Thursday, November 27, 2014

Nehru’s Last Stand?

NEW DELHI – The victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its leader, Narendra Modi, in India’s general election last month has raised a crucial question about the country’s future. With the BJP sweeping to power on a platform of aggressive nationalism and business-friendly corporatism, has the socioeconomic consensus dating to India’s first prime minister, the democratic socialist Jawaharlal Nehru, come to an end?

The “Nehruvian consensus” facilitated India’s democratic maturation and accommodated the country’s many diverse interests, without permitting any one group or section to dominate the nascent nation-state. It is fashionable today to decry Nehruvian socialism as a corrupt and inefficient system that condemned India to many years of slow economic growth. But at its core was the conviction that in a land of extreme poverty and inequality, the objective of government policy must be to improve the welfare of the poorest, most deprived, and most marginalized.

In Nehru’s day, the best way to accomplish that was by building up structures of public ownership and state control of resources, as well as by boosting economic capacity through government intervention. Of course, Nehru’s economic vision had its flaws, giving rise, for example, to the so-called “license-permit-quota Raj,” under which government control stifled entrepreneurial activity, which in turn held growth rates below those of India’s Southeast Asian neighbors.

India slowly repealed many of these burdensome regulations in the 1980s, when Nehru’s grandson, Rajiv Gandhi, was in power. Then, following reforms initiated by his successors atop the Indian National Congress, Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, India entered a confident new era of flourishing growth and socioeconomic dynamism.

So what went wrong? Many attribute the astonishing scale of the BJP’s victory to Modi’s success in tapping into the restless (and rightful) aspirations of India’s youth after two years of a slowing economy. This is where critics deem the Congress party to have failed, focusing as it did on the needs of India’s poorest.

Congress can justifiably argue that it helped build on the economic structures of Nehru’s day while liberating them from excessive restrictions. But it remains committed to an inclusive idea of development, based on social justice and greater opportunity for India’s deprived and marginalized – an idea that is not always easily marketable to a youthful electorate that wants change here and now.

Admittedly, Congress could have better communicated its values and objectives to voters; but the BJP’s historic victory mainly reflected widespread anti-incumbent sentiment after ten years of Congress rule, aided by Modi’s ability to convince Indians that he is the messiah of change.

Those who claim that the Nehruvian consensus has unraveled allege that Congress failed to read the country’s mood – that Indians want economic growth, not social legislation. But, leaving aside the last two years, India witnessed record-high growth rates while Congress was in power. Our objective – supported by eminent economists, lawyers, and social activists with tremendous first-hand experience – was to distribute the fruits of this growth more equitably. And, though the election results might suggest otherwise, most Indians’ lives and living standards have improved in the last ten years.

This was not because of “doles,” as critics call them, but because of more generous and effective government. In fact, it is precisely the social investment carried out by Congress governments that put more children in school and more people to work, while ensuring that their basic needs were met. The alleged handouts empowered those with the least to stand on their own feet and seek to improve their lives. More people could demand more from their government, which is their right, generating a wave of aspiration that the BJP caught and rode into office.

Some predict that Congress will move further to the left economically in order to distinguish itself from the BJP, and argue that this would be counterproductive, given that voters have seemingly rejected socialist policies. But, in a country where most people in every electoral constituency live on less than $2 a day, writing off “pro-poor” policies would be unwise. Congress leaders should continue to point out that it is their policies that have enabled most Indians to reach a point at which they are better informed and more empowered to make new and different demands of their government.

The Nehruvian emphasis on socially inclusive growth is not simple “leftism”; the Congress party supports growth and led the liberalization that made growth possible. But we wish to see the benefits of that growth reach the weakest and poorest sections of Indian society. In the long run, I am certain that the Nehruvians will be rewarded for not pursuing an economic-growth model that favors a select few at the expense of everyone else.

India must shine, but it must shine for all of its citizens. Unless Modi can deliver inclusive growth, his triumph will prove short-lived and the Nehruvians will return.

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    1. CommentedRamaswamy gowrishankar

      Dear Mr.Tharoor,
      Like every believer you also rest on the belief that Modi would fail and the Nehruvian would triumph again. If it happens than it would be the saddest hour for this nation left in a state of disappointment for long period by the corrupt and spineless Nehruvian Party that is congress. Nehruvian policy not resulted in external failure like losing out Pakistan on Kashmir but also in losing out the advantage in the 1971 war. Economically Congress is the prime promoter of corruption in a big way under the rule of Indira Gandhi. So sorry for you till the Nhruvian thought does not see the light of the day again

    2. CommentedSubhash Garg

      This article misses the boat. What Mr. Nehru did not do was much more damaging than what he did. He did nothing to change the British ruling structure and apparatus which was set up to favor the imperialists, thereby failing to send the nation a crucial message. HE also failed to harness and channel the immense idealism that powered the freedom struggle - again failing to send a crucial message. He did not consult Indian business on developing economic strategy, and he neglected agriculture, defense and strategic communication with India's neighbors.

    3. CommentedSam Sharma

      Mr Tharoor

      It is true that Modi will face rejection if he cannot deliver on his promises.

      It is also true that India will choose someone who they believe will deliver them their needs - social justice, growth , no poverty and above all dignity.

      Dark horse ? Aam Aadmi Party.

      Quite certainly not - the Congress Nehruvians !

    4. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

      Mr. Shashi Tharoor accuses the incumbent ruling party, the BJP of disregarding the "Nehruvian Consensus", which derived from the essence of India's constitution.
      After the partition, India was formed in 1947. It intended to distinguish itself from the Muslim Pakistan, by adopting secularism and pluralism as its governing platform. The founding fathers were resolved to build a modern, democratic India that would not be engulfed by competing — religious, ethnic, caste or linguistic — identities.
      In 1951 the Congress Party won first general elections under leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru - Gandhi's disciple. His goal was to strengthen the institutions - an elected parliament, a responsible executive and an independent judiciary. Nehru dreamed of a socialist society. He later created a vast public infrastructure and implemented moderate economic reforms. Much of them became a burden on the state.
      The Congress Party had dominated India's politics ever since. Much of its progress was closely tied to its preservation of diversity and cultural heterogeneity. Yet red tape and rampant corruption paved the way for the emergence of the BJP. Since it came to power in 1996, there was a growing polarisation of India's civil society - the breakdown of this Nehruvian consensus
      The first term of the BJP rule was to create political space and to restore the Hindu identity, which had for decades lived in the shadow of secularism, India's governing doctrine, enshrined in the constitution. Critics said the concept of India as a nation based on civic rather than ethnic identity had also been undermined by the BJP, as middle-class Hindus felt they had to correct the wrong.
      In May 2009 the return of the Congress to power was a relief for many. Under Singh, India limped back to the consensus tranquillity of the Nehruvian era. Unfortunately the lack of growth and the many scandals in recent years led to "widespread anti-incumbent sentiment after ten years of Congress rule". Modi's landslide victory in May 2014 was impressive. Expectations are high, and he is facing many challenges. No doubt India has many problems, but it is also a daunting task to carry out reforms. His opponents are watching closely and waiting for their chance to unseat him in the next eleciton, if he fails to deliver.

    5. CommentedSrikanth Iyer

      The so called pro-poor policies of the Congress are poorly thought through, lead to huge leakages and are inflationary. Secondly, there is no understanding that poor people suffer most from a callous deliver system and there is no willingness on part of the Congress to address it. Throwing good money into a venal and corrupt system will provoke a backlash once the initial euporia dies out. Thirdly there is a deliberate attempt not to take any proactive steps against corruption. The government reacts only when there is a outcry followed by clumsy efforts to contain the problem. There is a widespread belief that the entire administrative machinery and the political set-up is geared towards milking the system and the party is nothing but one big ponzi scheme. Mr. Tharoor has failed to recognise the disgust and anger at the arrogance and mismanagement. But he is right in one respect. Pro-poor policies are not in the DNA of the BJP. This affords a chance for the Congress to make a comeback flaunting its pro-poor credentials (which it has many such as the RTI).

    6. CommentedKarthik Tadepalli

      I used to respect Mr Tharoor, but this column is revolting. Nehruvian principles, whether they were justified or not, were NOT carried out well by his successors. The dynasty turned socialist ideals into a political tool to gain votes and then they watched as the economy stagnated. "Modi has said he will bring roads, well I want to tell Modi that people can't eat roads." You're absolutely right it was a lack of communication. But that's an extremely kind word. It was a total disconnect between the leaders and the people. It was a government that didn't know what its people wanted and suffered for it.

    7. CommentedJagan Rampal

      Mr Tharoor is one of the few in Congress party, who can rise above the party line and see things for what they really are. So It is surprising to see that even he is given to bouts of blinkered vision. The Nehru pro-poor legacy, at best, has been found to be a mixed bag. About his inheritors' capability to carry the mantle, the lesser said the better. To keep flogging the panacea of Nehru's thoughts and dynastic pipe to carry it to masses, well what can one say. Sixty five years of inefficiency and failure also does not deter the Congress party to claim exclusivity of India's intellectual excellence and carry on the same path.
      It was not lack of communication Mr Tharoor, it was failure of Nehruvian principles and performance of the dynastic leadership & their ardent followers.
      It perhaps would have been a better bet to look forward and talk of 2025 rather than 1947 (and before I forget the most preferred year, 2002), but then if you are your great grandfather's (not so) great grandson only (without any other claim to fame), looking forward can be scary.
      Time to change over to the issues of today and tomorrow. Let the fake socialism (a pseudonym for perpetuating family rule, cronyism and corruption) rest and let us get on with equitable growth.

    8. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

      I waited patiently to see whether Mr. Tharoor offers self-criticism without condemnation, on the contrary I found there are passages deeply entrenched in self- affirmation with a great deal of exaltation; the lamentation for the poor served neither the cause for a means to an end, nor an end to any means, hordes of people who escaped poverty and deprivation in India did so because the Government stayed away and allowed Industry to do business, for a brief period.
      Those times are returning now under Modi, surely.

    9. CommentedNishant Tharkar

      Mr. Tharoors analysis and caution is both enlightening and conscient.....specially amidst enviorment of over-interpretation of mandate in the recent election......Nehruvian consensus should be given due credit....for it avoided opting for easily available path fertile to be despotic ....the very stability , on the foundation of which we are questioning nehruvian consensus is legacy of that inclusiveness...u like it or not

    10. Commentedgopal s

      Rather than clinging to the past perceived glory, India will do well to learn from China, which is more Capitalist in many ways than a Communist country. Socialism doesn't suit India, that is apparent from last 65 years of that experiment. How much more time do we wish to waste while the world races past us. First it was China then it will be Indonesia, Malaysia etc. Nehru experiment has been nothing but a disaster for the following reasons:
      1) Non-aligned movement: In a unipolar world that is impractical. Also, how can you take the higher moral ground without the backup of a good economy?
      2) Panchsheel i.e. five principals of peaceful existence with China: We all know how naive this policy was when the Chinese attacked us in 1962 and humiliated India. Nehru and his supportes need to take direct responsibility of this fiasco.
      3) State controlled business entities: Air India, Coal India are prime example of nepotism, corruption that Nehru's policy have given India. This is an unholy legacy bequeathed by Nehru. It will take decades to deal with this systemic issue.
      4) Dynastic rule: Nehru's centralized power resulted in dynastic rule that have hurt India as can been seen during last ten years when institutions like Prime Minister were undermined by Nehru dynasty.
      5) Anti-National policies: Nehru's legacy of dynastic rule has left India in ruins with regards to National interest. China has run circles around India and Nehru's children have done little beyond enjoying life on Indian people's tax money
      6) Corruption: The author frames that issue, unfortunately, as a fashion. This shows the mindset of Nehru supporters who don't acknowledge this disease even as an issue at all. For them it is natural to support corrupt people just because they subscribe to Nehru's ideology.
      7) Cultural imperialism: It is ironic that Nehru's chidlren most of them who consider local culture alien to their Christian faith continue to run this ancient and once proud civilization as their dynastic estate.
      8) Tax terrorism: India needs economic growth anti-national policies for personal vendettas by Nehru dynasty has undermined the national economy.

      These are some major outcomes of Nehru's socialism. Any self respecting Indian would choose to reject such antiquated, anti-national, corrupt ideology in favor of forward looking, growth oriented momentum India really needs.

    11. CommentedM Patel

      India's Nehruvian Socialist establishment, whom global media blindly adores, is similar to Cuba's Castro Socialist establishment. At independence, India had every ingredient, like Asia's 2nd oldest stock exchange, Well Capitalized Banks, Insurance Co, Industrial Base etc, to become prosperous but Nehruvian Socialist confiscated, nationalized, and choked it all with red-tape.

    12. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      The article raises some very important points which are relevant not only for India but the whole global world.

      I think first of all it is important to separate any discussion, argument from "personal legacies", ideologies, philosophies and look at the state of nations, the whole world from a systemic point of view.

      The greatest failure of any "solution" regarding the deepening global crisis today is the lack of this systemic vision, trying to solve problems separately, on a local scale, micro-managing them.

      It is becoming clearer each day, supported both by science and by the daily events of the crisis that we live in a globally interconnected and inter-dependent world.

      It is also becoming clear that the still stubbornly pursued "constant quantitative growth" economical paradigm, and its supporting, protecting governing structure is unsustainable, moreover has become self-destructive in a finely balanced, closed and finite natural system.

      Thus if India tries to build its future on quantitative growth, "unleashing its youthful potential" they will very soon enter the same dead end, social and economical problems, tensions the western world and also China already encountered and cannot solve.

      In a global integral world the only way forward is building on "qualitative growth" that is increasing the quantity and quality of interconnections in between individuals, regions, nations.

      Moreover these interconnections have to be based on a new type of "software", on mutually complementing cooperation instead of the ruthless, exploitative competition used today.

      These are not political programs, or some pleasant, moral philosophies.
      We live in global and integral evolutionary conditions and as we are part of the system all we can do is to adapt.

        CommentedEdward Ponderer

        In a globalizing world, most of the independent variables of economy are international. Without true, balanced global consensus on action, those N international independent variables represent, at best, a statistical N-dimensional "drunkard's walk" away from where any country wants to head.

        The whole world must get its act together, or no country will. This means integral education, mutual responsibility, and just plain sitting down in round tables and hacking this out--really listening and seeking mutual balance.

    13. Commentedhari naidu

      Tharoor is day dreaming about Nehru and his (Soviet) Gosplan which he imported and implemented on independence (1947) to industrialize the subcontinent with a Planning Commission at its apex. It failed….The Import Raj was also a dismal failure. In 1991, Dr. Singh finally put an end to it, as Minister of Finance.

      BJP and Modi, in particular, won the general election with absolute majority because the electorate decided enough is enough of Congress led UPA corruption and economic stagnation under Dr. Singh. The verdict was overwhelming and even China cheered!

      First, Modi is going to focus on eradicating poverty and illiteracy during next ten years. Economic development and growth will allow Modi to focus on building India from bottom up. Ideological policy constraints aside, in age of (WTO) globalization, the subcontinent can grow rapidly based on an aggregate growth @ 10% including FDI in infrastructure and energy development. In 1970’s, Deng Xiaoping (PRC) revolutionized mainland China with his concept of *socialist market economy*. China is politically ready to come to Modi’s aid to set the stage for India’s social revolution.

      Second, Planning Commission will finally be relegated to Nehru’s dustbin of history. Federal bureaucracy will be reformed to allow rapid growth and economic development at individual state level. Decentralization of macro policy framework – to States – will ultimately unleash the private sector. Only a politically focused macro economic growth strategy will allow per capita development and modernization of a backward agro-economy strangulated by central planning. Health and sanitation is a paramount need across the urban/rural divide today.

      Third, Modi’s lower caste origin will allow him to do what Dr. Singh couldn’t implement under UPA. There will be no compromise – under Modi - with the devil of Indian caste system. Casteism may be eventually relegated to dustbin of history (also) by fundamental economic development and education of a disproportionately massive rural population. After 15 years of running Gujarat State, Modi knows the pitfalls of standing still and not attacking the modern ills of Indian economy and society.

      Finally, Nehru made a fool of himself by using outdated (UK) maps of Himalayan borders, specially in southern Tibet, against PRC. 1962 Sino-Indian War Report must be released by Modi and put Nehru’s legacy to rest.