Opinion
The Modi-Singh conundrum
  • The Statesman
  • 10 Jul 2013
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There is little beyond cosmetic difference between Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi. Both leaders toe the same line on economic development and foreign policy; only Modi seems more efficient in implementing decisions. Young India needs to look beyond them, writes Rajinder Puri

Corporate vested interests undeniably exert disproportionate influence on mainline media. As the primary and perhaps only window for information, media is the most powerful instrument for shaping public opinion. Not surprisingly, therefore, most readers echo editorial views by rubbishing the unborn Federal Front. They limit the choice only between the Congress and BJP. It is amusing how the lack of cohesion between regional leaders is cited to ridicule the proposed Federal Front. But are differences between Miss Jayalalithaa and Mr Naveen Patnaik more or less acute than those between Mr L K Advani and Mr Narendra Modi or between Mr Chidambaram and Mr Digvijay Singh? Nevertheless, the distortions continue. Most vulnerable to media propaganda is the young generation. This essay is addressed mostly to young people with full knowledge that they might consider the views expressed in these columns outrageous.
Young people fed on Twitter and Facebook repose great hope on Mr Narendra Modi to introduce change. I had earlier described Mr Modi as a muscular version of Mr Manmohan Singh. Nothing has happened as yet for me to change that view.
Consider the similarities as well as differences between the approaches of both leaders. Both are committed to accelerate economic growth by inviting foreign direct investment much to the satisfaction of big business. Mr Modi is more successful than Mr Manmohan Singh because he does not have a National Advisory Council to impede growth and initiate hare-brained schemes for distributing subsidies and doles that involve wastage of national resources without augmenting revenue. Also, Mr Modi’s record in curbing corruption is much better. But this signifies no real change of direction. Mr Modi only offers the prospect of improvement through efficient management without real change of direction.
Both leaders rely on vote banks. Mr Manmohan Singh woos Muslims while Mr Modi panders to Hindus. But with the advent of elections, Mr Modi is making visible efforts to reach out to Muslims too. Neither leader has lifted a little finger to promote a modern, casteless Indian identity, which I believe young people really deserve.
Both leaders apparently are happy with the prevalent, divisive caste-based reservation policy, which arguably violates the spirit of the Indian Constitution. Indeed, Mr Modi is even being projected by sections of his party as the new champion of the backward castes because he belongs to one.
Both leaders are unconcerned with ushering systemic reform through strict adherence to the written injunctions of the Constitution. Both are unconcerned with the yawning gap between Constitutional precept and systemic practice, which makes a mockery of our democracy.
Neither leader has introduced much needed labour reform, which could increase productivity. Neither leader has introduced a basic shift in the pattern of state investment to promote employment and rural infrastructure that would change the lives of millions. Neither leader has taken any step to introduce free compulsory primary education that would empower the poor and unleash enormous human talent.
The similarities between both leaders are striking not only with regard to economic development, but also in foreign policy. Both leaders continue to woo China without a thought for obtaining a quid pro quo. Neither leader is prepared to exercise India’s economic leverage against Beijing that would hurt China most. Both seek increased Chinese investment and promote an adverse balance of trade that hurts India’s manufacturing sector of industry.
Currently, Defence Minister Mr A K Antony is scheduled to visit Beijing the same time as Pakistan Prime Minister Mr Nawaz Sharif. He is expected to raise the issue of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) with Beijing.
Why is the government literally inviting China to act as the big brother for resolving Indo-Pakistan issues instead of addressing issues bilaterally with Islamabad? All that New Delhi needs to tell China is to get out of POK, which belongs to India and by entering which Beijing violated the UN ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan.
One doubts if any of these issues would disturb Mr Modi who is busy wooing Beijing for increased investment, has housed the headquarters of a controversial Chinese telecom giant designated as a security risk in Gujarat, and has visited China four times as an honoured guest receiving lavish hospitality. The Chinese Ambassador in India did not hesitate to publicly single out Mr Modi as a special Beijing favourite.
Neither Mr Manmohan Singh nor Mr Modi has suggested a single practical step to persuade Pakistan to enter into an integrated relationship with India. Neither leader has suggested any strategy to integrate India with its immediate neighbours to give expression to the region’s cultural nationalism. Mr Manmohan Singh draws his inspiration from the memory of Jawaharlal Nehru. Mr Modi draws inspiration from the memory of Sardar Vallabhai Patel. Needless to say both Nehru and Patel worked very closely to partition our nation. What then are the differences between Mr Manmohan Singh and Mr Modi?
The differences are many but they are merely cosmetic. Mr Manmohan Singh is almost inarticulate while Mr Modi is an orator. There is great difference in style, but is there difference in substance? Mr Modi offers hope of improved functioning of Mr Manmohan Singh’s model of development. That would be a gain. It may satisfy most Indians.
But it will not be the game-changer that can make India a role model for the new world order, for which this writer believes India has the potential. For India to realise its potential, the nation needs to undergo a peaceful democratic revolution. Perhaps, the hope of achieving this is utopian. Perhaps, most Indians are right to pragmatically seek improved governance and little more.
In that case, young Indians are welcome to pursue the fortunes of the BJP or Congress. They would be in the good company of big multinational corporations. For the corporate world, Mr Manmohan Singh and Mr Modi are two sides of the same coin. So toss the coin for the polls and see how it falls. It will not matter whether it is heads of tails.
After the toss, the coin can be safely pocketed.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist. He blogs at www.rajinderpuri.wordpress.com

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