India is still a third-world country, with half the homes still not having plumbing and a large percentage not having electricity. But even more significant than its dynamic technology sector growing into a world-class destination for contracts and capital is the fact that India has the most intelligent electorate in the world right now.
For the first time in 30 years, India’s voters have given a decisive majority — 336 of 543 seats in the lower house of Parliament — to one party. And it is not the dynastic Congress party of Jawaharlal Nehru (and now Rahul Gandhi) that has dominated Indian politics for the 67 years since independence from Great Britain; it’s the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) and its Prime Minister-elect, Narendra Modi.
A closer look at what Modi’s platform is and the obstacles he had to overcome will have California Republicans weeping and gnashing their teeth that they didn’t draft Modi to run for Governor of the (once) Golden State. Modi’s agenda is precisely what is needed to rescue California (if not the Untied States) from its self-inflicted disaster.
The Congress party ran on a social welfare platform, promising more goodies, more subsidies, and more government programs for the poor.
The poor rejected it. They want economic growth and expanding opportunity, and lots of it. A 5% growth rate, which would be considered miraculous if it could be achieved anywhere in the West, is not good enough; they want 8% or better. They’ve tasted that in the last decade, and they want more of it. Modi and the BJP declined to play Santa Claus; refrained from stirring the identity politics of religion, region, caste, and ethnicity; restrained their more strident Hindu nationalist wing and tendencies; and instead focused on economic principles and basic good governance. The voters rewarded them for these principles and for their courage in proclaiming and defending them.
American Republicans might learn a thing or two about how an effective modern campaign is run, as the BJP left the Congress party in the dark ages with savvy use of technology and social media. Just because people don’t have electricity in their homes doesn’t mean they don’t have iPhones, Facebook, and Twitter. Modi even appeared as a holograph at events where he was unable to be physically present.
Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India for the past 10 years, Finance Minister from 1991-96, and Leader of the opposition party from 1998-2004, has been a potent pro-free market voice and force in India’s rise over the past 20 years to the status of international technology powerhouse. But his party, as too often happens with parties that get too cozy with unchallenged power for too long, has been rocked with corruption scandals in recent years. Apparatchiks have been feathering their own nests while the roads and bridges crumble (sound familiar?) The voters have had enough and want a party that can credibly promise a cleaner and more accountable regime–and modern highways and ports too.
Someone wake me when California voters demand the same.
Half the voters in India are under the age of 35, and they aspire to a modern Indian Dream of upward social mobility and universal nationality. They chose Modi over his rival Rahul Gandhi in spite of the fact that the former is 63 and the latter 20 years younger.
While most Americans, when pressed, would admit hoping that the United States would continue to lead the world in prosperity, growth, and world influence, the rise of India is not America’s loss. A robust India is an indispensable asset to the United States and the West, as a counterweight to China and an ally with no rose-colored illusions about the challenges of coping with Islamic nationalism–whether emanating from Pakistan, Iran, or elsewhere.
No party or leader is perfect, and it remains to be seen how long Modi can sustain the momentum after the initial euphoria wears off, his party comrades begin to succumb to the temptations of power and perks, the opposition party regroups, and/or the inevitable shortcomings become Modi’s to own. The reality of the policies that will be required to bring India’s economy out of the doldrums will almost certainly offend some by taking away a subsidy or a privilege. Social upheaval in a fragile nation of dozens of linguistic, ethnic, and religious groups is a constant hazard. Modi has had to fend off charges of complicity in riots in 2002–in which over 1000 people died. Some of his own policies may fail to deliver the promised results, such as his lukewarm attitude toward foreign direct investment, a mistake in the eyes of most free-market economists.
But the fact that the electorate itself, across class, caste, ethnic, and linguistic lines, have come down so decisively on the side of pro-growth free-market economics, rejecting the siren song of socialistic welfare, shows greater hope for the long-term prospects for India than any one minister or party. Politicians always fail to some degree to live up to their promises. But Indians are choosing the right promises, with pretty good odds.
India gets it. I wish I could say I thought we did.
Photo credit: Facebook/Narendra Modi