LAHORE: India was envisioned by its founding fathers as a pluralistic democracy, which would reflect the cultural, political, and religious aspirations of its diverse communities. The political vision of its founders was democratic and inclusive, but their economic vision was socialist. Opening up of the market has also created an assertive and vibrant middle class that is demanding accountability, transparency and meritocracy and leaders like Anna Hazare and Arwind Kejriwal are spearheading the new reforms movements.
As the clamour for good governance grows, elections next year could posit new dilemmas and opportunities for the Indian electorate. Narendra Modi, thrice-elected chief minister of Gujarat, is being projected as the next prime minister in the Indian media. He was the top pick for the candidature of prime minister in an opinion poll conducted by India Today Group-ORG in 2012. The majority of respondents voted for him while Rahul Gandhi lagged far behind.
What could be the reason for Modi’s popularity? First, his governance and administrative capabilities are impeccable as shown by Gujarat’s dazzling growth statistics: its economy has grown at an annual average of 10 per cent for a decade. Also, Gujarat is the only state in India where industrial units, commercial businesses and farmers can get uninterrupted electricity almost all day long. Secondly, Mr Modi’s reputation has not been tainted with any corruption scandal. Compared with him, Congress leaders are mired knee-deep in corruption. Third, Modi has charisma and star quality.
That said, Modi has a dark side too — his alleged complicity in igniting a Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002. As chief minister, his decision of allowing Hindu nationalists to parade bodies of victims, which perished in the Godhra train fire and his public statements that violence was ‘a spontaneous reaction of the Hindus’ and that refugee camps, which housed thousands of Muslims displaced by riots, were ‘baby-making factories’ reflected callousness, insensitivity and partisanship. So far, he has not shown any remorse for the worst-ever communal riots to hit Gujarat. Notwithstanding this taint of communal partisanship, corporate India and educated Hindu middle classes support him because he appears to be their best bet to deliver the goals of free market reforms and transparency.
Can political pluralism be reconciled with economic entrepreneurship and efficiency? Arguably, economic efficiency leads to increased production of goods and services but societies are also consumers of intangible goods — freedom of speech, free exercise of cultural and religious rights. Thus, if a member of society cannot criticise a political leader or practise his religion freely, then denial of these rights would rend apart that society and even a healthy economy would not glue together different segments of that society. In the coming months, as India’s political parties fine-tune their manifestos and shortlist prime ministerial candidates, the Indian electorate must watch for a party and a candidate that promises to provide good governance along with inclusive political partnership.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th, 2013.