Sunday, February 10, 2013

There's something about Modi..

Lately, whether I am reading the news or scanning Facebook, I get the impression that in 2014, we’re going to have Narendra Modi as the prime minister of India. It is just a small matter of having the elections over and done with. The shouting over the rooftops, the writing on the wall, the entire point of the discussion is that it is a mere formality, just the coronation is pending. All this dilly-dallying, nonsensical, rudderless style of governance will end, and will be replaced by a strong, patriotic leader who will bring India back to the days of 9% GDP growth till our kids have kids of their own. (After that, who really cares man, after all the whole point of life is to play with grandchildren!!!)

But given that this is being billed by everyone and their nanaji, that this is a straight fight between Mr. Modi and Mr. Rahul Gandhi, and given that I have already sent out an open letter to Mr. Gandhi on this blog (which you can read at leisure here) on what he would have to do to get my vote in 2014 (or whenever), I think it is incumbent on me to give a similar bhashan to Mr. Modi.

Mr. Modi, 
Please surprise me.
Chirag Panjikar.

Dang!!! That was so easy, I could even have tweeted it!!!

I have been accused of a Congress supporter in the past, but it’s truly not the case. I really don’t see the difference between the average Congress politician, and any other average politician. Which is what everyone seems to say anyway, when they utter the standard refrain of “All Politicians are the same!!!?”, and I do have extremely, extremely, extremely low expectations of the standard politician. 

But what I am hearing from Mr. Modi seems to be different, so I am interested & intrigued by this new language. I must admit I didn’t read or see the speech he gave at the Sri Ram College in Delhi, but whatever I read, seemed to be a fair representation of what I think is needed in this country.

Yes, the youth of this country is the future, and is where we can differentiate ourselves from the rest of the world. Yes, government has not business to be in business (among other things. I mean c’mon, why should there be a ministry of sports & youth affairs, or a ministry for animal husbandry). Yes, there should be no vote bank politics. And all that jazz.

All in all, it’s very difficult for me to decipher whether or not he’s going to be the one. But for what it’s worth, the guy doesn’t pass my “smell” test. I wish I could elaborate, and not be able to restrict myself to abstract smell tests to gauge the character of a person. There’s something about this entire narrative that leaves me as yet unconvinced that his policies are the best thing for India. But I’m still not convinced that he’s the guy to do this for us.

Here’s why:

Most of the people I see supporting or denouncing Mr. Modi seem to make emotional cases for their opinion, and very little data to convince me this way or that. Based on the material available on the internet, there’s really no conclusive evidence this way or that whether he’s the next prophet.

I read a report that Gujarat is the best state in India to do business, but I also read that off the 1000-odd MOUs of starting a business, the state has only about 50 or so projects which have taken off.

I read somewhere that Gujarat is at  9% annual GDP growth, but then so is Maharashtra and that too with a much higher base, and from personal experience I can vouch that the government of Maharashtra is ridiculously incompetent.

My Facebook wall tells me that he will take a bullet on his 56” chest before anything wrong happens in India, but then it also tells me that if I type 71 and “like”, then some kid in that photo will start dancing.

I don’t know whether it is the fact that while Gujarat has the largest amount of MOUs signed for investment every year, for some reason it has an extremely meager amount of businesses actually fructify. I keep hearing that business heads are saying we need a leader like him, but other than Mr. Tata*, no one has invested much in that state (anew. Reliance and Adani have been there since before. GM is there, but from what I recall, it has been there for a while, before this hype started). I don’t know much about the budget of the state, but surely given his popularity with the net savvy public, if the state had a budget surplus then we would have heard about it over and over and over again. (A simple search will lead to an RBI document (see here) which will suggest that the debt to GDP ratio of Gujarat is above average, and has the third highest interest-revenue expenditure ratio) Neither does it seem to have taxes any lower than the average state in India. Almost none of the people who are shouting over the rooftops to have him installed as the leader are from Gujarat, nor do they seem to have any intention of moving there.

So on what exact basis people are clamoring for him, is beyond me. However, there are some things that do trouble me, and these have nothing to do with any nonsensical labeling of “communal” politics. The Congress is, if anything, much more communal than the BJP, and is also spectacularly and shamelessly cynical about it.
What troubles me, is that anytime someone tries to write anything remotely negative him about him, you get a slew of trolls after you like zombies**. What troubles me is that any voice of dissent in his own state has been crushed ruthlessly like a dictator would do to a prospective coup. What troubles me, is that most of this seems to be the handiwork of a PR agency called APCO, which has been contracted to promote Mr. Modi (not the state of Gujarat). What troubles me is that any time I check anything remotely related to Gujarat, I see his face and nothing and no one else. What troubles me, is that other than Mr. Modi, the only other ministers from his cabinet that I hear of, are when they are convicted of carnage. What troubles me is that the justification of having said ministers in the cabinet, is the example of Kamal Nath, which really is not a factor of differentiation from the other team, when your main point is that you're different from the other team...

But then, surely so many Gujaratis cannot go wrong. Surely so many of my friends cannot be wrong (I mean, scientifically comparing a sample size of one (me) to a sample of a few millions, you know which one is more reliable, right?) Surely, they’ve seen something in the man that has them convinced that he is the one to lead us to the path of salvation, and is not really the BJP’s answer to Indira Gandhi’s despotism. Surely, when he comes to power all of India’s ills will get solved, even though the last time the BJP was in power, we had a year of about 4% GDP growth, terrorists attacked the Indian parliament, and the Indian intelligence setup failed so miserably that the Pakistani army actually crossed the border leading to the Kargil war. Surely, he is a patriot of unquestionable integrity, who just happens to be in politics, an area where anyone associated is immediately considered as ruthless, self-centered and corrupt. 

Which is why, all I can say is,

Mr. Modi, please surprise me!!!! 

*- Full disclosure: The company I work for has invested in a mid-size manufacturing plant in Gujarat and also has a Public-Private-Partnership with the Government of Gujarat. The post on this blog is in my personal capacity as a citizen of India, and has no bearing on any professional commitments. In any case, the main point of this post if you haven't figured out yet, is that the Chief Minister is no different from the average Indian Chief Minister in terms of performance, but certainly seems to be much better in making an emotional connect with the average Indian voter. 

**- I must admit, the 3 posts I have written till now about him, have been among the higher viewed on the net, including visitors from Russia, Brazil and Sweden, so there is an ulterior motive here. 
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