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Why India needs to talk about Moditva

by Siddharth Mazumdar
Monday , January 20, 2014 at 10 : 13

In what is described as his first ever 'solution-centric' political speech, Mr Narendra Modi used the last day of BJP's National Executive to lay down his vision for India. Mr Modi's pointed and rhetoric filled political speeches the 'shezada' kinds' may have attracted its fair share of criticism but his latest speech is unprecedented in several ways. Perhaps, for the first time in independent India, any political leader contending for the top job - has gone to such details to articulate a vision for India. Mr Modi's ideas are not only game changing in content but also their impact on the election eve public discourse.

'Game changing ideas?'

Mr Modi's vision also marks a paradigm shift in the evolution of India's public policy. It could for the first time create a genuine right and left divide in India's polity. For most of independent India, the concept of entitlement has held immense virtue. It is a concept that took shape in the Indira Gandhi years where the state took the role of a benevolent master and thrived by distributing freebies to its citizens. In the Manmohan Singh era, these freebies were legitimised through a series of act based legislation.

Mr Modi's idea makes a frontal attack on such a Chavista style of development, which is primarily state led and driven. Through devolution of power through cooperative federalism and increasing the role of citizens in public delivery, Mr Modi pitches for increasing governance by reducing government. Interestingly, Moditva lies somewhere between Aam Aadmi Party's extreme form of participative democracy and the Congress party's high degree of centralisation.

While Mr Modi's idea on increasing manufacturing and improving skill development might not be entirely revolutionary, it is his views on agriculture, which could be the real game changer. Contrary to popular perception, it is not a decline in manufacturing but a stagnation of agriculture which has posed a serious challenge for India. While agriculture continues to engage over half the work force in unproductive employment, it has also been a big contributor to inflation.

Trying to shift hundreds of millions of workers straight away into manufacturing is akin to selling horses. This change took more than a decade in authoritarian China alone and so one could imagine even if India has the most efficient government it shall not be able to reduce agriculture's share in employment overnight. It is here that Mr Modi's rather radical idea is worthy of consideration.

Of his many proposals to revamp agriculture, the two that stand out are the setting up of a real-time trade data and the soil health card plan. If implemented to perfection, it can have a profound impact the way India farms. Once done, farmers would know in advance the best crop that suit their soil conditions and even current market environment. Poor and uninformed choices are often the twin bane of farming. If farmers realise that the best crop for them is not necessarily the one which their neighbour produces, it would eventually lead to better price discovery for both the produce and consumers, thereby, tackling inflation as well as poverty.

Also Mr Modi's vision of an integrated infrastructure grid and a twin model of urbanisation is another maverick idea with far reaching consequences. India has several infrastructure ministries energy, railways, waterways, surface transport and civil aviation and most infrastructure related projects are either frozen for environmental clearances or at co-ordination meetings of Groups of Minsters (GoM).

The idea to bring these disparate departments of government and allow seamless transfer of goods, energy and people across waterways, air, rail and road has the potential to improve productivity by leaps and bounds. Given India's choked cities, Modi's 'twin city' and 'smart city' are perhaps the only quick remedy solutions available in a country that does not have swathes of land like Russia and China. If India manages to build a parallel city to every existing major city then putting half its population in cities appear doable.

'Transforming election debates'

While Mr Modi's grandiose ideas for India remain to be tested, his very articulation has the potential to at least have an incremental effect on India's current election discourse. As a democracy its imperative we discuss ideas and not individuals. Abstract statements of intent such as 'poverty free India' rather than comprehensive ideas is what usually top political leaders have used to offer us their idea of a better India. Till date, most of these political pronouncements have been so vague and universal that even the right and the left would not dispute its utility. Consequently, India's electoral agenda and discourse rarely discusses or debates ideas which people should be actually voting on.

Elections manifest hope, a hope that the principal challengers would offer the nation list of game changing ideas, which are never found in the put-you-to-sleep manifesto, that would stimulate its supporters when announced and transform the nation if implemented. Today, through his speech, Mr Modi has made a decisive attempt to change the electoral discourse from rhetoric to substance.

Poor discourse in elections has a multiplier effect in perpetuating corruption in public life. It's only when a debate moves from generics to specifics that emotive hype and propaganda which can be cultivated through muscle and money power rescind.

Hopefully Mr Modi's ideas are debated, discussed and critiqued. But his idea for presenting an idea must not only be applauded but hopefully even reciprocated by other political parties.

The author of this blog, Siddharth Mazumdar, is the founder member of Citizens for Accountable Governance. He is a policy analyst from Columbia University. The views expressed are his own.



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Siddharth Mazumdar is the founder member of Citizens for Accountable Governance. He is a policy analyst from Columbia University

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