On-shore Anticipation for Lok Sabha Elections 2014
By Priyanka Banerjee
While India is eagerly waiting for the 16th Lok Sabha Elections to commence in April-May, 2014, I decided to speak to the young Indian crowd sitting at onshore locations in the US, servicing the software industry. Although they might not be able to be physically present to cast their ballot, nevertheless their opinions are reflective of how the young Indian professionals think.
Sitting miles away from their homeland, they are tracking each and every update about the upcoming general election. I wanted to know their opinion about who should be India’s next Prime Minister. The answer is not an easy one in a country as diverse as India. I got in touch with few Indian IT professionals and financial analysts here in the US. Sifting through their opinions, I present only a few vignettes.
“Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”
In almost all my discussions with these people, the name that cropped up the most was that of Mr. Narendra Modi from Bhratiya Janata Party. However, no one denies the value of Mr. Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party and its alternative politics, which has so far shown a different and more accountable future for the Indian political system.
When I asked why Modi should become India’s next Prime Minister, Vivekanand Shenoy, a financial analyst gave me a very comprehensive reply. He took me sixty years back in history to the era of Indian National Congress party (INC): “India so far has been ruled for the majority of the time by INC and, unfortunately, the INC we have inherited after independence is not the same INC that fought for India’s freedom. INC for the past 60 years has been a socialist, communist party in disguise. The main agenda of socialist/communist party is to make the citizens dependent on the government by doling out populist schemes (subsidy-based schemes) without any funding source for these populist schemes. This usually results in a government which has emptied its treasury and the repercussions of this policy is evident today in the form of lack of funds for the infrastructure , no incentives for entrepreneurs due to lack of competitive advantage, and, globally, a sovereign entity which is least favored for investments.”
According to Shenoy, India currently needs a political party which believes in the proven model of “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”, an idea that dates back to the golden era of Kautilya and endorsed by Mahatma Gandhi and Ambedkar in modern times. He further explains, “this model mainly focuses on enabling the poorest of poor to earn an honest and dignified livelihood, instead of being doled out schemes such as NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), which has hurt the nation more than benefitting the poor. NREGA, a populist scheme brought in by the INC, was so damaging to the country’s economy that today it is known to be the single most damaging policy which has made inflation uncontrollable. It artificially increased the wages even in areas where the unemployment was the lowest by giving laborers money for working for projects which did not benefit the community in any way.”
Shenoy believes that the BJP and some of its ex-allies such as the TDP (Telugu Desam Party) have a proven record of governance: “Simple infrastructure measures by government such as 24 hours uninterrupted electricity has worked wonders in the states ruled by BJP. In simple terms, this has helped people in villages to earn an honest livelihood in farming and establish new business models apart from their single source of income (i.e. farming). This has helped the country immensely as agriculture, which is the backbone of India, is being restored. It is reducing farmer suicides and migration of people from villages and villages are becoming the new nerve centers of economy.”
Shenoy also spoke very strongly against dynastic politics. According to him, BJP, as opposed to the INC and other similar parties, believes in leaders who have worked at the grass-root level: “There is least preference for dynastic politics (in BJP). It believes in grooming leaders who lead other groups of leaders. The current candidate of BJP (Narendra Modi) has 12 years of proven track record of good governance and reviving a stalled economy hit by earthquake and riots. Even after just five years of rule, it has so many capable leaders such as Manohar Parrikar and Shivraj Singh Chauhan. ”
Moving away from Narendra Modi, I ask my respondents about Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party. Suryakant Routray, a hardcore IT professional in an investment bank, explains: “It is indeed remarkable that the wave of radical change spawned by an anti-corruption social movement has led to the formation of a new political establishment with the core ideology of “aam aadmi” led by Arvind Kejriwal – an IITian with a muffler and a topi.” When I probed further, “Will this ideology be sustained in the long run?” pat came the reply: “The victory of Kejriwal’s anti-establishment politics in the capital stirs a major transformation in the fundamental parameters of Indian political battle. It no doubt paves the way for the ordinary educated urban class to enter into mainstream politics.” However, Routray further explains, “I would like to see Narendra Modi as the 14th prime minister of India” because Modi has a proven track record of good governance and of pursuing better economic policies. His recent gestures of distancing from Hindutva agenda and showcasing an inclusive growth model have certainly attracted the attention of middle and high income socio-economic groups and urban classes. For Routray, while Kejriwal’s alternative politics is attractive, it lacks the experience necessary for governing at the national level. “A leader of strong temperament and commitment is the need of the hour, but it will take considerable tact, patience and determination on the part of Modi to bring back India on the track of sustained growth and development,” asserts Routray.
When we were mostly discussing Modi and his governance, my other interviewee, Paras Ghai, a software professional, stated that this time around India would witness a strong contest between the AAP and the BJP, since the newly born party has already proved themselves during the Delhi Assembly election. Paras further added that the AAP needed more time at the state level before they could be ready for the national level, “I believe AAP will certainly eat into BJP and Congress votes which means BJP will probably not achieve a complete majority and finally have to form a coalition government. But I’m assured about one thing that we will be relieved of non-performing, corrupt, and power hungry UPA rule.” He made his preference for Narendra Modi as India’s next Prime Minister clear, “From the time I have been following politics I believe that Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been the best performing Prime Minster of India and if Modi’s performance is half of that and development under him is similar to what we have heard of in Gujarat, then we can hope to see the economic recovery of India.”
No Escape from Coalition Politics
Since my discussants were already indicating the possibility of a coalition government, I probed them further. Routray felt that those days were behind us when a trivial “Garibi Hatao” slogan by Indira Gandhi could catapult her party into a national majority. According to him, India will never ever see a single party majority government as coalition is the new mantra of the Indian political ecosystem, “UPA’s years of sloth, corruption, crippled economic policies and pro-poor largesse with an incompetent PM have severely damaged the prospects of UPA winning another term. Though young Gandhi has challenged the status quo from within on several occasions, I am afraid the charismatic new face wouldn’t provide enough boost to an ailing and corrupt government to see the light again. With UPA out of equation, the only alternative at the hands of “aam aadmi” is NDA.”
Paras echoes the same: “We are more likely to see NDA rule at center. Personally, the way UPA-1 and UPA-2 have performed, I am sure I wouldn’t like to see a coalition government with them at center. Any new policy or bill that has to be passed, government needs to garner support of its allies and this will be difficult to achieve with a Prime Minister as listless as Manmohan Singh or even Rahul Gandhi. One of the reasons I feel NDA rule has been successful is because they were able to convince their allies on the policies although I’m not sure how convincing Modi will be once he becomes Prime Minster of India.”
Strong Policies for a Better Country
I ask further, “What sort of economic, domestic, and foreign policy do you expect from the forthcoming government?”
For Shenoy, the answer is obvious. India needs an economic policy which supports innovation, provides ample infrastructure and financial resources to enable entrepreneurs to create more jobs. He explains that India needs a government which is harsh and takes decisive action against the ‘anti-national elements’, such as the Maoists and the terrorists. “The country needs a government which focuses on defense and research, when most of the world economies have been built due to immense focus on defense and research. India today, despite being the biggest country in South East Asia, is still considered a ‘weak-economy’. Even the smallest of countries like Mauritius snubs India. India of the present day has the worst relationship with all its neighbors. It needs to be harsh on problematic neighbors such as Pakistan, China, and Bangladesh and foster friendly relationships with the rest such as Burma and Sri Lanka.”
Ghai adds, “As far as economic policies are concerned, I would like to see policies that make business environment more conducive for investors. Some of the economic policies like retrospective taxes and delay in department clearances under UPA have negatively affected investor sentiments towards India. We need more PPP (public-private partnership) projects to improve the infrastructure of the country which is pathetic to say the least.”
Routray expects the government to have a long term growth plan for the GDP. He feels that the right thing to do would be to allow FDI in retail, aviation, and other potential sectors. However, he believes that these policies without a strong supporting domestic framework may prove disastrous. FDI in the retail without providing a suitable domestic policy for a coherent distribution and logistics system for the farmers would jeopardize the retail sector, run by small domestic traders. Routray signs off: “There is a lot to be done in shaping a solid anti-graft law with independent investigating agencies to combat the corruption that has crippled the very core of our society. Policies for simplifying end user services and delivery would go a long way in easing common man’s agony. A country with an ever growing population and an increasing consumption demand needs energy security. Government needs to prioritize policies to secure the energy requirements of the second most populous country of the world.”
It is evident that no matter which party/coalition comes to power at the center in May 2014, what we require now is a better economy, better environment, and better security. This is to build a strong India not only for the Indians but also for the NRI population that has moved out but still carries India in their heart.
Priyanka Banerjee is a freelance journalist with several years’ experience with Indian and International media houses. She obtained a post-graduate degree from Times School of Journalism, New Delhi. Prior to that, she completed a Masters in English Literature at the University of North Bengal. Commencing her career with The Economic Times, New Delhi, she has written a wide range of feature stories, spanning from business to politics. She is the Managing Editor for Cafe Dissensus Everyday.