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Modi has arrived. But is India ready?

December 25, 2012 14:30 IST

Modi has arrived. Probably the country is not yet ready. Modi knows it. If Modi destroys the existing political consensus he will have to quickly replace it with another, notes M R Venkatesh.

Modi's unprecedented win for the third consecutive time has profound implications for Indian politics. The near certain rise of Modi within the Bharatiya Janata Party, and by extension in the national political scene, challenges the assiduously built political consensus since Independence. Naturally, this has set the cat amongst the pigeons, especially amongst those who have been beneficiaries of the "system."

The reactions are predictable. "Modi's political agenda does not correspond to my idea of India," says one analyst. Who cares? "Modi's political rise is a challenge to our Constitution," tells another, forgetting for a moment that we are a democracy where people's opinion, not that of arm chair critiques, matter.

The third, who till date was claiming that our "Constitution was sublime" suddenly seemed to be unsure about the infallibility of our Constitution! Put pithily the elites, especially in Delhi, are paranoid about Modi and his political rise.

The reason for the same is obvious. Let us remember that Modi is not the first chief minister of a state who has won three consecutive terms. Yet Modi is different. Modi, let me put it bluntly, is akin to a disruptive technology that makes several inventions and innovations till date completely obsolete. Let me elaborate.

Under our Constitution, the Supreme Court need not function only out of New Delhi. The founding fathers of our Constitution foresaw the necessity of setting up benches in various parts of our country. But even after sixty years of our Independence we have a Delhi centric apex court. And to this date there is no talk of setting benches of the Supreme Court in different parts of the country. This has made justice physically inaccessible for our countrymen hailing from remote corners.

But who are the beneficiaries of this centralised system? Obviously, the senior counsels of Supreme Court and sections of our judiciary. From Constitutional Law to environmental law, from criminal to company law, they -- a dozen or two of our senior counsels -- are gateway to law and justice for a billion plus people! Why cannot this system be decentralised? Simple. Vested interests dominate such ideas and derail alternatives.

This makes judiciary in general and Supreme Court in particular unaffordable for our vast majority. That in turn makes democracy unattractive to many, leading to several fissiparous tendencies raising its ugly head across the country protesting primarily against such vested interests.

Delhi -- as is several our state capitals -- is dotted with such vested interests. What is true for Supreme Court at the national level holds true for the high courts at the state level. And let the reader get me wrong, the list includes media, bureaucracy and several elite sections of our society besides judiciary. In effect, we have turned India into a heaven for such elites. Needless to emphasise, it is these beneficiaries of the extant system who are opposed to Modi's rise.

Why? Modi could ensure, for instance, benches of the Supreme Court at Coimbatore, Nagpur, Guwahati, Udaipur, Pune and probably Patna. Simultaneously, he would encourage states to have one or more benches for their respective high courts. Such a move would instantly have the backing of a very large of our population. Importantly, that would dynamite the assiduously built consensus since Independence where senior counsels, both at the Supreme Court and the high courts, dominate the functioning of courts.

Higher echelons of bureaucracy across the country know this. What must worry them is that Modi is eminently capable of mandating that all government employees must necessarily send their children to government schools. This will well be Modi's way of fixing all that is wrong with our primary education.

In short, he will not be incremental. Nor will he believe than an educational cess will do the trick. He will have his own way. That explains why most of our elite are paranoid about him.

But his rise will not be automatic

But there is an entirely different dimension to this debate about Modi. For six decades since Independence political parties in India have come to a conclusion that India can at best consistently be a developing country; not a developed nation. On the contrary, political parties have unanimously developed a sacred and secular vote bank of our poor that consistently feeds all political parties in India.

That makes Modi and his growth and development model a red herring for all political parties. How can India democracy function without its gargantuan numbers of poor? That is not all. Politics of poor invariably leads to economics of subsidy, allotments and entitlements. This in turn feeds on a massive lobby that feeds on itself and the beneficiaries of all this in turn ensure that India remains underdeveloped; and its vast majority of poor in a perennially subsistence state.

This is where Gujarat growth model excites most Indians. Crucially, Modi has ensured a robust farm growth for over a decade. Even his worst detractors concede that Gujarat -- a predominantly water starved state -- has maintained an electrifying farm growth in excess of 7% consistently for over a decade. This is in direct contrast in a country where the planning commission "plans" for a pan-Indian farm growth of 4% and gloats on ending with a growth rate far lesser than 3%.

And remember, Gujarat engines India's manufacturing and physical exports too. Of course on some social indices Gujarat is lacking behind the all India average. But why then did people of Gujarat vote him back to power? The reason for the same is not far to seekĀ  -- Indians do not seek miracles from their government. All that they want is honest leaders who put their best foot forward.

That explains why despite his intensely polarising personality, even his political opponents have failed in even levelling any credible corruption charge against Modi. This is in stark contrast in a country where several Union Cabinet ministers, including the prime minister, are under a cloud. That incorruptible personality of Modi appeals to the average Indian so very desperate for a clean and decisive leadership.

For a beleaguered BJP, the rise of Modi comes at an appropriate time. Probably, it is a lifeline for a party that is floundering on its leadership issue. But given the schism within the party, one can safely predict that his rise may not be entirely welcomed even within his party. Once again, let us not forget that BJP has its own share of elites who dominate the party, especially in Delhi.

Surely, the rise of Modi will first be challenged within BJP, by other political parties and finally by all those who suspect that his rise will destabilise their position. Modi knows that his rise within the party will not be automatic by any stretch of imagination.

Exciting times

Modi also knows that the mess created in the past few years requires decisive leadership. But the political climate in the country is not ripe for his intervention. Simply put that means we may face an unstable coalition at the Centre post general elections.

Modi's personality will not suit such a scenario where he may get repeatedly pilloried by smaller regional parties and may at best be first amongst equals.

Given this paradigm, Modi may well continue to continue be the chief minister of Gujarat. That will give him the advantage of a constitutional office in tackling all pending charges against him. Meanwhile another coalition government may well add to the overall mess in the country on all fronts.

So in all probability, Modi may well allow the rot to continue and then step in finally. Meanwhile, he may well get support from his party cadre which will definitely be electrified by his mere presence.

A "Modified" BJP may well get its cadres to work. That may polarise the electorate further. This may benefit the BJP though in a way the Congress may benefit too in such a scenario. To that extent even the Congress may encourage his ascendency to the national stage.

That may well mean that the regional parties will become less relevant in our political theatre. The coalition governments of the past two decades may give way to single party governments. In the alternative, regional parties must talk of a development agenda to be relevant. And in the process they need to appeal to larger denominations, not necessarily their caste through emotions.

In turn all these mean development and growth will become the benchmark -- a tectonic shift in our politics. Consequently, bureaucracy will increasingly be questioned for performance. Corruption will not be a theoretical discussion at prime time, rather action will be taken on the corrupt. Reforms will become people centric and Budgets measured on outcomes.

Modi has arrived. Probably the country is not yet ready. Modi knows it. If Modi destroys the existing political consensus he will have to quickly replace it with another. How he goes about building national consensus on his policies of decentralisation, economic growth (including farm sector), industrial development, technology and other related issues in immediate future will be the next big thing in Indian politics.

The author is a Chennai-based Chartered Accountant. He can be contacted at

M R Venkatesh