Domestically, Prime Minister (PM) of India Narendra Modis facing certain challenges ranging from the application of the belief in Hinduism to figuring out an India-specific economic growth model. This is the central idea of Rajiv Kumar’s book, “Modi and his challenges,” published by Bloomsbury in 2016. Kumar is one of India’s leading economists. This opinion piece intends to discuss Kumar’s certain ideas expressed in the book.
Kumar reveals that in early life, even when Modi was in primary school, certain personalities inspired Modi. Two of them are worth mentioning. One was Bengali Hindu Monk Swami Vivekananda, the pre-monastic name of whom was Narendra Nath Datta. Vivekananda was born in an affluent non-Brahmin family in Kolkata, and tried to reform the Hindu society (1863-1902). Dr Vasant Bhai Parikh (1929-2007), a politician of Gujarat, introduced Modi to Vivekananda’s writings. The other personality was Lakshmanrao Inamdar known as Vakil Saheb, who was a lawyer and one of the founding fathers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Gujarat. Dominated by Brahmins and upper-caste Hindus, the RSS is a right-wing Hindu nationalist volunteer social organization the political wing of which is the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Inamdar (1917-1984) inducted Modi in the RSS as a child volunteer in Gujarat in 1971and remained his mentor. Nevertheless, the common theme oozed from both Vivekananda and Inamdar and imbibed by Modi was the revival of Hinduism, the slogan that helped Modi grab the highest slot in India. This point brings Modi to the first challenge: whether he wants to revive Hinduism of the medieval age revering the caste system or he wants to revive a selected part of Hinduism respecting the modern way of life.
Kumar believes that Modi follows Vivekananda’s vision of Hinduism more than Inamdar’s, Kumar writes on pages 22 and 23: “Modi had internalized Vivekananda’s three central messages: serving the people is serving the Lord; need for re-awakening and resurrecting the Hindu society (Vivekananda used it as synonym for India) for India to assume a leading position in the global intellectual community (jagatguru Bharat)); importance of executing a task in a time-bound manner... Modi chose 11 September 2010 to start a concerted effort to introduce Swami Vivekananda in the public domain and spread his message across all parts of Gujarat.” Here, a point is clear that Modi’s preference for Vivekananda’s teachings is because these motivate the Hindu society to be competitive globally. Interestingly, Vivekananda’s teachings also promote interfaith harmony, as Vivekananda spoke at the platform of the Parliament of Religions in Chicago on 11 September 1893 calling for the need of religious tolerance. This point offers Modi the second challenge of balancing both aspects of Vivekananda’s teachings, since Modi seems to have the tendency of inciting violence, as was witnessed in 2002 (riots) in the Hindu-Muslim context immediately after Modi became Gujarat’s Chief Minister (2001-2014), and in 2014 (border skirmishes) in the Pak-India context immediately after Modi became India’s PM.
Modi’s Gujarat model of development revolved around three main areas. First, the labour-intensive manufacturing sector, which was developed not only at the cost of the agriculture sector but also at the expense of the capital-intensive manufacturing sector to “emulate and compete with China” (page 48). On page 75, Kumar writes: “Modi’s noteworthy achievement is giving manufacturing even greater momentum, and at the same time, promoting a shift away from capital intensive (hence low employment generating per unit of capital invested) process industries (petroleum refining, petrochemicals and generic drugs) to relatively more employment-intensive sectors like engineering, agro-processing, diamond cutting and polishing, and tourism.” Second, the bureaucracy, which was not only made accountable to people, amenable to the private sector, and free of corruption and nepotism but also made centralized, as Kumar writes on page 80: “[C]omplete centralization [of] all decision making. Governance was concentrated in the chief minister’s office (CMO) with Modi himself holding charge of all major portfolios.” Third, E-governance, which was adopted as a principal feature of good governance, as Kumar writes on page 81: “[A]doption of IT [i.e. information technology] across the government was a principal feature of good governance in Gujarat where E-governance has emerged as the mainstay of government processes and procedures.” These three areas now offer Modi the third challenge, the challenge of replication, at the national level. Owing to this challenge, Kumar thinks that India has been passing through “three simultaneous transitions (economic, political and social) [which] impact each other and make the challenge even bigger and more complex” (page 174).
Of this set of challenges, the challenge of converting India into a labour-intensive manufacturing sector that should necessarily be export oriented is a gigantic one. For instance, the US-India bonhomie is not sprouting from the desire of Americans to import manufactured goods from India (instead of, say, China) but from the desire that India is a big consumer market for American goods. Similarly, the challenge of centralization of power to run both political and bureaucratic systems from Modi’s PM office is also a huge one, especially when seen against the claim that India is world’s largest democracy overseeing world’s most diverse society.
The national level offers the fourth challenge, the youth hump, which is a product of population explosion. Kumar writes on page 172: “An extraordinary young population adds an extra degree of urgency to India’s economic transition...The young population implies that more than 10 million young people will join the workforce every year for the next 10 years and perhaps longer... The Indian economy has to generate ONE million new jobs each month for the foreseeable future.”
From page 179 to 221, Kumar only mentions a strategy to meet the challenge coming from three simultaneous transitions but not for the rest. Nonetheless, Kumar gives a general suggestion on page 174: “Neither the Washington nor the Beijing consensus can be adopted wholesale in India. There will inevitably have to be an Indian model that is derived from the ground realities upwards.” However, Kumar does not comment what Indian model he envisions — the modelin which Hinduism could be selectively revived, Vivekananda’s teachings could be mutually reconciled, the Gujarat model (of industrialization, centralization, and e-governance) could be replicated, and the pace of demographic growth could be checked at the national level.
Whether Modi overwhelms challenges or not is yet to be seen. Nevertheless, Modi’s anti-corruption stance is noteworthy, as Kumar writes on page 127: “ ‘na khaunga aur na khanedunga’ (neither will I accept a bribe nor let others do it), ” the stance that may be Modi’s key to success against all odds.
The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at email@example.com