Sunday, September 27, 2015

Limits of Modi's West Coast Charm

I liked Indian PM Modi's Facebook Townhall meeting. PM Modi came rustic, authentic and good. So far as his SAP Center speech goes, I am bit ambivalent. But to see USA power broker Nancy Pelosi hugging him along with other American politicians is a good thing. 

Xi Jinping of China got the State Dinner with Barack Obama and an audience with many other power brokers yesterday in Washington. He wrote a big check to Boeing on West Coast at the start of his trip whereas PM Modi simply pointed out 3 Ds to Mark Zuckerberg - Democracy, Demographic Dividend and Demand and got away without signing a single check to create a gold mine of media clips to be used in election campaign back in India.[1]

And that is the thing - it is not clear having a rock star reception among Indian Americans on West Coast; what difference it would make in political calculus of PM Modi back home. Will it help him to win Bihar elections? If so then one can agree that it is a needle moving exercise given the fact that Modi's reformist agenda is stymied by lack of majority in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha); when a paltry gang of 40+ Congress MPs deployed same tactics of NDA against Dr. Manmohan Singh's UPA to bring down Loksabha.

The problem with Modi's West Coast Charm is it is bit like "preaching to choir". He does not need to sound like a Goldman Sachs Investment Banker to say he wants to grow Indian Economy to 20 Trillions Dollar size. It will grow probably with him or without him.  No investor in the world needs any more 'sales pitch' about India; it is one of the rare spots in global economy which is not under pressure apart from USA. Everyone knows India's potential; the question is whether PM Modi's government is removing hurdles which otherwise are stopping all investments which would come to India. 

In other words, there is no point in donning Donald Trump or Carly Fiorina Persona - relentless corporate marketing pitch, chest thumping and evocation of Country's greatness all the time. That is what Vladimir Putin engages in and insecure Xi Jinping strives for assurances in stars and strips State Dinners. There is no need for PM Modi to go there; he is legitimately elected leader of the largest democracy in the world. The more he solves problems back home, the more vindications would flow automatically from all over the world and then there will not be any need for any such West Coast charm. Apart from Land Acquisition Reforms, Labor Reforms (hire and fire) and GST; any contemporary government of India needs to give attention to judicial reforms. It is not OK to simply nominate movies which highlights problems of India's court system. Unless and until we have a non-corrupt law enforcement and court system, India's Capitalism will be always in the danger of lack of enforcing commercial contracts.[2] How would you grow an economy when a business person does not have guarantee that transactions she would enter will be backed / enforced fully by the might of Indian State within a reasonable time period? It is sad that successive Indian Governments have failed to recognize and implement these crucial justice reforms and Modi's Charm West Coast omits this critical reform too. 

The fear is PM Modi, an honest and obviously social media made-to-order figure who rose from Chaiwalla to Delhi Gaddi; is essentially a manipulated figure of RSS. That RSS knows with a cunning sense that this 'rags to riches' story will be enough to consume Secular Media back in India as well as the global Media; while RSS unfurls its bigoted agenda. I hope I am wrong here because we are talking future of a billion plus Indian people. But the way BJP, and in effect RSS, is deploying PM Narendra Modi in a relentless global exercise of social media driven 'image management' when real hard work is back home; one wonders whether PM Modi is simply a pawn in the overreaching game plan of Hindu Nationalism.[3] I hope that is not the case. PM Narendra Modi is a legitimate, authentic politician and we all need him to succeed in his project of bringing prosperity to India. It just seems that for such prosperity to materialize,  he will need to work hard back home rather than any kind of victory laps in Silicon Valley.

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[1] One of the interesting points for me was when PM Modi literally echoed Saint Ronald Reagan - "he wants to make Indian Government smaller". If PM Modi was a candidate in USA Republican Presidential Primary, those primary voters would have simply eloped at his feet....he was so pitch perfect there. To be sure, PM Modi is right here - Indian State does need to get small from its sprawling engagement in every part of Indian Economic Pie. That is the thing, which American Conservatives forget - the sense of proportion: whether Government should grow small or big depends on what is the current involvement. In India, sure Government must contract while in USA Government has a role to play

[2] It was height of non-sense when Communist Pranab Mukerjee of UPA government tried to extract Billions of Dollars bounty from Vodafone retrospectively. Narendra Modi's government should not have that problem as Modi - quintessential Gujarat business person - is correctly pro-business politician. India precisely needs such pro-business governing attitude and glad that Narendra Modi embodies that.

[3] The obsession of Indians to get a permanent seat in UNSC is astonishing. The problem here is many Indians treat UN and UNSC as a kind of world government where 'big boys' make the decision for the entire world. That may appear so in some cases, but Indians forget the fact that India is a country which is unable to solve her own border problems with Pakistan while wanting to play a global role. Also Indians conveniently forget that there are so many cases which are decided outside of UNSC, like how Iran Nuke deal was done with full participation of Germany or the global climate accord which India essentially wants to not own or global trade agreements which are happening irrespective of UNSC. When Chinese Economy trembles, producing shock waves all across globe; it is not UNSC which comes to rescue. Sure, India deserves a permanent seat at global affairs when one fifth of humanity is within her border and India proudly conducts her affairs in a democratic fashion. But all such reforms be UN's problem rather than of India's. I would rather prefer India enjoy all its prestige grow without the responsibility of being UNSC member until rest of the world feels that India is getting a free ride there.

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