New Delhi: To the credit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he is trying to make himself heard more strongly on the two issues that are most dear to him, namely growth and development. At the “leadership summit” organized by the Hindustan Times group, he focussed on these same themes although in tangential ways, and they are no less important for it, and bear repetition.

The Prime Minister stressed the important role of states in development and progress and spoke of the imperative of Centre-state cooperation. “States have the most important role in India’s progress,” he said. “India can move ahead only on the strong shoulders of the states and not from Delhi alone. If we walk together shoulder to shoulder, then results will automatically come.”

Specific to the role of states in the nation’s growth and development, he spoke of the importance of Eastern India. For economic-historical reasons since the Capital moved to Delhi, the collapse of the jute industry, and the terrible effects of Naxalism and decades of Marxist rule, West Bengal has pulled backwards in comparison to the rest of the country. West Bengal’s collapse has had a cascading effect on the rest of the east and also retarded the growth of northeast states. The backwardness of Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and the Seven Sisters is linked to this over and above the particular problems of these states. It is fitting that the Prime Minister made a special mention of Eastern India.

But strong states coupled with a weak Centre are a recipe for disaster. Therefore, the Prime Minister made an organic reference to the necessity and significance of having a single-party majority government at the Centre. “Having a stable government (at the Centre) is a very big thing and this cannot be ignored,” the Prime Minister said. “Fractured mandates always have uncertainty.”

The issues addressed by the Prime Minister at the “leadership summit” may be condensed, if so desired by fractious minds, to the paradox of a single question: Can a multiparty system work towards the united goals of growth and development? Yes, if the focus of attention does not waver from growth and development. The spectacular example of this is Bihar. It witnessed a bitter assembly election campaign. But even before the results were out, all sides pledged themselves to the growth and development of the state.

Indians by nature are entrepreneurial. At the smallest opportunity presented, Indians set up shops. It may be a tea stall, a small fabricating unit, an outlet for winter bedding, and so on. Delhi has a large number of villages. Many of them locate thriving coaching centres. Urban villages are a beehive of activity. This entrepreneurial reflex should penetrate rural India, which would change the face of the country. The market is a great mover.

It is a step-by-step process, however. To expect change in one month or twelve or even fifteen is to be ignorant of the slowness of systems to reform. Take the issue of reservations for Scheduled Castes, Tribes, and OBCs. The Patels’ agitation in Gujarat to be included played a role in the ruling BJP’s setback in the local polls of the state. But the issue of reservations cannot be resolved unless linked to growth and development, which are intrinsically slow processes.

Their overall forwardness rules out quota benefits to Patels. The Patel agitation is actually for rolling back reservations. But that time still lies in the future. When the factors obligating reservations are surely addressed, and quota castes become entrepreneurial, empowered, and gain pride, they would strike out on their own, without crutches. That can’t happen tomorrow. But it will eventually. The catalysts are growth and development. When more and more Dalits, tribes and OBCs realize entrepreneurial power and fulfilment, they will shun reservations. The Yadavs, this writer has noticed, show a marked proficiency for Mathematics, which takes them to IITs. When castes realize their own strengths, they will not need reservations.

The key then are growth and development, which the Prime Minister underscores as often as he can. Growth and development unite. Most other issues divide. Competitive politics must not make political leaders lose sight of this. They will have to answer to future generations.

Editor’s Note: The flooding of Madras is similar to the yearly flooding of Bombay during rains due to the blocking of natural drainage to the sea by ill-considered real-estate development. The Supreme Court must take suo moto charge of rescuing these two metros from future natural disasters and order extreme measures, including demolition of obstructive constructions, whatever their scale. A hard line will spread terror to the politician-builder mafia in these and other cities.