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18 April 2013

Modi's India: From Boom To Doom

Those who want him in haste will regret their wish in leisure
[This view was revised subsequently following further study of the  Gujarat model; view the author's comments at the end of the article.]

It's now an undeniable fact that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi favours a handful of industrialists at the expense of other bidders. By making business smooth for them, the areas where they operate shine in the short-term. Then complaints of unfair competition start pouring in. 

Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2013
This can no longer be pooh-poohed as a politically motivated speculation. How Modi bent the rules for a handful of cronies is now a part of the report by the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) of India on Gujarat. "Gujarat State Petronet Ltd (GSPL) was responsible for deviating from the agreed terms of recovery of gas transportation charges from the specified entry point of the company's pipeline network and this led to passing of undue benefit of Rs 52.27 crore to RIL," says the report. The State-owned Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation (GSPC) extended "undue benefits" to the chief minister's "favoured few", mainly Adani Energy and Essar Steel companies, which, coupled with its poor management and faulty agreements on exploration of oil and gas in the Krishna-Godavari Basin alone, cost the exchequer over Rs 5,000 crore. The Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd (GUVNL) did not adhere to terms of the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), which led to short recovery of penalty of Rs 160.26 crore and passing of undue benefit to Adani Power Ltd (APL). The CAG has also indicted the Gujarat government for regularising 7,24,897 square metres of land “encroached” by Essar Steel Company Ltd (ESCL) at Hazira in Surat at “unjustifiable” price, resulting in short recovery of ad hoc occupancy price to the extent of Rs 238.50 crore.

Following stifling of competition in the market, the Gujarat Government gagged the Opposition in the State Assembly as well. There are now only four Congress MLAs in the House; the rest have been suspended. As a result, there could be no debate on the damning CAG reports. Congress MLAs Rajendrasinh Parmar, Paranjayadityasinhji Parmar, Jodhaji Thakore and Amit Chavda sought discussion on CAG report, which the speaker Ganpar Vasava disallowed. Of course, this writer, now a member of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), has no love lost for the Congress, indisputably the epicentre of corruption in the country.

The CAG critique notwithstanding, there is a considerable and vocal section of the Indian population that will now settle for nothing less than Modi as the real head of state. The clamour for Modi in the upper section of the middle class owes primarily to the want of good salary and a booming job market that they are expecting the Gujarat chief minister to unleash, should he become the prime minister. But there is more to it.

Since the time one gains social consciousness, one hears from people who lose their battles against corruption more often than not in their respective fields of work that the only way to deliver India is to hand it over to a dictator! Given Modi's reputation of authoritarianism inside his party and the Sangh Parivar — built by episodes like his battle of wits against the D4 (Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Ananth Kumar and Venkaiah Naidu) and events like his order to demolish temples in the State that flouted civic laws, the 2008 arrest of VHP General Secretary Ashwin Patel and his insistence on removal of Sanjay Joshi as a precondition for him to attend the BJP's national executive meet in Mumbai last year — his persona comes closest to that of a despot. With the country being plagued by a plethora of problems, a personality like this readily catches the imagination of the frustrated. The RSS's reservations about him diminish, too, when sections in the organisation look up to him as the only head of government who can tackle the issues of Islamist terrorism and massive infiltration of Bangladeshis into this country and their settlement across Indian cities to serve as the Congress's vote-banks.

The flip side of this gambit does not, of course, interest these people at this point of time, so anxious they are to get over the present state of government's policy paralysis. The very people who are eager to see India shine fast will be the most affected once the authoritarian, cronyist regime of Modi takes over. Big fish like Adani, Ambani et al will stifle the competition with monopolies, cartels, vendor lock-ins, predatory pricing, value manipulation, misplaced production priorities, baits and switches, planned obsolescences, pyramid schemes etc, shattering the dreams of many a budding entrepreneur. Prices of all goods will skyrocket while the middle class that once cheered the rise of Modi will see that they, as consumers, have been left with little or no choice at the market place.

Since Modi is known as a strong administrator, the progress of the magnates named is somewhat under check as of now. The situation that will emerge in Gujarat after he moves to New Delhi — and countrywide after he retires — will be all the more dangerous. Shedding the inhibition about politics that is otherwise a part of a businessman's natural temperament, the tycoons, who are now the country's de facto rulers, will turn into our de jure rulers.

Already, criticising these industrialists and getting away with it is tougher than panning the ruling party or opposition's leader in the media, As and when a journalist tries it, he loses his job and is forced into subsequent unemployment for years on end. This writer has had a first-hand experience of a corporate giant's effective power of coercion that it exercises on the fourth estate. In 2004-05, I had exposed the nexus between Anil Ambani's Reliance Infocomm and the then telecommunication minister Dayanidhi Maran, who, after the former was caught passing off ISD calls as local calls, made the company get away with paying a fraction of the penalty that was due. The resident editor of The Statesman, where I was employed then, constantly delayed the publication of my story. Eventually, I passed the information on to some friendly journalists working with other media houses. But the report never came out as a scoop. A senior journalist once allegedly unearthed evidence of adulteration in Reliance's Jamnagar facility. First his services were terminated by the very television media baron who had sent him, disguised as a truck driver, for the sting operation; then he couldn't find himself a job for the next almost 15 years. In comparison, speculating about Sonia Gandhi's money stashed in tax havens abroad or the ill-treatment LK Advani meted out to his estranged daughter-in-law is a cakewalk. Such wild stories have gone around not only in the social media but also in parts of the mainstream media. And no scribe has lost his or her job as a result.

The few readers who might dismiss these real-life incidents as concocted narratives may try to figure out why The Polyester Prince, a biography of Dhirubhai Ambani, is still proscribed in India.

Sir James Lancaster, commander of the first East India Company voyage in 1601
When these industry moguls rise in politics, their act of usurping power may be subtler than the evolution of the East India Company from travelling traders to conquerors of large territories of our country, but more pronounced than the transformation of the billionaires like Herbert Hoover, Al Checchi, Steve Forbes, Ross Perot, Meg Whitman and Linda McMahon into politicians in the US and Naveen Jindal, G Janardhana Reddy, Rajkumar Dhoot, Rajeev Chandrashekhar etc in this country. With puppets placed in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies, they will run amok across the country. No other outcome is plausible, as unbridled power of a few to do business invariably leads to saturation of market territories, following which business houses can sustain only by enhancing their powers through politics.

Propagandists brand the AAP as an anti-market force. Apologists of the corporate sector like Gurcharan Das try counselling us through their newspaper columns that we need not be pro-business; we just need to be pro-market. But Modi, whose economics they sing paeans to, is tilted in favour of a few business houses, not the whole market. If it were otherwise, it wouldn't be the Ambanis, Adanis, Mittals alone who would shower encomia on him; it would rather be many stars seen for the first time on the horizon of Indian entrepreneurship who would vouch for the investment-friendly environment he has created in Gujarat.

If Modi turns India's CEO, small-time businessmen cannot rise, business columnists who criticise him will lose their jobs and his partymen who dissent will meet the fate of Joshi.

Can Modi but handle infiltration and terrorism better? One can't be sure. To capture power at the Centre, the BJP feels the urge to be 'secular' no less than the Congress. So, a centuries' old yajnashala in Madhya Pradesh's Dhar district is handed over for namaz to Muslims brought in by trucks from neighbouring districts. And death sentence is sought for Maya Kodnani for a pogrom that could not have been executed without the State Government's complicity, much as the legal advisers of Modi know well that the crime of inciting mobs, no matter how grievous, will not qualify in the court as a rarest of rare case. Booking other rioters who are still going around scot free would have shown Modi's commitment to justice, but he might well have thought that demanding maximum punishment for a convict (already sentenced for life) would endear him to Muslims, which would take care of the objection of 'secularists' to his prime ministerial candidacy!

With the prospect of fair play in business gone and the hopes of Hindu society's Hindutva section dashed, what is left of the Modi appeal?


Anonymous said...

I hope you have gotten your answer by now of what is left in the Modi Appeal.

Surajit Dasgupta said...

Yes, I was being fed misleading, half-baked information by the media. In course of my research for Sudesh Verma's book, Narendra Modi: The Gamechanger, I was able to dig out official, authentic information about both the subject and the State he rules. My findings can be seen in brief in the answer to the last question in the post, "Kejriwal: The Manipulator."

"I differentiate between the BJP and Modi. Not every leader in the BJP wants to see him as the next prime minister. Some lazy leaders must be counting their chances of being the choice in case the party falls short of majority and the allies put forth the condition that they would extend support to a BJP-led government only if someone other than Modi were made the prime minister.

Next, the Gujarat Chief Minister's track record shows that he can fix the problems that plague the BJP. For example, Hindutva-brand rabblerouser Praveen Togadia was a public nuisance until about a decade ago. Modi's politics has cut him to such size that no crowd is seen receiving him when he arrives at the Ahmedabad airport. The BJP MLA from Daskroi, Babu Jamna Patel, known as a real estate baron, had objected to the town plan that had a map of a vital road passing through his property. Modi overruled his objection for the greater cause of convenience of the town's citizens. He did not mind demolishing temples when they came in the way of Surat's plan.

Muslims of the State, paying the highest zakaat and going to Haj in the largest numbers, are very happy with Modi's reign under which their children are going to mainstream schools and aiming at well-paid jobs and businesses rather than fooling around in the streets. Having researched for a month (after leaving the AAP) for a book written on Modi by Verma, Narendra Modi: The Gamechanger, I know he was unduly vilified for the riots of 2002 by his political rivals, their friendly journalists and the NGO brigade now discredited for planting fake witnesses [Verma had left the party in January 2013 and joined television channel NewsX as its news editor]. No chief minister, State administration or party could have stopped that horrendous riot involving mobs of strength between 5,000 and 15,000 each at a time when almost the entire population had lost its composure and sense of right and wrong. This was a State with a poor people-to-police ratio and long history of communal strife. The police and Army still apprehended many rioters, fired and killed many, with Hindu casualty exceeding 200. State complicity is where there is no casualty on the side of the majority, as it happened not only in 1984 in Delhi but also in several other States throughout the history of independent India. The courts are exonerating Modi case after case.

Continued in the next comment…

Surajit Dasgupta said...

Continued from the last comment onwards:

… The judicial commission of inquiry formed to look into allegations of the State Government favouring some companies has cleared it of the charges. The businessmen heading small, medium and large scale industries I met across Gujarat are happy that bidding happens online. Land owners are happy that no PPP project comes up unless they are satisfied with the project. Social indices are now improving at a rate faster than the national average as one finds in the articles of Bibek Debroy and Surjit Bhalla. The Union Government-appointed expert committee formed to inquire into the allegation that the State had not compensated and rehabilitated the people displaced due to the Sardar Sarovar Project, which had on its panel the venerable N Jayaprakash Narayan of the Lok Satta Party, has found that Medha Patkar's charges are bogus…

On the one hand, we have institutions of authority, from courts to Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team to Union Government-instituted commissions of inquiry and committees, who examine hundreds and thousands of deponents and witnesses, who have found Modi innocent on one count after another. On the other, we have the propaganda of some journalists who hardly accommodate five quotes or interviews of cherry-picked people per article. Who sounds more credible?

Most important for me are the speeches Modi has been delivering since the time he was declared the NDA's prime ministerial candidate. The speech addressed to the BJP national council members on 19 January 2014 is the closest to my idea of India. Its contents are very close to our idea of vyawastha parivartan. If he does not walk the talk, it will hardly take me time to turn his staunch critic. I wish that does not happen, but if it does, I will resume my fight for vyawastha parivartan as an activist."

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.