Sudeep’s mirror for PM Modi

Sudeep Chakravarti’s piece in MINT struck a chord in me. I thought it was a very well written and thoughtful piece.

I personally think that picking holes in a few sentences here and there (and they are there – I will list them below) will not take away from the overall content of the piece.

I used to know him very well when he was in ‘India Today’ and for a few years after that too. He showed me and my family around in Goa in 2007 when we were there on a holiday and bought us a nice lunch too. Later, I met him in Singapore in 2010.

I was one of his sounding boards as I read through the manuscript of his book, ‘Red Sun’ – a very bold and personal and dangerous journey he undertook through the Maoist lands in India. He has acknowledged me in that book. That is just a personal anecdote.

From being a liberal ‘free market’ type, after his work in the Naxal belt and seeing the combined predation of the State and capitalists, his compass had shifted. I do not blame him for that. When one sees such massive exploitation up close and personal, it would only be a surprise if he were not moved by it. Therefore, the text, in some places, reflected the ‘Stockholm syndrome’. I pointed them out. He saw my points.

We have problems with capitalists and the State. But, we have problems with Maoists, their goals, their design and their methods. In the process of chronicling and exposing one, we cannot afford to let the other side escape scrutiny, judgement and action.

All that by way of background being done with, the piece is a very important read for the PM and his core and close followers. Someone has to hold up the mirror and Sudeep, despite some journalistic exaggerations, has done an admirable job of it, in my view.

Such plainspeaking within the inner circle is needed. I hope it exists but I doubt it. Not in India and not in many, many countries in the world. But, why single out political leaders? It has been singularly missing among so-called intellectuals. Otherwise, Brexit and Trump election victory would have been anticipated. So, in that sense, it is not just PM Modi who might be living in a cocoon of his own but scores of others too.

But, that is neither here nor there. This blog has been very happily exposing the hollowness and inconsistencies of the so-called intellectuals globally and will continue to do so.

Therefore, ‘what about?’ry is part of the argument in a duel/debate. But, it cannot be used as an argument to exclude reflection of the arguments being made. If so, it is the loss to the object of criticism and, in this case, a loss to the country too.

What are Sudeep’s exaggerations?

(1) The rupee is in a tailspin. – that is not true. Almost all currencies in the world are depreciating against the U.S. dollar.

(2) The “pain” of the currency swap that Modi and his cohorts speak of is expected to contract the economy this year. – I think he got the Ambit Capital forecast mixed up. They expected a Y/Y contraction in one particular quarter, I think. Not GDP contraction in 2016-17 or in 2017-18.

(3) The agreement with Switzerland to share information about Indian holdings in Swiss banks will come into effect in 2018, with information for the previous year, enough time to move money. – well, that is not the government’s fault. They should be complimented for closing the loop or hole on that one.

(4) including that of the first NDA government that ended its term with ignominy in 2004. – I am not sure it ended the term in ignominy, unless he means the election results themselves. But, their economic governance in the last two and half years of their term (1999-2004) was quite impressive.

Perhaps, in the final analysis, Sudeep’s article struck a chord with me because the underlying purpose of my co-authored work with Gulzar Natarajan, ‘Can India grow?’ was that a merciless diagnosis of all the wrongs and all that do not work is an indispensable foundation for eradicating them and improving on them, respectively.

About nine days ago, journalist-friend TCA Srinivasa Raghavan had shared an English translation of an article that he had written for Hindi Quint. It was a mid-term appraisal of Modi, the PM and Modi, the policymaker. He had given good marks on the former and not-so-high marks on the latter. He had written that ‘his economic policies had been socialist in their orientation’.

He is right. The NDA government’s first three budgets did not set the Yamuna, Ganges and Cauvery on fire with their imagination and bold strokes.

Even the black money demonetisation is clearly a policy in that light. The aspirational aspects of freeing up the individuals from financial repression, from other clutches of the State have not yet been given the prominence or importance as they should have been, along with the ‘cleaning of the Augean stables’. The latter is foundational and a bedrock, I admit. But, in economic policies, one has to build the foundation and the superstructure simultaneously. In construction, one has to wait. Here, it does not have to be.

I suspect that they may have something to do with the advisors who has his ears. I will shy away from using Western constructs to describe them as conservatives or liberals or Left or Right. I will simply call them status-quo ists with strong moral absolutes. Some of their economic policy proposals may appear progressive politically but they are typically distributionist policies administered by the heavy hand of the State. There is nothing in them that unleashes the productive and creative energies of the people.

Again, coming back to our report, ‘Can India grow?’, Gulzar and I had spent a bit of time and effort on writing about the leadership qualities that India needs at this stage. We have cited three or four ‘Thirukkural’s. Those ‘Kural’s stress the need for leaders to have fearless, unbiased advisors who would talk the truth to the leaders. At the minimum, the leader has to consult more widely. For now, I am not sure that it is happening in India. Will be glad if I am wrong.

Perhaps, the coming budget will prove us wrong. Hope sustains us in everything.

A penultimate point: it is one thing to dismiss habitual and pathological critics. There are many. Some of them, unfortunately, are losing their personal credibility because they have mixed up issues, exaggerated negatives, pretended that no positives exist, etc. That raises legitimate doubts about their personal agenda, even if there was none. So, their criticism is afflicted by joint hypothesis problems.

A final point: I would submit that this critique be taken away for a year-end reading, resulting in some good resolutions for the New Year!

Post-script: For the admirers of the PM Modi, if this blog post felt like a cold shower, please do check out these articles.They will be a good antidote to this blog post, if you need it.

Funny that a Hong Kong columnist should wish that Hong Kong leadership emulated Indian leadership. Hong Kong’s handling of corruption in the 1970s with high profile arrests and prosecution paved the way for the city-State to become ‘clean’ in the 20th century. India is yet to emulate that. Even the black money drive falls short of that.

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5 thoughts on “Sudeep’s mirror for PM Modi

  1. Sudeep’s column definitely is well written – at a minimum in a good voice & tone, and not the theatrics of AK or Mamta Didi— but isn’t his argument the same ?

    If we are to believe him, then the whole country is somehow hypnotized by Modi and his marketing. He says that not only are there cracks in demonetization, and there may well be, but also everything that BJP government is doing or has done so far is nothing but take credit for Congress governments work. Unfortunately for us of the Congress party has ruled us for 60 of 70 years of independence. Non-Congress governments need to hold power for at least that much time to seed , root and establish independent institutions that can present an alternative view.

    They are shouting as Modi has better leveraged old programs, cleaned them and tweaked them to derive more benefit for the country; can you imagine ( hypothetically) what the criticism will be were Modi to truly dismantle all Congress programs ?

    If RaGa and AK and Mamta are blaming every and any untoward incident on Modi, Sudip puts a reverse spin on it — he says ONLY Modi has mesmerized the people and so they do not see the terrible things that are happening in reality. In simple terms this is the ‘Modi is feku’ argument.

    One more voice in the crowd of both domestic and foreign intelligentsia/media who have always found faults with Modi and will continue to do so.

    This just makes it extremely hard for citizens to gauge the true impact of policies and muddies the water for fair minded and honest critique that can be used to take the country forward.

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  2. You are right in your very balanced opinion.- we should always give the benefit of doubt to the man at the crease.Not to prejudge or jump to conclusions on some pretext.

    Somebody says that Modi’s schemes are seen to be slanted towards socialist orientation.Socialism is a much maligned word and it carries a stigma in today’s capitalist world. Instead I would term that his schemes have an inclusive hug and handshake & he has repeatedly talked about reaching out to the last man standing in the queue using the metaphor of Gandhi or John Ruskin’s “Unto the last”.

    Moreover somewhere Modi will have to start wielding the stick against black money and corruption.What is the starting point in this vicious game of cloaks and daggers. Can anybody say with firmness that this should be the starting point.We have 1.25 billion opinions. Therefore having elected him we should allow PM to exercise his authority- otherwise we should continue with the likes of Dr.MMS as PM.

    When Mr.TN Seshan became Election Commissioner only then we all understood that EC had so much power and authority.All these political parties cried foul when he wanted to implement the changes in the elections.He was called Thuglak and Alseshan dog.!Shall we call him a benevolent dictator or a crusader?!

    So first we should allow our PM to function , that is the minimum courtesy ,and then we can judge him by the overall results – not by quarterly GDP nos. alone. His direction is good and steadfast, may be a misstep here and a misstep there should not be construed as showing that he is rudderless – that is uncharitable.

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