Showing posts with label UPA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label UPA. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Cowardice of Narendra Modi

 
Image: @NarendraModi

"India’s tryst with destiny has been successful because of its democratic nature, not in spite of it."  
-Jawaharlal Nehru

Even though I never supported the BJP, I was not blindly anti-Modi and was willing to give him a chance when he was first elected Prime Minister in 2014. I also remember the depth of frustration and disgust the majority of Indians felt at the time with the Congress led UPA-II government’s unchecked and brazen corruption.

This frustration was further fueled by disillusionment with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s spineless leadership and an utter sense of hopelessness about the stranglehold that the Gandhi family maintained on the Congress Party; refusing to allow a new generation of competent leaders to emerge. So when a number friends and family confided in me that they were going to vote BJP for the first time in their life, I was not surprised.

As a deeply polarising figure even within his own party, Mr. Modi was aware of the trepidation most Indians had about his chequered past, a past that had earned him a ban from entering the USA. For this reason he was careful to avoid religious and communal themes during his campaign and championed the slogan, “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” (Together for all. Development for all). 

He worked hard to position himself as an economic reformer, promising to function more like dynamic CEO and less like paper pushing bureaucrat. He vowed to cut red tape and deal with incessant graft to unleash the latent promise of the world’s seventh largest economy. Most of all he promised to work tirelessly to create jobs for what will be the world’s largest and youngest labour force by 2020. For these reasons, India Inc. was also willing to support Mr. Modi. 

It would be fair to say that I was cautiously optimistic about his first tenure, albeit always remaining clear-eyed about his deep RSS roots and the dangers of extreme Hindutva lurking beneath the surface of the BJP’s political façade. 

No rational person expected Modi to become a different person as Prime Minister, suddenly embracing Muslims and behaving like the grand statesmen that Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were. However, we did expect him to pour his energy into pushing through bold and much-needed reforms to modernise India’s socialist-style economy and privatise poorly functioning public sector organisations. To achieve his economic aims, we also knew Mr. Modi would have to walk a tightrope around furthering the RSS’s long held vision of turning India into a Hindu nation. The gamble was that if he succeeded economically, then the RSS’s vision would not have the fertile breeding ground that a weak economy and high unemployment can offer.

I was heartened when he invited Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister, to his swearing in ceremony. It was a grand gesture, the first by any Indian Prime Minister and one that went against the wishes of many in his advisors. Similarly, I applauded his decision to allow the Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to visit the crime scene of a Pakistani-sponsored terrorist attack on Indian soil, even though he was lambasted by the public and every opposition party for kowtowing to Pakistan. To me it was the right signal by a confident leader looking to find a diplomatic and peaceful resolution to long-running India-Pakistan animosity.

Similarly, I was glad when Mr. Modi was persuaded to change his mind, based on new facts and information, about the Aadhar program. While in the opposition, he had staunchly opposed and relentlessly targeted the program, dubbing it a fraud schemeFurther, I supported the implementation of the single national goods and service tax (GST). It replaced an archaic and cumbersome matrix of central, state and local tax regimes that included excise duty, service and customs duty, surcharges, state-level value-added tax and Octroi. No question the rollout was messy and painful, but it was necessary first step to make India more competitive and investment-friendly, and could be improved and finessed over time.

I was even willing to cut Mr. Modi some slack when he suddenly announced on live TV in 2016, that his government was getting rid of all 500 and 1000-rupee notes, to combat black money and help digitise the Indian economy, even though I did not understand his logic. We now know that Raghuram Rajan, Governor of the Reserve Bank at the time, strongly advised the Prime Minister against doing this. He explained to Mr. Modi that with India being one of the largest cash-driven economies in the world, the short-term economic costs would be catastrophic, even if there were minor long-term gains. 

The Prime Minister did not heed the advice of his top banker, a former Chief economist of the IMF and the man who predicted the 2008 global financial crisis. Mr. Modi’s demonetization decision was an unmitigated disaster with the Indian economy slumping to its lowest growth since 2014 with the move shaving 1.5% - 2% of GDP. We also know now, with more than 90% of the total cash in circulation returning to the banking system, that the primary goal of flushing out black money also failed.

For me the first turning point came when Mr. Rajan resigned in June 2016. His decision came after months of public criticism by senior BJP stalwarts and Hindu nationalists, and the government's silence made it clear that he did not have the support of the Finance Minister or the Prime Minister. Less than a year later another eminent economist, former Chief Economist of the Asian Development Bank, Arvind Panagariya, also quit. Mr. Panagariya, a professor at Columbia University, had been appointed by Mr. Modi to lead NITI Ayog, which was a revamp of the Nehru-created soviet-style government economic planning commission. 

It was starting to become clear to me that despite Mr. Modi’s 56 inch chest, he clearly lacked the courage to surround himself with depth and diversity of thinking to help him guide India’s governing and economic policies. Nor it seems was he willing to listen to the advice of some of the most accomplished economists. Perhaps Mr. Modi did not understand that, unlike his political cronies and sycophants like Amit Shah, men of integrity and intellect will never acquiesce to being a rubber stamp for the whims of a politician.

The other thing that became abundantly clear is that Mr. Modi had a great penchant for self-advertisement and a savvy for garnering PR to launch grand schemes like Make-in-IndiaDigital India and Smart Cities. However, after the initial fanfare there was little to no follow-through with policy support or investment needed to deliver on these promises. Undeterred by these failures and the lack of results, his government has spent “a whopping Rs. 4,343.26 crore of tax payer money on advertisements and publicity” touting Mr. Modi’s so-called achievements.

After five years in office even the economy, the reason many people reluctantly voted for him, has not shown signs of growing at the pace required to keep track with India’s development needs. It is true that under Mr. Modi the Indian economy has averaged a faster GDP growth rate than under Manmohan Singh’s government, 7.3 percent versus 6.7 percent, respectively. However, these figures were published after Mr. Modi’s government controversially changed the way that GDP was being calculated.

This led to a restating of growth under the prior government’s tenure and a downward revision to 8.5 percent of the 10 percent growth rate achieved under Manmohan Singh in 2006-07. The irony is that even with the new calculation and revised GDP numbers, growth under Mr. Modi has never reached 8.5 percent. The latest GDP forecast for 2019-20 has been revised further downward to a dismal 5.6 percent.

While the GDP calculations might be a source of debate, what is not being disputed is that for 2018-2019 Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) declined for the first time in six years. Additionally, India’s FPI outflow in July 2019 was the highest among emerging markets, this on the heels of the highest outflow in ten years in October the previous year. This sharp exodus of foreign funds signals a loss of confidence in India. The domestic economy has hit “a soft patch as private consumption, the key driver of GDP, turns weak, along with subdued new investment pipeline and a widening current account deficit,” according to the RBI's Systemic Risk report.

Under Mr. Modi’s tenure we have also witnessed unemployment reaching a forty-five year high to hit 6.1 percent in 2017-18. It seems his government tried to delay the release of the jobs report because it was close to the 2019 election. This led to the acting chairman and another member of the National Statistical Commission resigning in protest.

The man who promised in 2013, that if elected, he would create 10 million new jobs found himself in January 2019 struggling to explain why the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy found that in 2018 the country lost as many as 11 million jobs under his stewardship.

I would be remiss to suggest that Modi has been a total failure. He has had successes with his Swachh Bharat program. This initiative has built over 92 million toilets and provided sanitation access to 500 million households. The Ujjwala Yojana scheme delivered cooking gas, with 60+ million free LPG connections, to the poorest households in India. The Ayushman Bharat health insurance scheme has provided free healthcare access to more than 10 lakh people, since its inception in late 2018. Additionally, infrastructure investments have led to a marked increase in road building, more than doubling the previous government's pace with 27km of road being built each day in 2017-18. His government has also invested in new airports and metro networks.

All of this is good and necessary but the bottom line is that Mr. Modi was elected for one sole purpose: to create jobs. He promised us that he alone could help India surpass China by delivering double digit GDP growth, modernising our economy and creating the most pro-business and investment-friendly environment in Asia. One that encourages entrepreneurship, small business and foreign investment to foster conditions that help create the 1 million jobs India needs, to match the number of young people joining the workforce, every month!

Nobody can argue that India is the most complex democracy in the world to lead. Our intricate mosaic of religious and cultural diversity has been built over 73,000 years. We speak 22 official languages and have over 100 dialects in use today. An Indian Prime Minister needs to contend with 8 national political parties, 53 state parties and 2485 unrecognised parties to get things done, not to mention satisfying the needs of 1.4 billion people. Leading India requires not only courage and tenacity to face often insurmountable challenges, but also compassion and humility to guide the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions.

Instead of rising up to this great challenge, Mr. Modi has decided to take the cowardly route. He has chosen to inflame communal tensions, undermine civil liberties and stir up religious fervor in a bid to divide and distract us from his failures. Any charlatan can inflame passions and stir up tensions, but a courageous leader acknowledges his or her mistakes and finds ways to course correct. Confident leaders encourage and revel in public debate on the most contentious issues and do not quash freedom of speech by shutting down the internet 134 times in 2018 alone, more than any other democratic nation in the world.

For me, the issue was not that Mr. Modi recently abrogated Article 370 and Article 35A, revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, but the fact that he did it without sufficient public debate or any political dialogue. Mr. Modi’s government detained and arrested opposition leaders and shut down all communications in Jammu & Kashmir, acting in the way a Russia, China or Iran conducts internal affairs using cloak and dagger tactics, not in the light of day, the way the world’s largest democracy should.

There are people who will argue that Mr. Modi’s landslide re-election in 2019 should quiet all critics like me. To me it is clear that Mr. Modi’s current infallibility and election results stem entirely from the lack of opposition and a viable political opponent and not from any deference to him or blind loyalty to his party’s agenda. Mr. Modi would be wise to recall Bob Marley’s words; “you can fool some people sometimes but you can’t fool all the people, all the time.”

We have survived foreign invaders and the brutality of the British. We came together after a bloody partition. Rebuilt after terrorist attacks and communal riots. I believe our secular ideals are deeply enmeshed in the fabric of our country. In the short-term Mr. Modi’s government may succeed in sowing divisions, but in the long run they will fail to divide Indians.

For us, there will come a day when a charismatic new opposition leader will unseat Mr. Modi, or his tenure as Prime Minister will end, but Mr. Modi will forever have to live with his cowardice.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Narendra Modi: India’s Saviour or the Devil in Saffron?

(Image credit: listaka.com)
“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”
Mahatma Gandhi 

At the outset I want to be very clear that I hold no love for the Congress Party. Under Sonia Gandhi, it has raped and looted India like no other party or single-entity since our Independence; of that there is no question. I for one cannot wait to see the back of the UPA and am also desperately looking for an alternative to lead India. Today, the Congress party comes across as apathetic, complacent, autocratic and completely blind to the day-to-day hardships and realities of the majority of our country. I will give the Congress credit for liberalising the Indian economy and ushering in a hitherto unseen era of wealth and prosperity. But it now feels like the only beneficiaries of this economic largesse have been the politicians themselves and the politically connected classes. The majority of Indians have not seen any returns from the economic boom other than vote buying sop’s and poorly distributed government handouts that appear around election time.

Meanwhile, all the ruling politicians have become completely shameless in their own pursuit of ill-gotten gains, behave like they are all above the law and have also deluded themselves into believing that we are deaf, dumb and blind to their looting and selling of our country. Furthermore, they seem to believe that passing more toothless ordinances and feckless laws are the best way to obfuscate and placate the growing cacophony of voices that are sick and tired of their never ending scams, blasé corruption and endless indecision - that are now also destroying our economic growth rate and global reputation.

This government has also routinely used their reach and powers to protect their own while persecuting anyone who disagrees with them. Manmohan Singh, our Prime Minister and father of the original economic reforms, has been totally ineffective and, frankly, more compliant than a well-trained lapdog. Now Sonia Gandhi and her Congress cronies are threatening to replace Dr. Singh with a man who not only makes wallpaper look sexy, but also has the ability to make watching paint dry feel like an invigorating experience. Rahul Gandhi may be many things but he is no leader. He lacks charisma, vision, gumption, drive, a point of view, a grip on complex issues and ability for original thinking. What India needs is a leader who has balls, one who offers a vision for India’s future and is not deaf to the needs of the majority. So far the Congress party has failed to put forward such a candidate.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition party, offers the only other alternative at this time. They are the political arm of the Rashtriya Sang Samaj (RSS) which was started in 1925 as a Hindu Nationalist movement that gained fame when one of its members, Nathuram Godse, assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948; after which it was declared a terrorist group by the Indian government and banned for two years.  However, this did not diminish the RSS; it has expanded vastly and grown stronger and more powerful over the last fifty years. 

The BJP has only been in power at the center for eight of India’s sixty-six years since independence. A large reason for the BJP’s lack of national following and political clout has been their ties to the RSS and their extreme right-wing philosophies and fundamentalist views, that includes combat training camps across the country for Hindu youth (Source: “RSS combat training camps to woo youth”Indian Express article). In the last two dozen years the BJP worked hard to soften their image and champion leaders within the party with moderate views. However, now they sense a real opportunity based on the Congress’s inability to govern and rampant corruption. They see that the vast majority of the country is beyond sick and tired of the never ending scams, the endless vote buying handouts and institutional bullying tactics.

So confident is a resurgent BJP (and RSS) that they were willing to put forth an extremely polarizing figure for their Prime Ministerial candidate. Narendra Modi is a man with a chequered past including his ties to the RSS and the 2002 communal riots that happened under his watch in Gujarat, where many Muslims were massacred by retaliating Hindus as the police and state apparatus turned a blind eye.

So polarizing is Modi that even within his own party, there was a lack of consensus on his elevation. The announcement caused much consternation within the leadership and rank and file. The BJP also lost some close political allies in the process of elevating Mr. Modi, but given the sheer hatred for the Congress that prevails, they believed it worth the gamble. So far they seem to be right, judging by the recent walloping the Congress took in mid-terms Polls in four different states.

Unlike Rahul Gandhi, Mr. Modi comes from humble beginnings. He was the son of a tea seller who grew up poor and had a very hard life by his own admission: “I had a lot of pain because I grew up in a village where there was no electricity and in my childhood we used to face a lot of hardships because of this.”(*). Mr. Modi was drawn to the RSS at an early age and it was at their camps that his ideas about the world were formed (*).

His brother says, “[Modi] was always greatly impressed by the fact that only one person gave all the orders in the [RSS camp] and everyone followed the command.” (*Source: “The Man Who Doesn't Wear Dark Green”Boston Review article). Today, he has grown to have a cult-like status as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. He is known for his take no prisoners attitude and for being an autocratic head of state. He is known to trust just a handful of people and insists on making every decision himself. He shows scant loyalty to his own people and party and a great savvy for promoting himself, even ahead of his party. 

You could not have two more polar opposite choices in party and candidates. The Congress is old, slow, incompetent, corrupt, turning a deaf ear to the needs of India’s basic infrastructure development and willing to sacrifice our pride for their own corrupt means. The BJP is resurgent and confident; riding on the wings on Mr. Modi’s growing popularity. Even though is he is known to have an authoritarian style, he is seen as incorruptible, and has effectively championed the economic development of this state; building infrastructure, creating tax incentives and favourable business conditions to successfully woo the biggest and best companies from across India. There is no doubt he has India Inc.’s vote, all of whom are tired with the Congress indecision, constant changes in policy and graft without any results. 

I can understand why Mr. Modi makes an attractive candidate for many Indians; especially among the youth and to the corporate sector. The current frustration and open hatred for the Congress over the past decade have almost started to make Mr. Modi’s status messianic, because people are so desperate for change, for some semblance of leadership to see some Indian courage on the world stage once more. As Indians, we were all sold the story of India shining, told that it was the dawn of a new age as a world economic powerhouse, but our current government never delivered on any part of this promise. Indians are tired of being pushed around and laughed at because our government only cares about filling their Swiss bank accounts, while our Prime Minister becomes the laughing stock of the world. Nobody wants another four years of the Congress led UPA. 

Yet, there is something unsettling about Mr. Modi’s brand of nationalism and his seeming apathy towards the merciless slaughter of Muslims in his state in 2002. I have no problem with his autocratic style of leadership. God knows we can use a little decision-making right now. Nor am I concerned with the fact that the BJP, as a party, is also corrupt (as they have shown in the past and in states they currently govern). What troubles me greatly is Mr. Modi’s outright refusal to apologise for the 2002 riots in his state and under his leadership. In fact, he has been known to refuse to answer any questions relating to the riots and at times even removed his microphone and walked off camera when asked about his role. Just this week a local court upheld an earlier report by a special investigation team, clearing Mr. Modi of any criminal wrongdoing. Yet, a “number of leaders and senior state officials have already been convicted and sentenced for inciting mobs and committing mass murder during the riots.” (Source: “Court Clears Narendra Modi in Riots Case” Wall Street Journal article). Nobody denies that state officials and senior policemen were complicit in inciting mobs and in some cases even leading them to kill Muslims. A landmark Human Rights Watch report published in 2002 said that the RSS that was responsible for passing out lists of Muslim-owned business and homes to mobs at the start of the violence.” (Source: “We Have No Orders to Save You” – HumanRights Watch).

Mr. Modi was the leader of the state when the riots occurred. Even if he did not personally direct officials to incite or seek revenge and there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on his part, it is hard to believe he was unaware of what his senior state apparatus was doing. Especially for a leader who takes pride in making every decision and without whose authority we are told nothing can happen in his state. The issue to me is less about criminal culpability and more about moral responsibility. As the Chief Minister, if he can take full responsibility for the growth and economic development of Gujarat, then he must also do the same for any tragic event that occurs under his leadership. He did issue a statement on his blog, after the court verdict was announced this week, which the BJP claims is a personal and heartfelt apology from Mr. Modi. To me it reads more like a PR release written by a man hoping to soon hold the highest office in the land, and clear the one great blemish on his otherwise perfect record. There is also the question of why a man who felt so much guilt and anguish (as Mr. Modi states he does) would wait twelve long years to speak from the heart, and apologise to families of the thousands of innocent victims, most of whom were Muslims. And why does he never once use the word Muslim in his entire apology?

Believe me when I say I too want to believe in Mr. Modi and his vision for a corruption-free and super developed India. But his roots are from deep within the RSS; it was in their Hindu nationalist brainwashing camps that he formed his world-view at an early age --- in the context of this fact alone, his seeming lack of remorse, his refusal to wear green and his lack of genuine outward warmth towards Muslims scare me in a country that is more than two-thirds Hindu, and looking for someone to blame for their current woes. Satyameva Jayate!