Elections 2014: The Road Ahead

By Sunil Kumar

As I made my way to the 100-year old Taj Mahal Hotel a few days back; the pathos and the grand design of life meandered into my consciousness once more. Actually I did not save what was written in this post a few minutes back; so am reconstructing it once again. That’s it threadbare, mates!

 

Standing next to the Gateway of India(sadly in shambles like other heritage structures in India); the brick and mortar edifice of this hotel has witnessed a century of twists and turns; the story of this country’s life; now amplified a billion times over in what will be the world’s most populous nation. A 100 years back; The Prince Regent(of England ofcourse) on his way to the Delhi Durbar(not the restaurant); but the annual pageant in which the Nawabs and Maharajahs of yore appeared in a yearly fancy-dress party. We still have the descendants of these people making merry in the country; in different garbs; brandishing a newer version of hoodwinking crony cosmopolitanism.

 

On the day in question; a strange mix of the mundane and the sublimely important. An insightful and speculative discussion on the road ahead post the election verdict. The lobby of the hotel has been refurbished post the events of 26/11; but still retains an old-world charm.

 

With restaurants such as the Shamiana as well as The Harbour Bar(built 1933) which has been a legendary waterhole; nurturing poets such as Nissim Ezekiel(who I met in the previous century). As I walk by with a fleeting glance at the newly ornate decorations and the photo gallery(with Ratan Tata, Aditya Birla; American Presidents; British Princes and other notables); the staircase seemed strangely old-world; lurching towards a mix and promising an evening that was as strange as the country itself.

 

Cut to the panel discussion. Hosted by Latha Venkatesh and a giggling Bhan; the talk ranged from extreme insightfulness to downright speculation. If all our collective verbosity and the intelligence on display could lead to something tangible on the ground; then all this brazen egocentric effrontery would amount to something. The collective destiny of a nation cannot change with the intervention of the intelligentsia; but it could definitely be guided; albeit in a measured fashion.

 

The people in question please forgive me; I cannot remember all your names, so let’s shorten it down to the few imprints on my consciousness. The SBI chief Bhattacharya; Madhusudan Kela from Reliance Capital; somebody from JP Morgan etc etc. Giving a banking analogy; Bhattacharya mentioned that the time when over-leveraging of banks(accumulation of excessive debt) would end; given a positive change in the business environment. Kela made a pertinent point when he mentioned that the India model needed to be sold to the international investment community with as much fervor and passion; as the Gujarat model was pitched to internal stakeholders(the people of this country).

 

The panelists mentioned their expectations in terms of speedy project execution and big bold reforms as some of their key expectations from the new government. Contracts need to be honoured; and crony capitalism needs to be checked. Having heard such statements many times before; I was wondering about the idiosyncratic nature of real life; and how and when this would translate into reality. One of the numerous talking points in our erudite Anglo-Saxon fawning Anglicized media is a comparison between the actor-President Ronald Reagan and Shri Narendra Modi. There is a world of difference in the two; the details of which are quite evident.

 

However; back to the point which Latha Venkatesh mentioned; about the economics of the early Reagan years; the Dow Jones tanking in the beginning and early uncertainty. Sworn in at 69 in 1981; Reagan’s economics were marked by tax cuts and a free-market fiscal policy. Although some observers believe that the preceding President Jimmy Carter’s policies had led to a slump in the States; and Reagan turned the whole thing around in two years; the jury’s still out on whether the U.S economy actually benefited; and whether the accumulation of federal debt was good for their economy even after all these years.

 

Narendra Bhai inherits a mismanaged economy with a large fiscal deficit. Even a minor change in the GDP lifts millions out of grinding misery. His experience in Gujarat suggests that he has managed to turn around the state’s assets and economy into positive territory. In an increasingly integrated global financial setup; minor tremors in other places affect distant locations more than ever before. The panelists also expected the pruning of subsidies; and restriction of fiscal profligacy; the kind exhibited by the outgoing government. The incoming dispensation’s intent to move in the right direction would be picked up by the markets; boosting other financial indicators and more international confidence.

 

Also; the boosting of agricultural productivity in Gujarat by the building of rural infrastructure was a phenomenon that had to be replicated elsewhere. Empirical evidence has proved that on basic macroeconomic indicators; there was indeed a substantial change in the state. Amartya Sen’s relevant points on social indicators notwithstanding; there was a marked difference compared to the other constituents of the national union.

 

On an all-India level; the instilling of confidence; tax law correction; speedy arbitration and more indigenization in core sectors such as oil exploration and defence are some other notable points. Shri Modi has promised a lot in his numerous election rallies; including the building of infrastructure, educational facilities in every town and city. The GIFT plan in Gandhinagar implemented nationwide could help in shifting the balance from a single metropolis as is currently the case. As of now; I’ve read that since 2007; and proved by my last visit to the place; there have been only two buildings constructed. A frequent visitor to China and Japan; Modi could look at the multiple centers of commerce that the Chinese have built; and the considerable investement in infrastructure.

 

The pompous round of questions post the panel discussion amused me no end. Captains of Industry in this country love to hear themselves speak; and the questions ranged from intelligent to inane. The government has to create a paradigm shift; in more ways than one. The litany of demands at the Prime Minister’s doorstep will grow every month; with the decisive mandate at his disposal. The people of India await what the new dispensation dishes out; leading the country into an upward trajectory. As Modi mentioned; the verdict was one of optimism and hope. Acche Din aane chahiye!

 

 

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