New Delhi: With the exception of Narendra Modi and such short-term prime ministers as H. D. Deve Gowda, I. K. Gujral and V. P. Singh, Indian heads of government generally have displayed vision and creativity. Because of them, India has come this far. The most visionary and creative of all the prime ministers was certainly Jawaharlal Nehru, who has left lasting impact on society, politics and the economy. Nehru is derided as a socialist by the pseudo-Right, but he took the route of state-backed industrialization because private capital was negligible at independence. He saved India from the clutches of peripheral capitalism. India’s industrial base owes entirely to his vision. On the other hand, Indira Gandhi was geopolitically astute, playing one superpower against the other at the height of the Cold War to separate Bangladesh from Pakistan. P. V. Narasimha Rao saved India from disintegration in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War; and with Manmohan Singh, he set the foundations of economic reforms and empowered India’s entrepreneurial spirit. A. B. Vajpayee carried forward Narasimha Rao’s work of consolidating India; consummated Nehru and Mrs Gandhi’s atomic visions by declaring India a nuclear power state; and made credible progress in stabilizing relations with China and Pakistan. Manmohan Singh, as prime minister, would be hailed for the Indo-US nuclear deal which opened the doors for uranium imports and for pioneering several reform measures, including GST, which Modi flaunts as his own.

The trouble with Modi is that he is quite out of his depth in the prime minister’s office. If he has proved so egregiously bad at the Centre, it is time to go over the several terms he was Gujarat’s chief minister with a fine toothcomb. India is a continental-sized power, a multi-lingual, multicultural and plural democracy with enormous promise. To lead it to new heights is ever so more complex and challenging, and it is beyond one man or woman to do it, however exceptional, and Modi is scarcely that. After Nehru’s Non-Alignment, the second-most seminal policy programme was the Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh reforms, and it is building on those that will make India’s future bright and secure.

Reforms to make India an economic powerhouse must number among the first priorities of any post-Narendra Modi government. Liberal market capitalism is where India’s future lies, and it definitely does not repose with autarchy and statism, the preferred ideologies of Narendra Modi. India is a poor country and needs the poverty-alleviating counter of surplus which only a market economy can generate. And for India to become a geo-economic power there is no alternative to market capitalism.

Going further, the concentration of geo-economics in geopolitics has never been higher than now. Russia is a military behemoth but it is China that is revered around the world for transforming its economy and capturing the world export market. Militarists demand India’s defence expenditure be tied to growth but this manner of linear accounting is best shunned for the foreseeable future. India is the world’s largest arms importer even as a sizeable section of its population is denied two square meals a day. Could it get more obscene? The Narendra Modi government is in competition for Indian Ocean bases with China at the same time that the Indian Army plaintively informs a committee of Parliament that seventy per cent of its weapons are obsolete and that the appropriations gap widens every year. You would be hard-pressed to reconcile this precarious state of affairs with the jingoism and triumphalism of the Modi government and sections of the military brass that appear to relish the prospect of a two-front war with Pakistan and China. The irresponsibility of this is only mitigated by the horror of suicidal indulgence that this path clearly manifests.

India needs time to put its house in order. It simply cannot pay for militarism and the country, moreover, is neither knowledgeable nor prepared for its consequences. In these troubled times, India needs to advertise its affinity to Non-Alignment, privilege diplomacy over the force of arms, and consider a policy of isolationism for course correction, internal integration, and growth. It is insulting when India sets out to preach to the Maldives about the virtues of democracy only to be tartly reminded about the unhappy situation in Jammu and Kashmir. And isolationism for a time is not so outlandish: It has been the not-so-secret sauce of America’s greatness.

Too much has gone wrong in India in four years of Narendra Modi. India has felt never so imperilled in times of peace prior. The country has to get its act together after Narendra Modi. And there is never going to be enough time.

Concluded....

Also read “Imperilled India -1”, “2” and “3” here, here and here.