It is true that a state-level economic success story can’t be replicated at the national level, but Narendra Modi has scripted a success story by working at the grassroots level and he can use that experience to transform the national polity, said BJP leader Yashwant Sinha.
“In the current government, we have people who do not have the grassroots experience. In fact, the head of the government has fought only one election in his lifetime and lost it. When Modi becomes the PM a few months from now, he will bring about that change,” said Sinha.
He was speaking at a session at the Jaipur Literature Festival, Conquering the Chaos: Empowering the Future. Former chief election commissioner Navin Chawla and former Microsoft India chairman Ravi Venkatesan were co-panelists, while journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta moderated.
When Thakurta reminded Sinha that BJP was leaving Muslims, which form 14 per cent of India’s population, out of its electoral equation, Sinha said, “It is true we are counting on the rest 80% of people, but we are also reaching out to the sections you mentioned. There are misunderstandings and we are working on them. It did not prevent BJP from coming to power in Rajasthan.”
BJP won a landslide in Rajasthan assembly elections despite a communal riot in Bharatpur district in which 10 Muslims were killed and the police had come under attack for siding with Hindus.
Sinha said the saffron party would 300 seats in next general elections.
The BJP leader, who was the Union’s finance minister at the time when the country had to mortgage official gold reserves, said India might be a “functioning anarchy”---as economist and former US ambassador JK Galbraith once defined it---but it is also a “functioning democracy”.
Asking the world not to judge India by the economic setbacks of the past few years or a few issues, Sinha said the country’s achievements should be judged by what is has achieved since 1950---Modi’s emergence among them.
“The majesty of Indian democracy is that a child whose mother cleaned houses of her neighbours and who himself sold tea on trains is about to become the prime minister,” Sinha said.
Why is the corporate world so enamoured of Modi, Venkatesan was asked.
“The past few years have been bad for economy. It is not just resistance to reforms but even decision making has suffered. There is a perceptible lack of leadership,” he said.
“The corporate sector feels Modi has, at least at the level of instinct, instilled confidence among investors.”
Former chief election commissioner Navin Chawla declared that only the Election Commission of India has conquered the chaos by holding elections that have managed smooth transition of power since Independence.
“If we look at our neighbours, we have managed well. They too got independence about the same time we got, but while some of them vacillate between long periods of military rule and brief interludes of civilian rule, others are battling long insurgencies. There are countries where single parties rule,” he said.
Amidst the chaos, Chawla said, the emergence of Aam Aadmi Party has shown politics can be “done without muscle power, money power and without dividing people on the basis of religion”.
“If all political parties take this initiative forward, then our democracy is on the right track,” he said.
In his remarks, Venkatesan said it was the chaos that made India important. He was echoing the arguments he has made in his book, Conquering Chaos: Win in India, Win Everywhere.
He said he often advises potential investors that the companies that thrive in India thrive everywhere and the ones which give up find it difficult to flourish in other places.
“They need to stay longer to succeed in places like India,” he said.
While Chawla admitted the Election Commission’s efforts to persuade the government to amend laws on criminality of politicians during the past 20 years have not borne fruit, Venkatesan said a distinction must be made between corporate donors of political parties.
He said there are “crony capitalists” who have benefited from resources they managed to get because of political patronage. They form the majority of the unnamed and unaccountable donors. Then there are corporate who achieved success on their own and they are the ones who crave for transparency in corporate donations.