SPEAKING FREELY Modi faces Indian political currents
By Subrata Majumder
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
The current popular perception in India is that development is more important than the Gandhi-era slogan of Garibi Hatao (eradicate poverty).
Opposition premiership candidate Narendra Modi's leadership has been boosted by his development work as chief minister of Gujarat. At the same time, the ruling United Progressive Alliance's development projects, though steered through by an honest prime
minister, have been marred by corruption scandals.
It is widely believed that Modi's success arose from him turning Gujarat into a corruption-free state. A 2011 survey by Transparency International found that Gujarat had the country second-least corrupted leaders in its assembly.
However, Gujarat has a higher bracket of corrupted leaders when represented at the center. There are 11 parliamentarians out of its 26 in the Lok Sabha against whom criminal proceedings are pending, according to a survey by the Association of Democratic Reforms.
Uttar Pradesh has the largest number of members in this category in the Lok Sabha with 31, followed by Maharashtra with 26 and Bihar with 18. This big gap between the state and centre reflects Modi's power to crush corruption .
Modi might have exerted his power in his own state. But at the center, his power to rein in corrupt politicians has failed.
Why wasn't hasn't media been in an uproar over this failure. Perhaps his development works have overshadowed his corrupt representatives at the centre. To improve his image as a challenger for prime ministerial candidate, he has to get rid of these corrupt members at the center.
A common complaint against the UPA is that the corruption is a main cause of high inflation in the country. Inflation is an issue in any general elections. However, this is the first time that the whole country has witnessed high inflation before state elections.
The UPA achieved high GDP growth of 8-9% during 2004-2009. But the spiraling growth in corruption has a negative spillover on the growth. GDP growth slipped to 5% in 2012-13.
Corruption is the result of a nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and the criminals. The 2G scam, coalgate, the Adarsh Housing Society scam and the failure of the Commonwealth Games are examples of this.
Modi's political supremacy has surged along side his development works. His state achieved the second-highest growth in GDP during his tenure.
Modi is known for running his corrupt-free state. This lured foreign investors to invest in Gujarat. Despite being besieged by a tense border situation, Gujarat emerged the second-biggest foreign investment destination in 2011-12 in the country.
The question is: can Modi replicate his development model in the centre and eradicate corruption?
This will be difficult, especially given the rise in power of local political parties. Even if his Bharatiya Janata Party procures largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha, it will be an uphill task to get a single-party majority. The BJP has to depend upon allies to form the government in Lok Sabha and this will weaken Modi's reign.
The BJP and Congress have equal numbers of tainted MPs in Lok Sabha - 44 each, according to Association of Democratic Reforms. However, in terms of ratio to seats , BJP accounts for more - 38% for BJP against 21% for Congress. Given the situation,
What was the secret of Modi's success in Gujarat? It is his belief in "minimum government, maximum governance". He did not believe in freebies, such as handing free laptops and electricity to the farmers.
He believed that an Indian is capable of achieving what he desires, if given a little push and few resources from the government. He believed in government spending in infrastructure and enthusing private sector investment, free from government control. Where clearances are mandatory, he got them implemented with minimum bureaucratic hassles.
Modi was liberal with foreign investors since they have the cash needed to spur domestic investors. It is this attitude that helped the Gujarat government under Modi to empower local bodies to solve their problems with water supply and irrigation with the minimum intervention by the state government.
These helped entrepreneurs, both large and small, to flourish in Gujarat, with minimum intervention from the government. He is known as a mentor who facilitates and not one who constrains.
If elected prime minister, Modi is expected to replicate the Gujarat model of bureaucracy with "Minimum government, maximum governance". This could tackle the British Raj-era system of complex bureaucracy and create a more people-friendly administration.
Perhaps this will bring an end to the days when ordinary people and small businessmen have to run from pillar to post to get clearance for even the most simple business activity.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Subrata Majumder is an adviser to the Japan External Trade Organization in New Delhi.