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A Modi-fied India

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INDIA MODI-FIED?

 

So the people have spoken, so to speak.

 

The incoming Prime Minister of India and his soon-to-be-formed ministerial cabinet have their work cut out for them, which essentially means cleaning out the filth and garbage of the past. The problem Mr. Modi and his colleagues will encounter lies in the very nature of contemporary democracy.

 

Barring some exceptions, today’s democracy has become a fig leaf for oligarchy, a form of government in which considerable power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique. In other words, government by the few. This is the reality of the American democracy that the hapless Mr. Obama is allowing to sink in as his second term as US President draws to a close. Is India’s wealth distribution much different from that of the US, a situation which a New York Times columnist described as:  The 99 percent were the lower-income people in this country — the rest of us — struggling to make a change, make a difference and just make a living while the stiff, arthritic grip of the top 1 percent sought to manipulate the social, political and economic levers of powers.”

 

India’s endemic corruption is largely the ill-begotten child of the moneyed classes who prospered under the Congress, bestowing their largesse on politicians and scoundrels prepared to do their bidding. Only a sudden revolution or slow, societal decay can change this culture of corruption. The Aam Aadmi Party showed the flicker of revolutionary zeal, but appears to have fallen by the wayside for the time being.

 

Hindu nationalists may view the ascent of Mr. Modi as a revolution, but it is no more than a changing of the guard. If the new Prime Minister really wants a revolution, he has to –

 

1.     Make public the names of Swiss bank holders, information which the Congress government has been sitting on for years;

2.     Identify those among the current crop of parliamentarians who have criminal charges pending against them, and bar them from entering office until their names are cleared.

3.     Make public the net worth and property holdings of senior bureaucrats, in India and abroad.

4.     Strengthen and revamp punishment meted out to white-collar criminals.

5.     Initiate pro-active legislation to allow rural women to pursue sustainable occupations.

6.     Put an end to the charade of “education” being perpetrated by for-profit educational institutions.

7.     Legislate harsher penalties for violence against women

8.     Offer immunity (and “rewards”) to whistle-blowers in corporate and government offices.

9.     Make public the amount of funds received by the BJP from top industrial houses in India.

10.(Let individual readers of this blog suggest #10)

 

I call Mr. Modi’s coming to power a “changing of the guard” because the old stalwarts will not willingly relinquish their grip on power. Can a leopard change its spots?

 

It is now time for Mr. Modi to bring the nation together. Most importantly, Hindus have to embrace Muslims as fellow countrymen and the BJP can take a historic step in this direction by abandoning all plans for a Ram Temple in Ayodhya and instead create a non-denominational space for ALL major religions for discussion, contemplation, and meditation.

 

Once the euphoria over the BJP triumph dies down, India will still remain fractured as ever. Several months ago, in a final desperate attempt to cling to power by creating new constituencies of support, the Congress party engineered the break-up of the Andhra Pradesh state by carving out a new state, Telengana. In over six decades in power, the Congress party has systematically fragmented the country to create enclaves of support, playing into the hands of local politicians ready to sell their souls in their lust for political power. The Indian government was poised to carve out another state, Bodoland, out of what was formerly the state of Assam.

 

What was the vast state of Assam once has been parceled out into the states of Assam, Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur, and Arunachal. Traveling through North Eastern India is like swimming in a cauldron of tribal jealousies, ethnic hatred and intolerance. The Centre cannot hold, and things fall apart!

 

It seems India’s political leaders and parliamentarians had imbued the popular myth of Mahatma Gandhi’s 3 monkeys who “See no Evil, Hear no Evil, and Speak no Evil.” As a result, Indian politicians relied on thuggish ‘goondas’ and their Mafia Dons for enforcing their power base, and were prepared to countenance (also known as a justice system with no end in sight) crimes such as rape, systematically used as a weapon of political intimidation. The vandalisation of political systems was so widespread that even the billionaire industrialist, Stanford educated Mukesh Ambani, once claimed that the Congress (party) is his ‘shop’ where he could buy anything he wanted.

 

One can understand the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, Congress President and widow of murdered Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, smilingly participating in make-believe Indian democracy. After all, her exposure to accumulated wisdom and learning was at best peripheral, as she hung out in Cambridge, England, while Rajiv Gandhi struggled in vain to emulate his illustrious grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru’s educational achievements. With her Mediterranean background Sonia seemed perfectly at ease with the Augean stables of Indian politics, considering that the cow and calf were indeed the original symbol of the Congress party. But to think that Cambridge (England) and Oxford-educated, outgoing Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh was oblivious to the bribery, corruption, mismanagement and decay all around him seems incredible. Whatever happened to the value-based wisdom he received from his favorite Cambridge professor, Joan Robinson?

 

Presumably, a brain is no substitute for guts.

 

But this is the India I left behind in February 2014 when, surprisingly, I caught a glimpse of a ray of hope for political reform and social justice in the figure of Arvind Kejriwal, moles, warts and all. His Aam Aadmi (common man) Party, though in power In Delhi State for only forty-nine days before it resigned in the face of honor among thieves (a Congress and BJP alliance) conniving to defang an anti-corruption bill. The AAP had rattled the corporate-powered media, no question about that. From using the mocking, truncated name Kejri to ridiculing his populist style for lack of governance, the media had been vicious towards a party which came from nowhere to win the largest block of seats in the Delhi state elections and accepted no corporate donations. 

 

It is well known that the Indian upper and upper-middle classes hoped for a victory by Modi in the latest elections, as did vast swaths of Indian expatriates in North America. The reason for so-called liberal minds to fall in line behind an ostensibly right-wing, avowedly anti-Muslim, party may seem baffling, but lies probably in self-serving roots that go back in history and culture.

 

I was happy leaving India in March 2014, although saddened to see the romance having deserted so many places and objects that I loved. I’ll be happy to return to a Modified India and certainly someday to Arvind Kejriwal’s New Delhi state, if not India.

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  1. Subir Sen Reply

    Dear Ashis

    I fully agree with your post. In my opinion, # 10 would be that Mr. Modi shows at least some remorse (which preferably should come from inside his heart) for the horrific events that happened in Gujarat in 2002. The Supreme Court might have cleared him, but as the then leader, can he disown the moral responsibility which happened in his state ?

    Subir

  2. Chandramani Narain Reply

    My very good friend, Ashis, has presented the aspirations and hopes expected from the Prime Minister Elect, Narendra Modi and the BJP. The success or failure can only be judged as time passes – the world tends to assess this “after 100 hours”, then after 100 days” and so on, until 5 years later the ballot box provides the ultimate defining result.

    It is the last sentence in the blog which expresses the hopes of all of us, whether we live in India or abroad , to have “a Modified” India which we can all be proud of.

    The challenge for Mr Modi is immense, but India has done it before, under the minority Congress Government headed by a non-Gandhi family prime minister. Let me take you back to 1990s, as reported in Wikipidia, about the achievements of P V Narasimha Rao as PM of India: :
    “Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao (Telugu:పాములపర్తి వేంకట నరసింహ రావు 28 June 1921 – 23 December 2004) was an Indian lawyer and politician who served as the ninth Prime Minister of India (1991–1996).[1] He led an important administration, overseeing a major economic transformation and several home incidents affecting national security of India.[2] Rao who held the Industries portfolio was personally responsible for the dismantling of the Licence Raj as this came under the purview of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.[3] He is often referred to as the “Father of Indian Economic Reforms”.[4][5] Future prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh continued the economic reform policies pioneered by Rao’s government. Rao accelerated the dismantling of the License Raj, reversing the socialist policies of Rajiv Gandhi’s government. He employed Dr. Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister to embark on historic economic transition. With Rao’s mandate, Dr. Manmohan Singh launched India’s globalisation angle of the reforms that implemented the International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies to rescue the almost bankrupt nation from economic collapse.[3] Rao was also referred to as Chanakya for his ability to steer tough economic and political legislation through the parliament at a time when he headed a minority government.[6][7]”

    The 1992 economic reforms can be defined as “post Manomohan Singh era” for which the retiring Prime Minister will be remembered rather than his last ten years in PM’s office. Will 2014 now be defined as the “post Modi” era in Indian politics where a new set of political and economic upheavals are about to take place?

    The Indian voter has become very astute. I find the conversation with the taxi driver after every arrival at Delhi Airport very interesting. the last time was after the collapse of the Kejriwal Government in Delhi, comment was “….how can one right the wrongs of 60 years in 43 days…. ” A snap judgement, yes, but he remained a supporter of the AAP.

    AAP may have had a temporary set back, but it has re-awakened the political aspirations of all Indians, no matter what their background, rich or poor, business men or academics. Its tsunami effect in the 2014 elections was to split the non-BJP vote in Uttar Pradesh to give Mr Modi’s party 73 out of 80 MPs (balance 7 happen to Sonia Gandhi,+ Rahul Gandhi and 5 family members of the Mulayam Singh’s family).

    We can only hope for the best, and be resigned if the worst happens again.

  3. /pete Reply

    Thanks for posting.

    #10?
    “Only a sudden revolution or slow, societal decay can change this culture of corruption.”
    For #10 (in fact, for a position quite a bit higher on your list), can any approach other than education be effective? Even with sudden revolution, even after slow decay, only long, committed education by all institutions can change the understanding of the current challenges and culture. Equally by way of formal and informal education, by way of the press, by way of clubs, by way of all houses of worship, the change is possible — not to say easy.

  4. Subutai Reply

    Thanks for the thoughtful column – you make great points! It is sad that both the US and India are in the same spot insofar as their inability to make significant and necessary changes. US and India are also among the two largest democracies in the world. Is democracy inherently flawed? Is this an inevitable state for all democracies?

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