Monday, September 16, 2013

Modi (anti-) intellectual Icon?

Socialist Ideology

     Since the ascendance of Shri Jawharlal Nehru, our intellectual discourse has been dominated by various versions and adaptations of Socialist ideology. The high priests ('Brahmins') of this ideology are the "left intellectuals" who dominate the public debate.  Many of us thought that the 1990s reforms, their success in accelerating growth and the consequent reduction of poverty would gradually change the discourse.  This optimism was premature, as the "left intellectuals" successfully fought back and re-established their primacy during the UPA regime (I & II).  The "socialist ideology" is so pernicious because it crowns the "left ideologues" as the arbiters of public morality (the prosecutor, judge & jury).  Their narrative is so widely believed, that if you oppose the left you risk being typed as uncaring of the poor, the weak and the humble!  Thus even 'conservative' or so called 'right wing' political parties have internalised the "left intellectual" narrative.  This uniformity of intellectual and political narrative is not good for the country. The Monopoly needs to be broken.


      A recent book on the role of institutions in economic welfare and growth concluded that "Competitive Politics" are as important as "Competitive markets" for sustained economic development and growth. This is particularly so in an Open Democratic country like India. India needs an alternative narrative of economic growth and welfare, that politically challenges the monopoly of the "left intellectuals." Though it is dangerous for a poor country to simple copy what advanced countries have done, the interplay of competitive markets and social policy in Scandinavian countries is instructive, provided we clearly understand the difference in institutional conditions and circumstances.

Iconic Challenger

    From my perspective, the most interesting thing about the rise of Shri Narendra Modi on the National Stage, is the challenge that he poses to the "Socialist ideologues."  The seriousness of the challenge that he poses, can be gauged by the minute dissection of his every statement and action and the virulence of the "left intellectuals" attack on everything that he has said and done.  Being from a poor family, a backward caste, an uneducated child who educated himself as an adult, a self made man, free of the corrupting influence of family rapacity, who has never used his humble background or caste to win votes (though he has used his religion). More than any other potential candidate for PM a man of the people. A Chief minister of one of the richest and faster growing States in India, who has been re-elected three times. A non-intellectual, virtually an anti-hero in intellectual context. 
    In sum, Narendra Modi is almost an iconic challenger to the "left intellectuals" and their ideological dominance of the political discourse. The question is whether this non-intellectual will be the leader who overthrow the monopoly of the "left intellectuals" and create a new "governance and growth," "right of center" national narrative to compete with the "socialist ideology"?


  From the very limited information available till now (opinion polls, media stories of writers' interaction with public) I conclude that Shri Modi has a better than even chance of becoming the next Prime Minister of India and of changing the political narrative of National welfare, governance and growth.[1]  What else he may do (good or bad) needs much more detailed analysis.

[1] For the possible direction in which the narrative may be changed see, Virmani, Arvind, "A New Development Paradigm: Employment, Entitlement and Empowerment, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXXVII No. 22, June 1-7, 2002, pp. 2145-2154. NewParadigm4nf ]

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