I have tremendous respect for Tavleen Singh’s espousal of economic reforms and her relentless focus on the leftist drivel that the Congress shoves down our throats in the mistaken attempt to buy votes. However, the notion that we can take politics for granted while we push towards economic reforms by whichever means possible is questionable.  Frustration with the slow pace of reforms has lead some to argue for a dose of “strong leadership” by an authoritarian figure like Shri Modi to push the polity towards reforms that at first take are distinctly unpalatable.  The necessary hike in POL prices to cut subsidies or the need to rationalize agricultural product marketing and distribution to debottleneck the sector through FDI are two typical examples.  However, in a very basic sense such an argument is deeply flawed.



The domain of validity of Economics begins where politics ends.  In other words economics assumes you have already created the political conditions in which all members of the polity in an economy are able participate in its processes with rational objectives. This is so basic to economics that we tend to overlook this fact.  Take Punjab of the 80s or Kashmir of the 90s.  Did it even make sense to talk of economic reforms in those two states when the politics there had been so vitiated?  Society has some buffer against divisive politics.  But whether it was in Assam, Punjab or Kashmir, there is a point beyond which divisive politics fractures society making any kind of economic progress difficult before the fires have been put out and normalcy restored.  A full third of India’s districts are affected by Maoist insurgencies that have stretched our security forces.  Do we need more divisive politics?  Can a polity polarized by such deeply divisive issues like caste and creed actually achieve a consensus around economic reforms?



How can secularism be a sterile issue if its existence is threatened through polarization along a religious fault line?  The fact is secularism is the bedrock of our constitution.  We fought for secularism and had to see the country torn into two over the issue.  What’s is the difference between Pakistan and us in one word?  Yes, secularism.  The concept is deeply embedded in our fundamental rights when it guarantees them to every citizen irrespective of his or her personal faith, religion or whatever.  It doesn’t really matter how you define secularism.  So long as those fundamental rights are enforceable, the secular character of our polity is beyond question. Tavleen Singh’s contention that secularism arose in the context of the Wests struggle with the church doesn’t make secularism irrelevant to us.  How many of the ideas in the constitution including the notion of equality irrespective of caste are indigenous to us?


The fact is secularism is a necessary prerequisite for our existence as a multi-cultural society.  We take peace and normal politics for granted when it is present.  When it is challenged, as is being done by Hindutva forces to mobilize its cadres, the issue becomes central and every thing else, including reforms, recede into insignificance.  Secularism doesn’t guarantee reforms.  But how do you focus on anything else in politics when that very sheet anchor is swept away by raising communal storms?  Championing Hindutva to promote reforms will be utterly self-defeating.



How Modi’s “success” in Gujarat translates into Hindutva per se being conducive to economic reforms remains an unexplained mystery.  On face of it, the notion that an antediluvian movement that seeks to glorify a mythical past by selective embellishment can promote modernity is highly questionable.  How can an illiberal doctrine that is averse to modernity, mired in myth making, and uses medieval rituals to organize people, lead to a society that is open, competitive and merit based?  On the other hand, the example of our neighbor shows, mindless talibanization of a faith leads to total chaos.  Yet we have some intellectuals promoting the notion that the Hindutva forces promote reforms?  The notion is incredible.


The second aspect of the matter merits even deeper study.  Modi has done well in Gujarat.  But has BJP, and by extension Hindutva, done well as well in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka or Chhattisgarh?  Why is Hindutva singled out only in Gujarat?  Furthermore, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Bihar have done better than Gujarat without fudging accounts and in the absence of Hindutva.  What accounts for their good performance vis-à-vis Gujarat?  The fact is Hindutva is largely irrelevant to reforms.  It is being conflated with good governance and economic performance in a determined bid to promote Shri Modis brand of polarization in order to garner votes.  Hindutva has nothing to do with economic reforms.



It is relevant here to scan the social base of the BJP while examining its credentials to promoting further reforms of the sort we need.  In the socialist era, the license permit raj promoted by the Congress adversely affected the trading and merchant classes through a plethora of controls that made them vulnerable to extortion by babudom and politicians.  Think of rationing, trade and credit restrictions to wholesale trade, fair price shops and the like.  This made the trading and merchant classes pro-BJP because it espoused their cause.  Likewise big business was tied down and thwarted by legislation like MRTP etc. that denied them the opportunity to grow.  They too weighed in with the BJP for reforms.  Once the Congress removed those restrictions as part of the reforms package, does the BJP’s core base still want reforms?  The record is very patchy.



Fact is, support to reforms will always be issue based.  The very base that wanted the trade and other restrictions of the license permit raj to go now opposes FDI in retail and reforms in agricultural product marketing and distribution because it hurts its narrow business interests, farmers be damned.  That very support base of the BJP that opposes expansion in subsidies to the poor such as NREGA also opposes removal of subsidies on diesel and petrol.  The very businesses that rail against open ended subsidies and doles oppose removal of fertilizer subsidies that flow into their coffers even though they are meant for farmers.  If you look at the broader picture, reforms 2.0 that we need are necessary to promote more competition among businesses from local and foreign partners and to end subsidies that actually flow to businesses.  Both these type of reforms are anathema to the BJP’s base, which is why reforms have stalled.  Which is not to say the Congress supports these reforms.  There is plenty of reason to believe that internal opposition to reforms 2.0 in the Congress is holding them up.  Be that as it may, the need for reforms is being used to subtly push forward the Hindutva project and not the other way around.  We need to focus on such unwarranted conflation flowing out of Gujarat hype.



There is need to carefully examine why people assume that we need an authoritarian figure like Shri Modi combined with the storm troopers of Hindutva to promote economic reforms.  Tavleen Singh is absolutely on the mark when she asks the leftists in the NDA to show what they are going to do to ease power shortages, lick the education system in shape or repair health care.  It may well be that secularism is a ploy used by the leftists in the NDA to derail BJP’s ambitions.  But that doesn’t mean that either Hindutva or the authoritarianism promote economic reforms and/or growth.  It doesn’t mean politics of polarization is needed to build a momentum for change.  Last but not the least, it doesn’t mean secularism once achieved becomes irrelevant.  We don’t come into the world hardwired for secularism.  Quite the contrary.  Secularism is therefore something you promote as an ideal through education and acculturation.  You cannot hold a large diverse society like India together by regimenting everybody into some ill-defined notion of Hindutva that even its proponents cannot pin down.  The only way forward is through secularism, and if it’s a dead issue within the NDA, it will be very much alive and kicking if BJP were to lurch towards the Modi brand of polarized politics.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. June 28, 2012 at 4:39 am

    The Author Ms Ranade is obsessed with Modi, Hindutva and Secularism. Can the author define the word Secularism – the Indian Constitution does not define it. The word Secular became part of the preamble of the Constitution during the Emergency. Does any constitution in the world define the word Secular. We Hindus welcomed and offer shelter to persecuted Parsis and Jews long before there was any Consitution or Secularism. So humble request to Ms Ranade and her types – stop giving us sermons on Secularism.
    When u talk about Gujarat and post Godra riots please ask the Muslims why they burnt 58 Hindus alive? Would the riots have happened if women n children were not burnt alive. ALSO suppose Hindus had burnt alive 58 Muslims returning from Haj and the Muslims had rioted, killed Hindus, burnt their shops how would the types of Ms Ranade reacted. Perhaps they would justify Muslim violence by arguing that the Hindus brought it upon themselves.
    Coming to economic reforms India is in the mess it is because of Congress inspired policies. 1991 reforms were an abherration for which a non Gandhi family PM Shri Rao can take credit. We have seen what a mess of the country the Congress had made in the last 8 years.
    Look within Mam! Best Wishes

  2. June 29, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Also read ‘Why Terrorism cannot be linked to Gujarat Riots’ by Vivek Gumaste http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-why-terrorism-cannot-be-linked-the-gujarat-riots/20120629.htm.

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