Dear Mr. Modi
In another few months, the country goes in for a watershed General Elections which will be as much about you as they will be about the next five years of India.
That someone could come in from outside the Delhi apparatchik of various political parties and occupy centre-stage in the country is nothing if not spectacular. It was no surprise, therefore, that you had to face bitter opposition not just from outside your party but also from within.
Irrespective of the outcome in 2014, history will record you as the leader who electrified the middle-class into a virtual national vote-bank. This is no mean achievement. I am not a member of your fan club and say this only as a compliment.
I am reminded of the heady days of 1977.
I was in college then, young enough to believe in revolutions. The fight against the Emergency and Mrs Gandhi was led by no less than Jayaprakash Narayan and a galaxy of political stars including Vajpayee and Advani. Such was the enthusiasm that thousands actually took the plunge into active politics, including you, Jaitley, Swaraj and virtually the entire top leadership in all parties today.
Fast forward to 1989. Through a high pitched street campaign, VP Singh managed to create a similar hysteria around the Bofors deal. This was the coming of age of investigative media and some of us were aghast at all that we read. With the promise of eradication of corruption, we believed that the political system was on the cusp of a revolution.
In both cases the Congress lost.
1977 and 1989 were the toughest political battles India has ever seen. Not very different from the way 2014 seems to be developing. But in both cases, the weight of expectations proved to be too heavy a burden to carry. The Janata government of 1977 lasted less than three years and the VP Singh government perished before its second anniversary.
There was a third moment in history that was equally dramatic though in a quieter sort of way. The BJP had emerged as the single largest party in 1996 but despite having Vajpayee at its helm, it was unable to build a coalition. The government collapsed in 13 days without ever facing Parliament.
The fact is that once the excitement of the elections is over and the sexy headlines give way to questions, there is still the boring business of running a country with 30 states, over 70 national parties and hundreds of regional parties with divergent self and public interest. The expertise that is required to govern is not the same as required to win an election. As a voter I believe it is my duty to convince myself about each party before casting my vote.
Evaluating the incumbent is relatively easy; it is a matter of tracking their record of their years in power. The electronic and print media, social media and we as individuals do it all the time. Evaluating the challenger is tougher and necessarily involves asking questions and expecting answers. Unfortunately your reluctance to answer questions is well documented. Your idea of communication is a monologue, never a dialogue.
Public speeches are like highly touched-up pictures. You show what you wish to and in the context that you wish. They may be good to rouse momentary passion but never to actually explain. For that you have to be open to free and frank discussion. On this issue, your record is worse than MMS.
To the best of my recollection you have had only three one-to-one interviews with English channels, one each with Karan Thapar, Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami. These ended with you walking away (with Karan Thapar), just ignoring questions and humiliating the anchor(with Rajdeep) and becoming insufferably rude (with Arnab).
Your supporters compare your style with that of the American system. Nothing can be farther from truth. Presidential candidates in the US spend hours conversing with the media, taking tough questions, diligently explaining every aspect. The detail to which they are queried and the patience with which they answer is the stuff of legends.
Let me now enumerate my main concerns. I am purposely not touching on the happenings in 2002. I do not believe those who say you had planned the pogrom. I cannot imagine anyone in public life actually doing anything so diabolic and am happy to give you the benefit of the doubt. Having lived through 1984, I know that we live in a tinder-box and given provocation violence can just happen. And once it happens, things can and do get out of control.
However I do think there is much you need to answer for events in the aftermath of the killings but will leave that to you, your gods and the Courts.
1.What is your Big Idea for India?
Indira Gandhi’s Big Idea was socialism, Rajiv Gandhi’s was modernization, Narasimha Rao’s was reforms, Vajpayee’s was globalizing, Sonia Gandhi’s is inclusive growth and so on. It is not necessary to have a big idea but desirable. It’s a bit like the Directive Principles; they cannot be enforced but constantly show you a direction. What is yours?
Please do not say good governance. That is no big idea; that is what you are paid to do.
2. All questions about your strategy for India inevitably lead to the ubiquitous ‘Gujarat Model’. What is the Gujarat model?
If it means making the state an ideal place for big ticket investment which will lead to job-creation and skill up-gradation and lead to prosperity, I buy the idea instantly.
My concern however is that while it can work for Gujarat, will it work for all of India? How will it translate for states with poor infrastructure like UP, Bihar, Bengal and others? Many states are at a different stage of development from Gujarat and it will take a long time for them to be able to attract investments the way Gujarat can. What is your suggestion for them?
The less affluent states also have issues of social stratification that are totally different from your experiences in Gujarat. Do you have a plan for such states? What is it? Should you not share it with the country?
3. For someone who is in favor of making it easier to do business in India, your stand on GST sound incongruous.
A company setting up shop to conduct business nationally has to contend with 37 different tax structures as each state and UT has its own rules. With the added problems of products often smuggled in and out of states to save on tax.
Does this make for a sensible easy-to-administer tax regime for business? You have rejected the GST regime without ever giving a convincing reason for it. Since there is no plausible reason to reject GST, should one assume that the refusal was nothing more than political obstruction? Would you like to clarify now?
By the way GST was first suggested by your party.
4. What is your stand on obstruction of Parliamentary proceedings?
The Hindu reports that up to the end of the Budget session, the current Lok Sabha had wasted over 37% of its time in forced adjournments and disruptions almost entirely master-minded by your party. This ratio would only have gone up in the Monsoon session. And while delays happen, over 100 bills await approval.
Since you are not a member of the Parliament you have never been queried on this. Nor have you ever chosen to comment on this in any of your speeches. It’s a reality of India’s Parliamentary system that seems to have missed your attention entirely.
As a citizen, I am keen to know your perspective on obstruction of Parliament as a legitimate means to focus public attention.
5. Where do you stand on the Lok Ayukta for Gujarat?
Your party’s keenness to have the Lokpal is well documented. In fact an entire session of the house was kept in suspension because of the BJP’s insistence on the LokPal. One would have imagined that you would show similar eagerness to appoint a LokAyukta for your state. But strangely, you fought tooth-and-nail for almost a decade to somehow avoid or delay the appointment of the Lok Ayukta in Gujarat?
When finally the Lok Ayukta was forced on you, you first approached the High court, then the Supreme Court , then a review petition and finally a curative petition. All this to avoid probity? Is this what you stand for?
Justice Mehta who was appointed but finally refused to take up the appointment after noticing how shabbily he was being treated by you says you actually spent 45 cr of tax payer in legal fee to keep delaying the obvious. Why? There could only be two reasons. The first to which many subscribe is that you have something to hide. That by itself is no big deal; all governments like to hide their dirty linen.
But the second reason is cause for concern. It seems that emotionally you are unable to compromise your instinct even if it happens to be unconstitutional. This level of rigidity or stubbornness is worrying. 38 years ago it was exactly this type of thinking that led to the emergency.
6. What is your perspective on the value of the Rupee?
A lower valuation of the Rupee hurts us emotionally and raises the price of all imports including oil but helps prop up local industry which then leads to job creation. Higher valuation of the Rupee means cheaper imports and access to imported stuff by more and more people.
Instinctively which of the two do you prefer?
7. Do you have a solution or anything even remotely like a half-solution on the Ram Janam Bhoomi?
Though I am someone you would call a pseudo-secular, I really do think that it is a shame that there is no temple/memorial at the place where a vast majority of Hindus believe Lord Ram was born. However I also believe that the time for simplistic charitable solutions was over the day the structure was demolished.
The current government has no new out-of-the-box solution. As a new entrant into the ring, do you have a trump card? If so, should you not tell us?
And finally, something that may hurt you but needs to be said. Are you really that good? Has your performance been that outstanding?
Long before you emerged on the scene, Gujaratis were among the wealthiest communities not only in India but globally. Till the sixties, Gujarat was a part of Bombay; much of Bombay’s wealth was also in Gujarati hands. This has not changed too much even today though it is likely that the wealth in Gujarati hands has only increased. Gujarat’s problem traditionally was that it had few uber-rich and many very poor.
Here’s my question. With over 11 years of governance by you, is this the best Gujarat could have been?
Parameter after parameter, whichever way one looks at it, Gujarat is only one among the top few; it is almost never the leader of the pack by a long margin.
On social indicators though there has been clever misreporting to show Gujarat worse off than it is, the fact is that one has to struggle with statistics to even show improvement in the last decade of your rule. With similar struggle, most states could lay claim to being exceptional from one perspective or the other. Unsurprisingly social indicators is a subject you never talk about.
This is very different from the image that your PR teams have created of Gujarat as a touch of the First World country in a Third World India.
Wishing you good luck but awaiting your response.
By: Preet KS Bedi
Contributed by: Aslam Baig Mirza