How ironical it is, that the touted dream team of Indian economy - Dr Manmohan Singh, Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and P Chidambaram will leave a legacy of terrible growth deceleration, persistently high inflation, rising unemployment, and a depreciating currency after 10 years in office.
But the "lost decade" under UPA is not just an economic disaster. This total economic collapse is only a natural consequence of appalling lack of leadership, absolute breakdown of authority, directionless decision making, zero accountability, and complete disregard for integrity and ethics.
Ten years ago, an India that was racing towards a global superpower status, and striving to reclaim its position in the league of world nations, has been plunged into an abyss of hopelessness and despair. The confidence, enthusiasm and vigor that were the catalysts of India's resurgence seem to have suddenly evaporated.
And in this scene, the man emerges. History bears witness that time and again effective leaders, who can mobilize people, tackle tough problems and spot opportunities in crises emerge in times of great stress, change and uncertainty. In India too, a fierce wild wind that is blowing from the western state of Gujarat has already rustled many dead feathers in Delhi; the name is Narendra Modi.
The man's emergence on national horizon is not an overnight phenomenon. It is a result of a life lived completely in the service of the motherland, years of devoted work at grassroots level, and a decade of governance with administrative acumen and effective leadership.
Progress and Performance
Unlike the Congress and most regional parties where leadership is hereditary and an election ticket is taken as a birthright, Modi's claim to fame is only one factor - performance. Even in this atmosphere of gloom, Gujarat under his stewardship stands out as a beacon of hope. As the reputed global news magazine the Economist puts it - "So many things work properly in Gujarat that it hardly seems like India."
With 5% of India's population, Gujarat today accounts for 16% of country's industrial output and 22% of exports. The state has consistently maintained a double digit GDP growth over the past decade, with agriculture growing at 10% consistently even as India struggled to achieve a low bar of 3%. As a result of sustained efforts undertaken by Modi and his team, Gujarat today has minimal labor issues, state-of-the-art infrastructure, uninterrupted power supply and supportive bureaucracy.
The state known for traders only a few years back has made rapid strides in agriculture, manufacturing and services sectors. The average citizen so awfully let down by the current national leadership is naturally looking at Modi to steer India out of the current crisis, and his stellar track record obviously puts him ahead of others in the race.
When corruption seems to be the order of the day, Modi's personal integrity and honesty stands out. Modi, his personality, his style of functioning and his growth model have been subject to unprecedented scrutiny and analysis in the past few years. Any strong leader will have his share of adversaries in politics and media, and frankly speaking, Modi has more than his fair share of them. But even Modi's most stringent critics and political opponents will admit that the man does not a have single blot of corruption or scandal to his name. Check this out - in the recent Wikileaks controversy over leaking of US diplomatic cables, every politician whose name figured in the cables stood exposed and tarnished.
Modi's name was mentioned about 100 times in the cable, but he was the only politician, not just in India, but across the world whose name but did not contain a single negative reference. When politics India has become synonymous with dynasty and nepotism, how pleasantly surprising it is to know that the family of the chief minister of one the richest states in the country lives in a modest 2 bedroom apartment, away from the glamour and clout that they could have so easily commanded!
There goes a saying in India - good politics is not good economics, and good economics is not good politics. This is because when the focus of a political party is so jaundiced on winning the next election by hook or by crook, it leaves very little scope for pursuing an economic policy that take years to show results and bear fruits. Our economic disaster can partly be traced to the lack of political willingness to take tough, visionary decisions. The UPA in past has resorted to disastrous schemes like farm loan waiver and NREGA with dire consequences to the economy.
Their new initiatives like direct cash transfer and food security bills are steps in the same direction, taken only with a view on the coming general elections. Who cares about fiscal discipline? This is even after all policymakers have acknowledged that without proper infrastructure for implementation, such schemes result in huge leakages and losses to public exchequer without bringing any tangible benefits to the lives of intended beneficiaries. A politician's true test will lie in being able to take difficult, enduring decisions even if it requires risking short term political gains. Modi has demonstrated this in Gujarat time and again.
In his tenure right from 2001, he has desisted from taking populist decisions or giving freebies. When he faced considerable opposition in the last state elections in 2012, he could have easily added a few more seats to his tally by announcing some freebies and subsidies here and there, but he resisted taking that path.
Instead, Modi has always focused on generating investment which eventually leads to more growth, employment and better standard of living in the long run. It takes tremendous discipline and confidence in oneself to do this, especially when short term rewards are so attractive. No other politician in India except Modi had courage to oppose the proposed Food Security Bill, for the risk of losing some vote share.
Critics have been continuously accusing him of being a polarizing figure who would not be able to take everybody along with him. Modi's recent rally in Hyderabad proved how horribly wrong and biased they really are. Congress's opportunistic politics in dealing with the Telangana agitation has led to a very distressing scenario of escalating tensions between the two newly formed regions of Telangana and Seemandhra. Almost everybody in the state has taken an extreme position on this issue. Tensions have reached to such an alarming level that no politician can even take the name of Seemandhra in Telangana.
Modi struck a poignant note, appealing to our Andhra brothers to stop hostility amongst themselves and move shoulder to shoulder on the path of development. In an act of sublime statesmanship, he made the entire crowd hail both Telangana and Seemandhra right in the heart of Hyderabad. It would have required incredible political courage and conviction to pull off something like this.
Path of Development
But Modi's single biggest achievement has been to aggressively steer the national discourse from vote bank politics to development politics. One of the biggest drawbacks of Indian democracy is that electoral outcome is still based on caste/religious blocks voting en masse in favor or against a particular candidate. This remains the primary factor above all everything else, and the candidate's track record, integrity and other real issues get overshadowed. Modi has sounded a death knell to politics based on such narrow identity considerations. In the past ten years, he has never tried to polarize the electorate through caste-based references or policies.
Elections in Gujarat have been fought purely on the basis of
what the government has done in past 5 years and how that has
affected the lives of people. In the process, he has offered
himself, his government and his policies for unparalleled
examination, criticism and debate. Every possible
social/development indicator has been brought out and analyzed
threadbare. If previous central and state governments had been
subjected to even a fraction of assessment and scrutiny by the
yardsticks that have been applied to Gujarat, India's situation
today would have been radically different.
Patriot who embodies strength
When India is facing serious security threats at the borders and within its borders, it desperately needs a leader who can take strong decisions and put narrow political interests aside. It needs somebody who has a firm and realistic view of what is happening on the ground, which can provide a powerful political backing to its defence forces, which can inspire the spirit within the masses. Modi seems to perfectly fit the bill in this regard.
Need of the hour
He has been most articulate on a range of issues including national security, foreign policy, reducing the size of government, promoting enterprise and empowerment, necessity of electoral reforms, changing India's archaic labor and business laws, etc. What sets him apart completely from the others is that he provides two things which we desperately need today - vision and hope.
Narendra Modi's rise is the story of an underprivileged boy from a village in Gujarat rising in the hearts and minds of people by sheer hard work and determination. It is absolutely reprehensible on the part of Congress and their cabal of cultivated journalists to ridicule his background by calling him names like chaiwalla, tea stall worker, etc. It is a matter of great pride and inspiration that somebody with even such humble beginnings rose up as a source of inspiration for millions of aspiring and restless youth of the country. Their comical yuvraaj is still roaming the villages of India with a camera crew ostensibly trying to understand India. At the age of 43, he is still struggling to figure out what India's problems actually are!!
Modi has been a victim of the biggest witch hunt by political opposition, biased media, NGOs with vested interests, and so called pseudo-intellectuals. Anyone would have broken down and given up in the face of such a vicious, personalized and sustained campaign. Modi has been able to come out of it much stronger and determined purely on the strength of his character and convictions.
The arc of politics is now bending, and Indians are now looking at him as an answer to towering challenges the country is facing. Numerous nationwide surveys done by independent agencies all have one conclusion in common - that Narendra Modi is far ahead in terms of popularity and groundswell of support across the country, and any of his competitors come only a distant second.
The now inevitable ascendance of Modi on the national centre stage is not merely the ascendance of an individual. To quote Victor Hugo, for India, Modi is an idea whose time has come. And when he comes, he will truly be a merchant of death - merchant of death to terrorism, merchant of death to vote banks and nepotism, merchant of death to political and bureaucratic inefficiency, merchant of death to darkness and despair!!
[The author is an MBA from IIT Powai. He has an experience of five years in research and analysis in BFSI sector. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]