Sunday, October 13, 2013

Secularism or development: Making the right choice

At long last India’s democracy is moving in the right direction in offering voters genuine choices in the upcoming general elections. One of these is a choice between “left of centre” and “right of centre”economic policies — a polarization that exists in many democracies and ends in educating citizens about two distinct paths to prosperity. The two main parties, Congress and the BJP (after Narendra Modi became its official candidate) now reflect this polarity.

The Congress party’s starting point is an immediate and massive attack on poverty. It focuses on spending on social welfare and on subsidies to the poor. Its assumption is that a better-fed population will be more productive, and this will lead to more inclusive growth. Modi’s BJP, on the other hand, believes in direct measures to induce growth. Some of these are investment in power, roads and ports, cutting red tape, and encouraging entrepreneurs to invest. The resulting investment creates jobs, raises peoples’ incomes, and brings in higher taxes for the state. The higher taxes, in turn, provide the resources to attack poverty, illiteracy and ill health.

Obviously, a successful nation needs both growth and equity in the end but resources are limited and governments are forced to prioritize. The right of centre Modi-led BJP gives priority to economic growth whereas the left of centre Congress gives priority to equity and redistribution of growth. This choice was underlined recently in the much-publicized dispute between India’s two global superstar economists, Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati.

A second choice before voters is between competing styles of leadership. Modi is a strong, determined leader, who leads from the front while Rahul is shy, reticent, and leads from behind. Rahul is more likeable and compassionate; Modi is dictatorial but with his obsession with implementation, he is more likely to get the job done. Both are reasonably intelligent, but we make a mistake in overvaluing intelligence. Our current prime minister is hugely intelligent but he has failed to deliver results because he lacks determination, which in the end is more important in delivering results. Modi, on the other hand, has shown willpower and purposiveness in trying to root out corruption in Gujarat. Incidentally, business leaders make the same mistake in over-valuing intelligence when they recruit new employees. It is always better to hire for attitude and train employees in skills.

In the past two weeks, both leaders have made welcome moves to overcome their personality deficits. Rahul showed determination in overturning the Congress’ immoral ordinance on criminals in politics; Modi showed concern for the poor and a secular mind-set when he declared “shauchalya before devalya”, toilets before temples.

A third choice before the voter concerns the important issues of secularism and corruption. The BJP is a Hindu nationalist party and is inclined to see the world through majoritarian eyes. The Congress professes to be secular but its secularism often amounts to appeasing minorities in order to win votes. Still, a voter deeply wedded to secularism, will choose Congress over the BJP. When it comes to corruption, the Congress has broken all records and is seen by many to be profoundly corrupt. The BJP too has skeletons in its closet but the voter is likely to be influenced by Modi’s cleaner record against corruption in Gujarat. Thus, there is a third polarization — does one vote for a nonsecular BJP or a corrupt Congress party?

Sharp choices bring clarity to decision making for the confused, middle of the road voter, someone like me. Ultimately it amounts to this: Should one risk India’s precious secular and collaborative traditions for the sake of good governance and prosperity? But by choosing secularism over development, one might deprive millions of young Indians a chance to realise their capabilities, to rise above their lot into the middle class, and the nation a demographic dividend. It is an unappetising choice. It would be easier if Modi were more secular and compassionate, or if Rahul Gandhi showed more determination, gave more priority to growth, and was less tolerant of corruption.

Alas, it is not a perfect world and the best one can hope is to choose the less worse of the two candidates and call it a “wise choice”.


madhu said...

You nailed it sir! Right thought at the right moment will definitely steer India to the desired track.

Thank you

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Freedom_India said...

Very disappointed with such a poor analysis. The author seems to either ignore the facts or lack basic reasoning.

Let us examine the three factors the author has talked about on the choice before the voters.

First: “Congress believes in redistribution of wealth; while BJP is for growth by cutting red tape, developing infrastructure etc”. While this is mostly true, what the author fails to point out to the dear reader that it is the same socialist policies of Congress that has been already tried in India for the last 60 years and has miserably failed in eradicating poverty or improving life for ordinary folks in India. After failure of Soviet Union, the debate over which policy – socialism or free market capitalism – has ended with clear conclusion in favor of growth and free market. The irony is that even guys like Manmohan and Montek Singh know this; but it is ONLY for VOTEs and for the desire to remain in power forever that the congress indulges in expensive welfare schemes that results in loot by babus rather than improving life for poor. The list is huge – from loan waivers for Farmers to NREGA, to food security bill and on and on. It is the EVIL nature of congress that kept us poor for decades.

Second: “Rahul is likable, compassionate and shy, Modi is strong, determined but dictatorial, both are intelligent”. While I find it funny when the words Rahul and Intelligent are said in the same sentence, the author calling Rahul compassionate while Modi dictatorial is simply an insult to readers’ intelligence. Compassion does not mean talking about removing poverty. If Rahul was really compassionate, he would have worked to understand the solutions of irradiating poverty. He has no leadership skills, no ideas and sorry to say, but is only likable to Gandhi family chamchas. Modi is not compassionate? The guy was selling tea on railway station as a kid, left everything for learning the ways to better the society, still graduated from uni with hard work, proved his mettle by improving lives of millions of Gujaraties through good governance and policies of growth and prosperity. If he had no compassion, why would he toil to improve lives of others rather than his own? Modi is no dictatorial either, because during his government on Gujarat, he has distributed more power to local bodies than anyone else has done in India.

Third: “Congress is secular, BJP is communal. Modi needs to be more secular and compassionate.” Congress being secular is the biggest lie that has been fed to Indians by the English media and the English educated elites. How can the party that does not believe in same treatment under the law and same opportunities for all regardless of religion can be called ‘secular’? And, did anyone notice prosecution of minorities under Vajpayee government? Then, how come it is communal? Shame on the author for supporting Congress’s vote bank politics and for allowing Congress again to use its’ ‘secular’ card in the coming election by mentioning this as one of the important criteria for the coming election.

Layman's view said...

I don't think it is a simple choice between secularism and development. I am not convinced by the development model that Modi had in Gujarat for the country as a whole. The BJP ' s policy on development and economic issues is most fuzzy. They have even opposed measures which they professed as their own. On corruption in Gujarat, though Modi's honesty is not a matter of doubt as have several PMs in the past including the present PM, pearty politics is based on corrupt practices. It is no secret that there is corruption in Gujarat but instances have been suppressed with no LokAyukth for the last ten years! It is high time that the BJP clearly state their policies on all important issues instead of relying on personal criticism and mere opposition on all issues. Modi like Kejriwal is a huge creation of the media. Will this work in the non urban areas is the question?

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Unknown said...

It is a complete media hype, that modi stands for development. Go and see what kind of development they are doing in narmada dam project. he is so dictatorial and draconian in nature who refuses to provide rehabilitation measures to those who are being evicted. And intellectuals supporting modi, dont have any idea about the agony of 2,00,000 adivasi people who are evicted from their village with subsequent rise in water level in dam. Modi being the reasonable cheif minister of state who is supposed to ensure the right to life of the religious minorites during the riots, claims that angry hindu mob going on killing spree in the streets of Ahmadabad, is the natural outpouring to the Godhara event. If you keep this kind of man at the helm of red fort, then their scale of atrocity will magnify to all over india. Its not only BJP cadres, they have reserve of army of cadres from RSS, VHP, Banjrand Dal to do all kind of atrocities on religious minorities during the riots. And if they silence the state police machinery during the riots then the elected MP of parliment - Ehsan Jafri itself can't escpae from those fanatic hindu mobs then what is the state of situation to common muslim people.

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