model in its policy making, and respect the rights and concerns of other stakeholders than just the capitalist. Sidelining those concern and stakeholder, though can create jobs and growth in the short -run, it will eventually extract its price: by mainly rising social and ecnomic inequality, threat to internal national security and harmony and a unbalanced, unsustainable growth path that will engender anothet set of political issues to deal with down the line, as China has realized in the past 3-4 years.

Another trait of this elections campaign mania has been the ease with which the Indian voter (educated and otherwise) can be obfuscated with glizty marketing and branding ploys. Though there are millions of Indians to harp about Modi's economic miracle in Gujarat and his leadership (most of them confusing leaderhsip with autocracy) very few and I repeat indeed very few actually can articulate what those 'achievements' indeed are and still fewer have any idea of how they have been achieved. Not much doubting the depth of critical mindset of Indian voters, the BJP campaign machinery has gone the 'end of the world' in marketing Modi strength as the sole purpose of it being the rightful candidate to form the government at the center without devoting much time and energy in communicating What and How the Economic Growth implicty proffered to the voters in exchange of their votes will be achieved. Nor Mr. Modi has made any attempts to articulate what his vision for the country is, what issues does he intends to tacke and how? to re-ingite the India Shining story.

Although, I have to concede here that the last of the problems mentioned in the prior paragraph is across the Indian political landscape where candidates promises are more friction than facts. Very few, even those running for the highest posts, make any attempts to go into detail of their game plan for the country and how they intend to achieve it. Candidate never debate with one another on the same stage on issues vital for the country and how they intend to tackle it (maybe they too have no clue on that!). Mass rallies are similar in analogy to religious sermons where its sacreligious to ask questions and you have to use your emotions more than your head to believe that your candidate tells you. As much as 50% of the time is spend in only jibbing at and belittling the opponent on issues that are sensational rather than of national importance.

The Modi led BJP govt seems to be likely at the center after the May elections and that is what the polls suggest. It will be interesting to see what and how much Mr. Modi delivers when the rubber meets the road. I will endevour to update this article after the May election results outcome.