Thursday, February 05, 2009

Suhel Seth's article praising Modi... and a counterpoint by Jayati Ghosh along with some preliminary thoughts from me..

The moment i saw Suhel Seth's article in praise of Narendra Modi, i wanted to forward a recent article i had read that was a bit more in-depth and well-researched than Suhel Seth's armchair analysis but it took me some time to find it online. People in Delhi and Mumbai with some education and erudition like to imagine themselves as experts because they are able to communicate their thoughts and ideas with a certain degree of claritity and conviction... but in the long term what matters is not the medium but the message.
Just keep in mind when reading the article below that big business has always supported strong, fascist leaders... from Hitler to Mussolini to Franco... German business leaders emphatically endorsed Adolf Hitler and respected the order and discipline he brought to German society after the devastation of defeat in World War I... but the praise was self-serving. In their self interest and greed, business chose to ignore the insidious effects of fascism and totalitarianism... which led over the course of the next decade to the genocidal murder of almost 10 million people. Genocide always begins when people choose to view it as a question of degrees and when silence is interpreted as assent...
The flipside to Suhel Seth's article is below and Suhel's article below that...

It's business as usual and love for money in Gujarat

Jayati Ghosh

These are bad times for corporate honchos, globally and in India. Quite apart from the financial crisis and the associated credit crunch, the end of the boom is exposing many weaknesses that could earlier be effectively covered up by the rapid expansion of output and profits. The humongous scam of Satyam Computer Services is, of course, the most dramatic example of this. But it may mark a more general change in social attitudes towards big business.

As the euphoria around growth dissipates, the public is becoming more conscious of the possibilities that all corporate behaviour may not be squeaky clean, and that all industrialists may not have been the saviours of the country that our slavish media generally presented them to be. So a period of more questioning and even sceptical attitudes towards big businessmen is only to be expected.

It is also likely that this will make the businessmen themselves more insecure and cause them to search anxiously for crutches, both economic and political. In any case, corporate behaviour in India has always been marked by a contradictory attitude towards the state — demanding complete independence and freedom from all controls when it suits them, and equally insistent upon protection, subsidies and state support when the going gets even marginally tough.

It is not an accident, therefore, that even in Britain, the first large company to demand a government handout in the ongoing slump was an Indian-owned company: Jaguar Motors, which was purchased by the Tata Group last year in an extraordinary act of hubris. In India, too, the demands for state support in the current slowdown from industry lobbies have been rapid and importunate.

With the sudden loss of confidence among corporate leaders has also come a yearning for a strong government that will work for them. In an increasingly uncertain world, they long for certainty, especially for the knowledge that they will be politically protected and that the rest of society will be disciplined to ensure their own profits. So they turn desperately to leaders who they think can deliver this. This may be the social psychology behind the extraordinary scenes that were witnessed last week, as top Indian industrialists vied with each other to lavish praise on Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

It is by now obvious that Mr Modi generates strong emotions, and that many of the emotions he generates are not all that positive. It is also well-known that large capitalists tend to prefer strong leaders who do not brook opposition and can impose their will upon others, especially when their will is "business-friendly". And, of course, business is "apolitical" to the extent that it is only interested in its own profitability and will go along with any politics that supports it.

Even so, it was startling to see the degree of sycophancy openly displayed by grown men who should know better. The various business leaders who had gathered for a special two-day summit to attract private investment in Gujarat provided paeans to Mr Modi's charisma, his leadership qualities, his generosity (to business, of course), his farsightedness, his eminent eligibility to be Prime Minister, and much more.

What is wrong with such an assessment, or with such open declarations of not just admiration but almost slavish adoration? Surely corporate leaders, like the rest of us, are entitled to their own opinions and are free to express them. So why should we comment at all on this chorus of praise for Mr Modi?

One reason is because this assessment reflects so poorly on the judgement of these large industrialists who have been feted by media and society as sources of pride for the country. This lack of judgement need not reflect any political biases. Let us, therefore, exclude the political track record of Mr Modi: his presiding over one of the most appalling communal pogroms in recent Indian history during the post-Godhra riots; his implicit encouragement of intolerant anti-minority consciousness among citizens in his state; his undemocratic attitude towards dissent in any form and ruthlessness in dealing with it; his encouragement of a proto-authoritarian personality cult. Let us consider only that part of his record which the industrialists have found to be so laudable: his government's "achievements" in economic and social indicators.

Gujarat under Mr Modi's rule is being celebrated for having achieved rapid rates of growth and industrialisation which, therefore, ought to have translated into better conditions for its people. It turns out that this record is actually much more dismal than has been projected. High growth has been accompanied by increasing inequality, so that the benefits of the growth have not percolated to the people as propagated by the "trickle-down" hypothesis.

According to the National Sample Survey, between 1999-2000 and 2004-05, real per capita consumption in the rural areas of the state hardly improved, and for the bottom-half of the population it did not improve at all. Employment growth has also been low, especially in rural areas, relative to output growth.

The National Family Health Surveys provide even more depressing news. In 2005-06, child malnutrition, as expressed in very low weight-for-age, was as high as 47 per cent in Gujarat, higher than the all-India average. About 80 per cent of children under the age of four were anaemic. Nearly half the children between 12-23 months were, and still are, not fully immunised: 45 per cent of urban and 60 per cent of rural children. More than 60 per cent of pregnant women were anaemic, and in rural areas 60 per cent of child deliveries were not in institutional conditions.

What is more startling is that several of these indicators were not only worse in Gujarat than for India as a whole, but had deteriorated in Gujarat since the late 1990s! All these depressing conditions have persisted or got aggravated under Mr Modi's watch. The shining growth story has also been, at the very least, a major failure of socio-economic management since it has clearly failed to improve the basic conditions of life of ordinary people. This is a sad comment on Mr Modi's capacity to govern in the interests of the people.

Obviously, the Tatas, the Ambanis, the Mittals and other corporate players who gathered in Ahmedabad last week, either had not cared to find out any of this, or simply could not be bothered even if they did know. In terms of self-interest, they were probably right: the one group that Mr Modi has made sure he delivers to, is big business. It has benefited hugely from the Gujarat government's offers of subsidised or free land, a slew of tax incentives, assistance in disciplining workers and many other favours.

No wonder then that they saw fit to shower praise on him for being good to them. The alarming thing is that they also appeared to think that he was, therefore, good for citizens in general, and even for the country as a whole. Unfortunately for them, such blatant lack of judgment will only make it harder for the rest of society to trust what these business leaders say in futur

Suhel Seth's Article....

Posted online: Oct 19, 2008 at 2338 hrs Let me begin with a set of disclosures: I have perhaps written more articles against Modi and his handling of the post-Godhra scenario than most people have; I have called him a modern-day Hitler and have always said that Godhra shall remain an enduring blemish not just on him but on India's political class. I still believe that what happened in Gujarat during the Godhra riots is something we as a nation will pay a heavy price for. But the fact is that time has moved on.

As has Narendra Modi. He is not the only politician in India who has been accused of communalism. It is strange that the whole country venerates the Congress Party as the secular messiah but it was that party that presided over the riots in 1984 in which over 3,500 Sikhs died: thrice the number killed in Gujarat.

The fact of the matter is that there is no better performer than Narendra Modi in India's political structure. Three weeks ago, I had gone to Ahmedabad to address the YPO and I thought it would be a good opportunity to catch up with Modi. I called him the evening before and I was given an appointment for the very day I was getting into Ahmedabad.. And it was not some official meeting but instead one at his house.

As frugal as the man Modi is.. And this is something that the Gandhis and Mayawatis need to learn from Modi. There were no fawning staff members; no secretaries running around; no hangers on…just the two of us with one servant who was there serving tea. And what was most impressive was the passion which Modi exuded. The passion for development; the passion for an invigorated Gujarat; the passion for the uplifting the living standards of the people in his state and the joy with which he recounted simple yet memorable data-points. For instance, almost all of the milk consumed in Singapore is supplied by Gujarat; or for that matter all the tomatoes that are eaten in Afghanistan are produced in Gujarat or the potatoes that Canadians gorge on are all farmed in Gujarat. But it was industry that was equally close to his heart.

It was almost like a child, that he rushed and got a coffee table book on GIFT: the proposed Gujarat Industrial City that will come up on the banks of the Sabarmarti: something that will put the Dubai and the Hong Kong of this world to shame.

And while on the Sabarmati, it is Modi who has created the inter-linking of rivers so that now the Sabarmati is no longer dry. He then spoke about how he was very keen that Ratan Tata sets up the Nano plant in Gujarat: he told me how he had related the story of the Parsi Navsari priests to Ratan and how touched Ratan was: the story is, when the Navsari priests, (the first Parsi) landed in Gujarat, the ruler of Gujarat sent them a glass of milk, full to the brim and said, there was no place for them: the priests

added some sugar to the milk and sent it back saying that they would integrate beautifully with the locals and would only add value to the state.

Narendra Modi is clearly a man in a hurry and he has every reason to be. There is no question in any one's mind that he is the trump card for the BJP after Advani and Modi realizes that. People like Rajnath Singh are simply weak irritants I would imagine. He also believes that the country has no apolitical strategy to counter terrorism and in fact he told me how he had alerted the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the NSA about the impending bomb blasts in Delhi and they did not take him seriously. And then the September 13 blasts happened! It was this resolve of Modi's that I found very admirable. There is a clear intolerance of terrorism and terrorists which is evident in the way the man functions; now there are many cynics who call it minority-bashing but the truth of the matter is that Modi genuinely means business as far as law and order is concerned.

I left Modi's house deeply impressed with the man as Chief Minister: he was clearly passionate and what's more deeply committed. When I sat in the car, I asked my driver what he thought of Modi and his simple reply was Modi is God. Before him, there was nothing. No roads, no power, no infrastructure. Today, Gujarat is a power surplus

state. Today, Gujarat attracts more industry than all the states put together. Today, Gujarat is the preferred investment destination for almost every multi-national and what's more, there is an integrity that is missing in other states.

After I finished talking to the YPO (Young President's Organization) members, I asked some of them very casually, what they thought of Modi. Strangely, this was one area there was no class differential on. They too said he was God. But what they also added very quickly was if India has just five Narendra Modis, we would be a great country. I don't know if this was typical Gujarati exaggeration or a reflection of the kind of leadership India now needs! There is however, no question in my mind, that his flaws apart, Narendra Modi today, is truly a transformational leader! And we need many more like him!

The writer is Managing Partner, Counselage

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