21 March 2009

Narendra Modi

Swapan Dasgupta on Narendra Modi (in November 2007):

The real tragedy of Modi is that his audacious bid to reshape the rules of governance and politics has been overshadowed on the national stage by an obsessive preoccupation with Hindu-Muslim issues.

Modi has presided over a period of double-digit economic growth in Gujarat. It has won him the lavish appreciation of industry and made Gujarat the most favoured destination of private investment. Yet, what has been insufficiently highlighted is that the success of Gujarat owes a great deal to Modi's success in demolishing many of the ideological obstacles to market-oriented economics. Some of his more notable successes include: statutory curbs on government fiscal profligacy; curbing wasteful expenditure through a 9 per cent cut in non-plan expenditure over five years; carrying out radical reforms in the power sector that has led to profits for the 'unbundled' power companies and ensured generous power supply to rural Gujarat; and, most important, amending the draconian Industrial Disputes Act to make labour laws in the special economic zones receptive to market conditions.

Modi has been one of India's foremost modernisers. He has transformed Gujarat into an entrepreneur-friendly state and given India a foretaste of the potential benefits that can accrue from a government committed to economic freedom. His critics are right: Modi is India's only genuine right-winger.

Ironically, Modi's difficulties have arisen from this unwavering commitment to efficiency as a principle of governance: "Minimum government and maximum governance". The political culture of India, cutting across parties, is rooted in patronage and self-gratification. In defying these pressures – an important example is resisting political interference in Gujarat's hugely successful public sector units – the chief minister has been portrayed as arrogant and insensitive to political compulsions.

Modi is an inept pragmatist. He could easily have bought peace for himself by making expedient compromises, as politicians are expected to do. In being fanatically uncompromising and, at the same time, maintaining the highest standards of personal integrity, he has shown the possibilities of an alternative approach to politics.

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