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PM Modi to detractors: Do you really have a plan for India?

Top 5PM Modi to detractors: Do you really have a plan for India?

Have Mamata, Sitaram Yechury, Rahul and others become genuine allies? Or will the coalition fall apart at the first touch of hard reality bumping into flowery language? India cannot afford such a disaster.

New Delhi

What is their plan for the morning after, in the event that a miracle occurs and what as the core group may be termed RUSTAMS (the combination of Rahul, Uddhav, Stalin, Tejashwi, Akhilesh, Mamata and Sitaram) repeat 2004 and displace the BJP to form a government at the Centre? Given the presence of the CPM as one of the key players in the anti-Modi alliance, would those looking to India as an alternative location to China change their minds and decide to stay or go elsewhere? Not that many others in the group have distinguished themselves for their support to private investment in general, whether domestic or external. Rahul Gandhi shares his great-grandfather’s tendency to indulge in cosmic conversation, wanting love and peace for all without telling us how either objective can be achieved. The obvious candidate of AICC de facto President Sonia Gandhi for the leadership of the party (and the country), Rahul has defied predictions of irrelevance and has as a consequence emerged as the primary target of the BJP, displacing Arvind Kejriwal. His mention of the power of love is frequent. But is it as dissociated from reality as was Jawaharlal Nehru’s unwavering belief until the 1962 war that the PRC and Mao Zedong could become brothers to India and its leadership? Yet in practice there seemed very little evidence of love in the manner in which Rahul talked of his cousin Varun as an individual who would always be unwelcome in the Congress Party. Love seemed a bit distant in the use of such sharp language against a close family member, albeit from the Sanjay Gandhi side of the Nehru family.

Turning to the CPM, the Bengal unit of the party broke with orthodoxy in 2008 when Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee invited Ratan Tata to set up the new Nano factory at Singur. Immediately, the Trinamool Congress, founded and since led by Mamata Banerjee, launched a muscular movement against a project that would have created not just hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state directly and indirectly including by acting as a catalyst to restore Bengal to the status it once had as the most advanced part of India. The quintessential politician that she is, Mamata knew that Singur’s success would affect her chances at toppling the CPM, and ensured the project was shifted from the state through her agitation against it. As Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee has shown the same mastery over politics as Jyoti Basu did in the same job, and the same lack of success in economic matters as Jyoti-babu, the long-serving CPM CM of Bengal. While there is considerable interest in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and the South where external investors are concerned, thus far few have been making a beeline to TMC-ruled Bengal despite the hold that the hard-working, feisty Chief Minister has over the state.
Defying political logic, the present Numero Uno in the CPM, Sitaram Yechury, has become a formal ally of Mamata Banerjee. It is unlikely that Sitaram would have sided with Bhattacharjee in trying to get the Tatas to invest massively in Singur. Although the CPM broke with the CPI as a consequence of the former siding with China against the Soviet Union when the two communist giants parted ways, it is clear that in matters of economic policy, it is the Stalin rather than the Deng model of economic development that is favoured by the party elite, with the possible exception of the pragmatic CPM Chief Minister of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan. Of course, the CPM government in Kerala too is not hesitant to go the Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi way on occasion, in seizing private property, naturally in the name of public good. Given the immensity of expropriation of private property that has taken place in India even after 1947, and the continuing poverty in India for decades, it does not appear that there has been much public benefit through taking away private property at negligible or zero prices. As for Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, he has in practical terms given responsibility to his son and his son-in-law to bring more investment into the state, but this has so far remained a work in progress. None of them seem to have mentioned the fact that several actions by private players that were banned earlier have recently been decriminalised by Prime Minister Modi, and more such moves are on the way. Surely such measures would encourage investors to put more of their capital into India.

No one outside India would have believed that the IPC and the CrPC have remained the bedrock of the police system in India, despite their origin going back to the 1860s. All that is now being changed, although in time what needs to happen is the abolition of the death penalty in the same way as colonial-era laws relating to same-sex relationships were repealed. In view of the fact that the only crime meriting the death penalty (until its complete ban) ought to be terrorism, and that lynching of an individual by another or others for whatever reason is a terrorist act, prescribing such a sentence for cases of lynching has been welcomed by many, as also the specific mention of harsher punishments for crimes against women and minors. Not that any of these changes has attracted any attention by the RUSTAMS. This is despite the fact that the reality is that for too long, enmeshing an individual in a criminal case has been far easier for the authorities to do in India than in the other democracies that are part of the top five economies of the world. Reducing this vulnerability of the citizen to arbitrary arrest is a welcome move in the context of attracting investment away from China or from countries whose populations are ageing and therefore need to locate manufacturing and services not just within their boundaries but in friendly countries that have youthful populations, predominant among which is India. The next five years will provide a window of opportunity for India to attract hundreds of billions of US dollars of outside investment, a fact understood by the Modi government. Should the RUSTAMS have their way, it is very likely that policies towards investment both external and domestic may change in a manner that operates to the advantage not only of Vietnam and Indonesia, but principally China as well. Of course, several in the I.N.D.I.A. coalition may change sides and join hands with the NDA later. Indeed, several of its member parties had once been allies of the BJP, with even the CPM joining hands with the ruling party during some periods in the 75 years of the political history of free India. Given the cloud of doubt about the propriety of expropriating the name of the country for a political formation, it is likely that some citizen or the other may file suit demanding that each letter in the I.N.D.I.A. coalition be pronounced together with the full stop after it, to avoid a political formation getting identified with the country itself.

The world is presently in a state of transition, as its equilibrium is under challenge by China under the CCP led by General Secretary Xi Jinping. The new Cold War has become a reality that must not be ignored in the manner that the Government of India ignored the China threat throughout the 1950s. Even by 1959, when the hostility of Beijing towards Delhi was palpable, no efforts were made to prepare for a contingency such as war. If Rahul Gandhi rather than Indira Gandhi were the Prime Minister in 1966, would he have taken the painful but necessary step of bombing areas in Mizoram that had been overrun by armed groups backed by China? If it were Lal Bahadur Shastri, he would certainly have followed the same path as his successor, but would Nehru have, given his belief that all problems could be resolved through a show of love and dialogue? Love is a wonderful emotion, but even the genuine and not the feigned kind is often of limited value in times of potential crisis. This is what India has been facing on its border with China since Tibet was occupied by the PRC in the 1950s to an attitude of welcome from India. Whether it be Cold War 2.0 pitting the major democracies against an authoritarian superpower, or the opportunity of India becoming a production hub for relocating industries and services from China in particular during the next five years, the Central government over the next five years needs to acknowledge such realities and take measures to ensure that threats are dealt with while opportunities are grasped.

Prime Minister Modi was criticised for spending time in the US and France rather than attending Parliament during those days. Should the portents of conflict and confrontation inherent in the situation on our sea and land borders multiply, the US and France would be key partners of India. It may be remembered that no country was substantively in 1962 when China attacked all across the Sino-Indian boundary in force. Repeat, no country was there by the side of India when the attack came. That is what comes of ignoring reality. Whatever may be said about Indira Gandhi, she did not ignore the reality of the genocide taking place in what became Bangladesh since 1969. By going abroad and shoring up relationships with major democracies for mutual benefit, and in doing away with colonial-era laws and regulations that have kept India chained for so long, Prime Minister Modi has demonstrated that he understands both the threats and the opportunities for 1.4 billion citizens that are extant in the present era. Do the RUSTAMS share that appreciation of the situation? India cannot afford geopolitical errors in the present era, especially on the scale witnessed in the past. The public need to be confident that there is the inner cohesion and a united will in the I.N.D.I.A. coalition to walk the talk before votes get cast. Have Mamata, Sitaram Yechury, Rahul and others become genuine allies, including in the states they run? Or will the coalition fall apart at the first touch of hard reality bumping into flowery language? India, especially the country’s youth, cannot afford such a disaster.

The times require clear and purposive leadership or past errors will get repeated. Oh, that’s “whataboutery” is the reflexive response of those with a Lutyens mindset when asked a difficult question. The fact is that past experience, past events, count when judging those who seek to lead India in the crucial period from now until 2029. Analysis has to be based on the records and experience of the past, not on assumptions based on illusions or verbal sophistry. The coming five years is a once in a generation opportunity for India just as the 1980s were for China. Which is why the result of the 2024 general elections will impact generations to come. Which is why qualities such as a proven track record of competence and good judgement matter. The Constitution of India provides for a single Prime Minister. Who that person will be should RUSTAMS succeed needs to be known before votes get cast but this remains unclear. In contrast, Prime Minister Modi’s record in governance since 2014 is as clear as crystal.

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