Agenda 2014 for BJP – Part 01

In this post I intend to present an agenda for BJP 2.0 based on the learning from its rise in the early 1990s, of what can be termed as phase BJP 1.0, its failure in the last decade and the success of many BJP-led State Governments in the last few years.

But first, two personal anecdotes and the story of a speech.

Circa mid to late 1990s: I was a student in an engineering college and one of the healthy practices in the institute was regular organisation of debates. Invariably the topics covered in the debates would be those that were nationally relevant then: Should India explode the nuclear bomb? Should India sign CTBT? Should Article 370 be scrapped? Should Uniform Civil Code (UCC) be implemented? Should India adopt hot pursuit against terrorists? Most of these topics had been pushed into national agenda by the BJP, which was then rising as the challenger to the ruling establishment in Delhi.

Circa July 2004: Like everyone else, I too was flummoxed at the defeat of the BJP-led NDA in 2004 general election. By this time I was working in a company which was closely involved in the infrastructure segment. While the tremendous progress made by Vajpayee-led NDA in infrastructure connectivity was national news, I had personal experience of seeing the dynamism put in sectors like hydro power, road-building and the Kashmir rail project, among others. The defeat of NDA was therefore an even greater surprise to me. Sometime in early July 2004, I was travelling on a personal trip from Lucknow to Allahabad by the Ganga-Gomti Express. In the dark hours of the evening, there were stretches of tens of kilometres when the train would pass by villages in absolute darkness. This seemed par for course to me in a state like UP and it did not register as something odd. However, what happened at one of the small stations has stayed in my mind ever since. The train was passing by the station at slow speed although there was no scheduled stoppage at that station. As was customary, a station official was waving the green flag from his chamber, which was lit by a kerosene powered lantern. Something struck me then: How did it matter to that station official, who used to spend most of his workings hours in his office which was lit by just one kerosene powered lantern, whether a fine express highway had been built connecting Mumbai to Pune or that even NH-2, which was closest to him, had been four-laned? That official may have never used NH-2 in his life!

The idea of a progressing India, and progress had most certainly been made in many sectors, had not yet touched the lived experience of sufficient number of Indians to actually come out and vote for it. As I have argued in an earlier post, the difference between Congress and BJP is that Congress seeks vote from people at their default level – as Dalits or Brahmins or Patels or Muslims or Christians or Jats or Vokkaligas. The BJP, on the other hand, asks people to vote for an idea which is, at least on one level, above their default level — the vote for BJP in 1998 or 1999 was for cultural nationalism and a robust national security policy. In the last decade, many State Governments run by BJP have made governance the idea on which they seek votes. There are however two major differences between the BJP Governments being successful at State levels winning votes on governance and the failure of BJP led NDA to do the same in 2004. First, the lived experience of a large number of Indians, in 2004, did not yet correspond to the governance delivery, the agenda on which NDA was seeking votes in 2004. This is in contrast to people in, say Gujarat or MP, who in some part because the scale is smaller than an all-India level, have all experienced the fruits of governance delivery. Second, the BJP Governments in each of the States, in the earlier round of election (Gujarat in 2007 and MP in 2008), were also elected on the promise of governance delivery. For a sustained period, the electorate had then been primed, through political rhetoric, on an agenda of governance only. So when re-election was sought (Gujarat in 2012 and MP in 2013), it was about a match between promise and delivery and both Governments, having delivered, were re-elected by massive majorities.

In contrast, the BJP was elected at the national level in the nineties on an agenda of cultural nationalism and national security policy and reelection was sought in 2004 on governance delivery! So even though in terms of governance delivery, the track record was excellent, the match between promise made during the first time elections (1998 and 1999) and delivery at reelection time (2004) could hardly be made. Not surprisingly, the 2004 election, in many senses, became a default election. And in any default election, Congress will always have a head start.

Circa 2007: Modi was speaking at the Hindustan Times Summit in 2007. What is remarkable in this speech is that he is talking exactly the same ideas that he has used so dramatically in his national pitch in 2013. That is, six years before 2013. That governance and development as a paradigm is not an event but a process could not have been brought out in a more stark fashion. But there is something else that Modi expands upon in his speech ( between 0:00 to 4:50) that is very pertinent. That for any agenda to become a mass movement, there has to be an emotional attachment that must be built around that agenda. Modi uses the example of Gandhi to make the point that ownership of abstruse but vital nation building agenda only comes if people are emotionally invested in it. The Congress does this very well — it sells negative emotion to garner votes. That of fear of security in the minorities, that of fear of loss of free food and minimum wage in the poor and so on. Whenever BJP has been successful, it has been able to sell its agenda on an emotional plank too – that of positive emotion. In the nineties, that emotion was of nationalism. The BJP State Governments in the last few years have sold positive emotion too — Gujarati Asmita, for example, is a positive emotion built on the foundation of good governance.

The above two anecdotes and the story of the speech by Modi have been narrated to arrive at the following conclusions.

First, the BJP was setting the narrative during its rise in the nineties. It was the ideas of BJP that were being debated in the schools and colleges and in intellectual circles. This process stopped in the last decade when the topics of debate were nuclear deal or inclusive growth, none of which were BJP ideas. Not coincidentally, BJP saw a decline in the last decade.

Second, because the BJP seeks votes from people at one level above their divided default level, it must always have an inspiring idea which can unite people. Hindutva was that idea that asked people to rise above their castes. Nationalism was that idea that asked people to rise above their religious or regional divide. In a default election, Congress will always have a head start. BJP has succeeded only when it has converted the election into a non-default pan (or pan state for assembly election) Indian election for an idea.

Third, for the governance agenda to succeed, it must be sold on an emotional plank because that only builds in a binding ownership. How many kilometres of roads have been built may not be that important to people as telling them how that road connectivity improves their earning capacity and simultaneously makes them a participant in nation-building.

Fourth, governance agenda will work as an election plank, only if it connects with the lived experience of people.

Fifth, there must be simple takeaways from BJP ideas for the future. BJP in the nineties was a party of complex views on issues facing the nation. But for the public debates, there were three takeaways – Article 370 on Kashmir and relationship with Pakistan, Uniform Civil Code on domestic social structure, and the nuclear bomb on national security. All these issues were complex in nature, but for the electorate it could be broken down into simple takeaways. They defined a new way of doing things, different from the broken past and thus inspired a generation to vote. These simple takeaways were also easy for the cadre of the party to explain to the voters: “How are you different on secularism? We advocate Uniform civil code” and so on.

The construct of new BJP, under the leadership of Modi, can learn from all the above experiences when BJP has been successful and offer its BJP 2.0 vision in two forms. First, it must have a broad vision for India, each of which must be communicated into easy takeaways. Second, it must articulate a governance agenda, because that is what has been its success mantra in recent years, in terms which will impact the lived experience of almost all Indians in the next five years. The BJP must not only again become the party whose ideas are debated in schools and colleges, but it must also present its governance track record at a nationally scalable level. The BJP 2.0 agenda could thus be articulated into audacious major themes, each of which though comprehensive, could also be broken down into a visionary takeaway and action takeaway which will impact lived experience of most Indians. Here is a suggested list of five such themes, each presented in Inspiring Idea takeaway and Lived Experience takeaway.

Constitutional Reforms

Inspiring Idea: Make Free Speech absolute.

Great nations, through history, have been built on strength of inspiring soft ideas. From the Greeks to the British to the United States, each, in addition to being military powers, was also soft power during the era of its dominance. It is ironic that the first amendment to the US constitution strengthened free speech while that in India, by Nehru, curtailed it. For India to be a leader among community of nations, it must embrace and indeed expand the best ideas from history.

Lived Experience: End all judicial pendency in the next 5 years.

This could be done by a slew of measures such as amending the CrPC (some of which were suggested during NDA rule), opening evening and weekend courts, using retired Judges in civil dispute resolution courts, etc. Changes could be made in-laws to mandate a time frame for deciding most civil cases and since government is the biggest litigator, decisions could be made to massively reduce this.

Governance

Inspiring Idea: Delete Socialism from the Preamble of the Constitution

Socialism is not a construct of the founding fathers but Indira Gandhi introduced perversion, which is designed to keep a vast number of Indians poor. Scrapping socialism as a constitutional mandate would make private enterprise valued and respected. Scrapping socialism will promote competition and with it entrepreneurship, which is the only historical way nations have become rich and prosperous.

Lived Experience: 24X7 power in every home in the next 5 years

This is one issue, on which even the worst detractors of Modi have not been able to question his delivery record in Gujarat and therefore this promise will have great credibility. Reforms in power sector, speeding up investments in nuclear power plants by removing hurdles, private investment in all forms of power generation, converting the Thar Desert in Rajasthan into a massive solar farm and all such ideas could form part of the mix to deliver this promise. A massive investment in this sector has the potential to generate jobs, revive GDP growth and create a whole new rural economy and other such benefits.

Youth and Education

Inspiring Idea: Youth in Governance

Scaling up from the project launched in Gujarat, every major government office should offer fully paid opportunity for the best and brightest, from the corporate world, to work in government for a specific number of years and then return. The government machinery would get enthused with infusion of fresh mind and ideas while the youth would be enriched with experience gained from the complexities of the challenge.

Lived Experience: Skill Development Centres & Private Investment in Education

The last major reforms in education were taken more than a decade ago. It is time to massively overhaul the education sector. Regular university degrees have become useless in securing jobs. Massive investment in skill development centers would create more employable youth. This will also free up the university courses for only those who are looking at higher education for more academic purposes, thereby restoring some value to the degrees. Private investment must be allowed in all forms and at all levels.

Economy

Inspiring Idea: Make India a Top 25 destination to do business (currently 134th)

For the economy to return to high growth path, private investment, both domestic and foreign, must return to India. This is the only scalable way to rapidly generate enough jobs and reap the demographic dividend. Reform agenda 2.0 must make India an easy place to do business and all measures, such as scrapping crazy levels of multiple approvals, reforming labor laws, etc should be part of the action items.

Lived Experience: Income Tax rationalisation

There is a strong case for rationalisation of income tax rates, making India a moderate tax state. No tax limit can be raised to 10 lacs, 10 per cent up to 50 lacs, 15 per cent between 50 lacs to a crore, and 20 per cent above it. All exemptions can be scrapped. This will immediately raise real purchasing power of middle class by offsetting effects of high inflation of the last few years, raise consumption thereby giving a fillip to a lot of industries, and would make it easier for everyone to calculate their tax liability and file returns, thereby ensuring greater compliance. This will also, in an oblique way, address the concerns of the people who might be apprehensive about labor law reforms.

Kashmir

Inspiring Idea: Scarp Article 370

Article 370 is not only discriminatory for non Kashmiri Indians, but as Modi said during his initiation of the debate on this topic in Jammu, it is discriminates against Kashmiris too. Also, integration is a two-way process. Article 370 hinders the integration of Kashmiri people with rest of India. For most of them, India means only the Indian state and not the vibrancy of its people and its culture, for many of them have hardly meet any non Kashmiris. Scrapping Article 370 would mean starting real people to people integration and make Kashmiris a part of Indian story in this century.

Lived Experience: Resettle Kashmiri Pandits and a Truth & Reconciliation Commission

The Kashmiri Pandits must be resettled with full dignity and safety and provided economic help in the resettlement process. Truth and Reconciliation Commission can help in addressing genuine grievances of the people of Kashmir.

These ideas could be presented in the next few days and the opened up for debate across all sections. This will help the BJP drive the narrative in the lead up to the 2014 elections. Closer to the actual elections, based on the national debate feedback, these points and as those derived from the debate, could be incorporated in the final official document.

2014 election is a watershed moment in the history of India. Never before, has any leader presented a more comprehensive challenge to the Nehruvian consensus. The vision articulated by Modi must include agenda items that finally dismantle the last remaining vestiges of Nehruvian albatross and make India realise its true destiny. Only Modi can do it.

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This article was first published in Niti Central on 16th January 2004. Here is the link:

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The Idea of India – In Defense of Capitalism

Why has India not again produced men of the same mettle as in the first half of 20th century? 

This is a question that has animated me for some time. Consider the quality of men that dotted the Indian landscape in the late nineteenth century and most definitively in the first half of twentieth century – Mohandas K.  Gandhi, C.V. Raman, S.N. Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Vivekananda – from politics to physics to literature to mathematics to spirituality. India produced men who would find place in any world history written on these subjects.

It is also not the case that these men were the only greats India produced. There were many more equally accomplished men who would forever find place in any Indian history – Jaishankar Prasad, Munshi Premchand, Meghnad Saha, Bhimrao Ambedkar, Vallabhbhai Patel, J.C. Bose, P.C. MahalanobisJamsetji Tata, Sri Aurobindo, and many more.

World history has shown that only those civilizations, and in modern context nations, that cross a particular “critical point” and then sustain, of what I term a “supply line” of historical greats, become the dominant civilization or nation of that era.  When the Greeks were dominating the Western Civilization, it was not basis military powers alone.  The foundation was laid by thinkers and philosophers and scientists and poets and astronomers and dramatists and mathematicians among others.  When this supply line of great men collapsed, the ancient Greek civilization collapsed too.

The same is true of the Golden Age of Gupta Empire in India. Some of the most well-known Indian works in astronomy and mathematics and literature took place during this period. From Aryabhata to Kalidasa to Vatsyayana to many others. Europe was able to dominate almost the entire world when the European nations crossed that critical point and then sustained the supply line.  Finally the turn came of United States to be that nation, from the start of the twentieth century and which continues till this date.

In each of these cases, there was a significant period, in some cases stretching up to hundreds of years, when the supply line of historical greats was sustained. Europe, which in many ways is like the Indian subcontinent with language being the basis of state boundaries, had almost a 300 year period during which it dominated the world. It was also the same period in which every new discovery and invention was taking place in Europe.  Sometimes post Copernicus, this critical point was reached and the Europeans, as if by some design, all worked together to keep that supply line going as long as they could – up to Bernard Shaw and Heisenberg.  United States reached that critical point at the start of twentieth century and has since then has been able to sustain it.

The question to be asked is this: Why was India, which did cross the critical point in early twentieth century, not able to sustain the supply?

The Background

India reached that critical point under the British rule. Several factors played a role. The British were a minuscule population in India. To be able to rule such a vast nation with such a large populace, they needed help of able Indians. Educated Indians, in Army or in courts or in bureaucracy or in various other institutions that ran the British Empire, became indispensable if the empire was to function. The British, therefore, recognized such people, rewarded them and helped the meritorious rise, as long as they did not challenge the British hegemony.  Indians on the other hand saw this as the only way to move out of their drudgery and destitution. They began competing among themselves to better exploit this opportunity since the benefits of success were immense – prestige, money, fame, title and the lifestyle like British.  They also realized that penalties of failure were severe too – confined to a life of third class citizenry where making ends meet was a daily struggle. There was huge gap between rewards and penalties. This was not a system of the classical nation-state promoting its best and the brightest in a fair and just manner but more a perverse system where motive was to control India through cooperation of Indians. The unintended consequence though was the same as what a system promoting fair competition between different merit levels would have achieved.

The British could not have done it any other way either. As Niall Ferguson argues in his book, “Civilization: The West and the Rest”,  out of the six killer applications that helped the West gain lead over the rest in the last 500 years, competition was the most important.   There was no defined economic system based on rules or laws that promoted it. Rather it started as a mad rush for spices and cotton and other goods of trade that fueled this competition.  There was a race to outdo the other for a share of the world market.  The prize of success was immense – not only economic spoils but increasingly colonies too.  All efforts were directed towards out doing the other nation, or even the other city. Gradually as the nations evolved, the economic system evolved too with passage of laws and practices instituted. What started as wisdom of natives evolved into a codified system which came to be identified loosely as capitalism. This evolution happened over many centuries. The British who ruled India had come from this evolution. They knew only this way and no other way. They implemented this way in India too – a variant yes, but in many ways the same system of rewards and penalties, at least at the individual level.

The Europeans were actually lucky in one way. When they reached the critical point, in early sixteenth century, there was no codified economic system to be followed. There was only battle of survival after the dark ages. There was no central authority telling the people to do something – rather, everyone was free to do what they felt capable of doing.   This is true of America too when it reached its critical point.  United States had learnt its practices from Europe, most notably England, and when it reached the critical point, the rules of capitalism and socialism were still being written. European in ethos, adopting a system which would smother the individual enterprise was anyways out of question for the United States.

When India became free however, in 1947, capitalism and socialism were already well defined. India did not have the luxury of either Europe or even United States to evolve a system – it had to simply choose. To sustain the “supply line”, India had to choose the economic system that encouraged unbridled competition and follow the path that other civilizations / nations had taken to sustain excellence. The only economic system that promotes unbridled competition is capitalism. Nehru however, chose socialism and not capitalism. Thereby he sealed the history of India.

In Defense of Capitalism

At the very core of capitalism is competition. While capitalism is primarily thought of as an economic policy and therefore having an effect on the economy, what effects does it have on society? More specifically, what effect does competition, the very heart of capitalism, have on society? Consider a passage published in New York Times in January 1887.  This is an extract from Prof W.G. Sumner‘s essay in Popular Science Magazine.

It is often affirmed, and it is true, that competition tends to disperse society over a wide range of unequal conditions. Competition develops all powers that exist according to their measure and degree. The more intense competition is the more thoroughly are all the forces developed. If, then, there is liberty the results cannot be equal; they must correspond to the forces.  Liberty of development and equality of result are therefore diametrically opposed to each other. If a group of men start on equal conditions and compete in a common enterprise the results which they attain must differ according to inherited powers, early advantages of training, personal courage, energy, enterprise, perseverance, good sense, & chance. Since these things differ through a wide range, and since their combination may vary through a wide range, it is possible that the results may vary through a wide range of degrees. Moreover, the more intense the competition, the greater are the prizes of success and heavier are the penalties of failure.

Let us revisit two sentences, in bold, in the above passage and read them again. Liberty of development and equality of result is what the first sentence talks about.  Which is the economic policy that India has followed since Independence – Socialism? What is at the core of socialism? The intention to achieve equality of result for the greatest number of people, if not all. Who implemented this policy? Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. It was not necessarily the policy of the wider Congress party then. In fact, there was a great divergence of views on the economic path that India ought to take post independence – a group led most notably by C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) was for free enterprise and trade. However, Nehru, because of his political closeness to Gandhi, eventually won the leadership battle and so did his economic ideas. Fabian socialism became India’s founding economic policy, where state controlled the ”commanding heights of the economy.”

Consider what Rajaji wrote in December 1959 on Nehru’s economic policy (excerpted from Ramachandra Guha’s Makers of Modern India):

The major fault of centralized, comprehensive planning is that it imposes a monolithic burden on a people composed of diverse elements at all levels and in all occupations. The achievements that it might show in a few selected areas are bought at the cost of freedom and enterprise of individual. The individual and his creative ability are smothered by a proliferating bureaucracy and innumerable rules and regulations…….Planning has proceeded in our country on the assumption that people do not know what is good for them and, therefore, they must be told what to do. It has proceeded on the basis that a few bright persons are omniscient and are capable of directing the destinies of the nation in an infallible manner.

This then was Nehru’s economic policy – a few bright persons directed the destinies of the nation at the cost of freedom and enterprise of individuals. Liberty of development was compromised for ensuring equality of result.  Individual merit was throttled for achieving a greater common good as determined by a few omniscient men.

The second sentence in bold from Prof. Sumner’s essay, which talks about the prizes and success and penalties of failure, is actually the effect that an economic policy has on society.  Competition, the keystone of a capitalistic economy, where liberty of development is ensured, offers differing incentives depending on success of failure. A socialist economy on the other hand, where equality of result is sought to be artificially achieved, smothers the individual and his creative abilities. There is simply no great prize for success neither is there a sufficient disincentive for failure. Everything is bulldozed into sameness for ensuring equality.  The effect of socialism is twofold – on the economy and on the societal mindset. It is that latter which is more detrimental since it eliminates all incentives for success and disincentives for failure. Why would anyone work extra if the end reward is same as for the one who does not work at all?

In the British era there was no unified aspiration for an educated person. Lawyers or scientists or poets or mathematicians, irrespective age or formal qualifications, were all welcome as long as they had an idea. In Nehruvian India, the best and brightest aspired to be IAS. That was the ultimate goal. A young scientist, even with a breakthrough idea, would get no additional incentive than another who was a plodder. Equality of result was to be achieved.  So scientific genius stopped being the criteria of advancement in the universities – rather it came to be strictly decided on numbers of years of service and with other inflexible rules and regulations.  A plodder would get preference over a bright young mind that perhaps did not fulfill the criteria in triplicate.  Many such young people left India in the 1950s and 1960s and settled in the United States. One became a Nobel laureate while another came back to India forty years later to operate on the knees of the then Prime Minister.

As the generation changed, and people born after independence started becoming adults – two things happened. One, the socialism of Nehru became the state authoritarianism of Indira Gandhi. Individual enterprise was now almost a criminal offense. The sameness sought to be imposed became even more intense. Whether one worked extra or did not work at all hardly mattered. The result would be same for both. There was neither penalty for no work nor incentive for brilliant work. Second, this generation’s mindset was shaped by their parents who saw a stable government job as the be all and end all of all aspirations. This is where millions of free exploring minds, like Ramanujan, would have been killed in childhood itself.  A few outliers that would beat this mindset would be taken care by the system. A few, who would still not be satisfied, engineers from IITs, started settling in the US and UK. There they would set up world-class companies or become Professors in the best universities in the world. India, which could educate them, simply did not have the economy to employ them. As the generation changed again, the mindsets got reinforced again. There was no incentive in being a poet or a writer or a scientist or a dramatist. It would mean living a life of hardship at best. Socialism had by now done its work. Prof Sumner, in his essay argues further:

We can take prizes away from the successful and give them to the unsuccessful.  It seems clear that there would soon be no prizes at all…..competition does not guarantee results corresponding with merit , because hereditary conditions and good and bad fortune are always intermingled with merit, but competition secures to merit  all the chances it can enjoy under circumstances for which none of one’s fellow-men are to blame.

Nehruvian socialism took away all the prizes from the successful to distribute it equally among the deserving and the undeserving. Soon enough there were indeed no prizes at all. That was the economic effect. The social effect of Nehruvian socialism was that it killed individual enterprise and perhaps killed, or at least substantially delayed, India’s rightful destiny.

As the battle rages for Idea of India in the 21st century, there is only one man, THAT MAN from Western India, who is talking of conclusively dismantling Nehruvian socialism and bringing in capitalism. THAT MAN may be our only chance to start that supply chain again.

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Updates :

1. This piece was first published on Centre Right India (CRI) website on 19th March 2013. Here is the link .

2. The same article has been republished on Friends of BJP website. Here is the link .

Dynasty and the Battle for Idea of India

“Dynasty, a political tool in the hands of the ruling class, has become the catalyst for a new colonization of a country whose soul has already been deeply scarred by centuries of it”. This is perhaps the pithiest observation in “Durbar”, the newly published autobiographical account of well known journalist Tavleen Singh.

The purpose of this piece is not to review Tavleen’s well written book but more an attempt to understand how a dynasty in a democratic polity evolves over multiple generations and how such democracies become different from normative democracies.

The first generation dynast, who establishes the dynasty, in a nominally democratic polity, always has some leadership qualities in him or her. This is as much true of historical dynasties as it is true of our current ruling dynasty – the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Pandit Nehru, who established the Indian ruling dynasty, was not a man without merit. While history now judges most of the policies he implemented as Prime Minister in an unfair light, it would be a huge disservice to argue that he rose without any merit. In this, arguably, he was not different from how true democracies choose their leader – democracies are designed to ensure that the best and the brightest political talent in each generation rise to the top. In the greatest democracy on Earth, while Dwight Eisenhower became President of USA in 1952, Barrack Obama won a second term, 60 years later, in 2012. Eisenhower will perhaps go down in history as the greatest General ever. But that did not imply that his successive generations will continue to be regarded as the greatest too and claim the office of US President as their right. Each generation will have to compete with fellow citizens in an equal game and the best man or woman would win. Naturally then, Eisenhower’s children and grandchildren lived successful private lives while men and women from diverse families and backgrounds, but all of some competence, staked their claims in each generation for the top executive position in the US. That is how the chain led to Obama winning again in 2012. Coincidentally, India too elected Pandit Nehru as its Prime Minster in its first general elections in 1952. But what about 2012? Congress party, to which he belonged, thinks his great-grandson is the best and the brightest in this current generation too, like members of his family in each intervening generation. How did this happen? How did we so diametrically diverge from the US path?

Pandit Nehru passed on the mantle to Indira Gandhi. But only just. She was not the choice, decided on impulse within seconds of Pandit Nehru’s death in 1964. In fact she only became Prime Minister in 1966 after untimely demise of Shashtri who was the Prime Minister in the intervening period. But even when she did, there were murmurs of dynastic succession. However, that Indira Gandhi was already 30 when India gained independence in 1947, and that her entire formative years were in the cauldron of freedom movement and in tutelage of stalwarts, perhaps helped her gain some initial legitimacy. But Indira Gandhi knew the same would not be true for her succeeding generations. So she set about the task of putting the tools in place to ensure that her dynasty continued. What were these tools?

Unlike real democracies, which place premium on merit, dynasties throttle merit. There is a glass ceiling above which no one can rise. This glass ceiling has multiple effects. First, meritorious people are ambitious. They have ideas – ideas which have changed human history time and again. But if there is a glass ceiling for meritorious people, beyond which they can never rise, why would they want to continue to serve or live in that system? They can clearly see that they are better than the top boss, but they themselves can never become the boss. This is when flight of talent begins to places and countries where merit is still at a premium – this is the beginning of brain drain. The brain which does not drain, for some reason, is forced to work in a non rewarding system and soon becomes defunct. Any surprise then that Indians has been unable to make any significant mark in any human endeavor since the 1960s? No new inventions, no scientific theories, no management ideas, no world class research. The system to facilitate all this is simply not there.

Second, as the generation changes, each succeeding dynast knows his or her limitations. They therefore start trusting less and less people – because they know they do not have either the caliber or the mettle to intellectually engage people in a peer group and prevail. This is when that factor comes in – Loyalty. Those in and around at important positions must first be loyal – everything else is secondary. Obviously merit suffers somewhere low down in priority. How is this loyalty achieved? Pandit Nehru may have been obdurate in his liking for Krishna Menon but they were not relatives. There’s was a friendship developed in a struggle. A generation later, Indira Gandhi collected a bunch of ‘Yes Minister’ type men around her. Yet men like P.N. Haksar, one of her closest advisors, even though a professional, still had a Kashmiri “feel good” connection. Another generation later though, Rajiv Gandhi could only trust his Doon school friends and Delhi late night party circuit buddies. When Sonia Gandhi’s time came, she could trust even fewer – only the shrunken bunch of these original vanguards – those who stuck by her in darkest times. Another generation later and loyalty is at such a premium that Rahul Gandhi advisors are so secretive that no one even knows who they are? The loyalty factor does not stop here. It percolates down at all levels. A person who is an important minister in Rajiv Gandhi ministry, purely because of loyalty and devoid of any merit, and thus non-threatening to the dynast, is hardly likely to have the best man under him. Just like the dynast, he too would want an aide whose main quality is loyalty to him above anything else. That is how he will ensure his survival. And thus the phenomenon is repeated at each successive level below. To how PSU chiefs are appointed to how such appointed PSU chief appoints his Chief financial officer and so on. The corrosive effects of the dynastic glass ceiling reach each and every walk of public life and destroy it in ways that it never recovers.

Third, the dynasty has a debilitating effect on the state of institutions. Invariably members of the dynasty, in their long careers, will indulge in acts which will normally fall foul with the law – imposition of emergency, thuggery by a member of the dynasty in the name of Youth Congress, corruption by close family friends and relatives, genocide on the streets of Delhi and much more. Robust institutions will come down with a heavy hand on each such act. If the dynasty is to survive and flourish, then every watchdog institution must either be stunted at birth itself or filled with men who only do the bidding of the dynasty – from “committed judiciary” to “crawling media”. From Chief Election Commissioners becoming loyal party members to Retired Supreme Court Judges conveniently giving clean chit for genocides, the list is endless. Notice how the appointment of the CVC in 2010 was rammed through despite being protested in writing or how no one even expects the CBI to be independent anymore. 18 of the last retired 21 Supreme Court judges have found lucrative post retirement jobs. The decimation of institutions is not limited to the official three pillars but extends very importantly to the fourth pillar as well – the media. Free housing societies, foreign junkets, state civilian awards, access journalism, institutional chairs in foreign universities on taxpayer’s money and sometimes brazen inducements like farm house in the lucrative badlands of Gurgaon – every means are used to control the media. The price that the nation pays to keep the dynasty flourishing is the mockery of its institutions.

Fourth, however benign an individual dynast maybe, it is in the nature of things that the dynasty must necessarily divide people in order to rule over them. Despite proclamations to the contrary, policies promulgated by the dynasty are designed to keep people divided in their ghettos of caste, religion, region and race. Divided people can be threatened. Greater the division, greater the fear in each sub group. The dynasty can then morph itself as the protector of each sub group. Is it too difficult to understand as to why the maximum number of anti Muslims riots has taken place under Congress regimes and yet Congress can still present itself as protector of Muslims? Or is it too difficult to understand as to why Rahul Gandhi brandishes his Brahmin credentials when convenient and lets the world, for the first time, know the caste of Sam Pitroda?

Fifth and most important is the economic vehicle of the dynasty. It is not accidental that socialism became a constitutional mandate under Indira Gandhi and not under our founding fathers. The very soul of capitalism is competition. Different ideas compete and the best ideas win. From business to politics. It would be impossible to sustain an economic capitalistic model but not a political one. There is one more reason why socialism works best for dynasty – it is because of the very effective way in which socialism keeps everyone equally poor as opposed to distributed levels of prosperity in capitalistic model. Free enterprise in a capitalistic economy enables people to chart their own destiny, prosper and become rich, thereby moving up the social value chain. But if they move up the value chain, they would progressively aspire for “better” – better education, better healthcare, better infrastructure and so on. If this happens, then people might start voting for the candidate who ideas for ensuring that “better” are more appealing than the dynasty. Socialism ensures that most of the economic opportunities are hoarded by the state or cronies, thus ordinary people never move up the value chain, remain always bound in poverty and destitution, and each time an election comes, some new sop can be promised, the dream of which can make the poor and destitute continue to vote for the dynasty. From Indira Aawaas Yojna to NREGA – none of these schemes are designed to make the poor prosper – they are intended to keep people entrapped into their poverty and thus remain easy catchment for the dynasty.

The consequential effects of a dynasty like we have in India is that over generations, an inter connected elite evolves which controls almost all the levers of political and economic powers. Most of them are dynasts at their own levels. Challengers to the elite club are mostly co-opted since almost all avenues of career growth are controlled by these elites. Those who refuse to be co-opted find life very tough for them if they in any way intend to challenge this cozy club. One of the most fascinating public battles being currently fought in India is effectively a battle with this elite club of dynasts – can THAT MAN from Western India build a movement from bottoms up to challenge every established norm of this club and perhaps consign this club to history? Fascinating times as we see the most definitive battle within our lifetimes for the idea of India.

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Updates:

1. This piece was first published on Centre Right India (CRI) website on 13th December, 2012.

DYNASTY AND THE IDEA OF INDIA

2. The same blog has been republished on Friends of BJP website. Here is the link:

3. Kartikeya Tanna, fine young blogger, has taken the idea further with a follow up post on CRI. Here is the link: