Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi combines unusual gifts for an Indian politician: Not only is he a vote catcher, but he is also a sound administrator. Under his watch, Gujarat has prospered, economically at least.
Does that qualify him to be “voted” prime minister by the big guns of Indian industry?
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
In any democracy, the election of a head of government is a job for members of the legislature. They, having been elected by citizens, embody the popular will when they choose a person as prime minister.
In India, this rule has been distorted greatly. Announcements of “prime ministerial” candidates and routine jockeying for a position that requires vast political and administrative experience by less qualified candidates violate the spirit of the ideal outlined above.
While citizens have the right to publicly state their choice of prime minister, this should not be seen as subverting the ideals that define democracy.
What industrialists such as Sunil Bharti Mittal and Anil Ambani did when they sang paeans to Narendra Modi on Wednesday was to do violence to an emaciated principle.
It is understandable why Indian industry loves Modi so much. Compared with the typical chief minister of a state, he is not hemmed in by jealous rivals and saboteurs from within the ruling party. That allows him executive freedom that few chief ministers have known. His bringing the Tata Nano to Gujarat after its acrimonious exit from West Bengal is a case in point.
That, however, was an economic-cum-administrative decision, very different from the political decision-making that goes behind the election of a prime minister. The political choices embodied in such processes are the hallmark of sovereignty. Business, administrative and economic choices belong to a different domain and should not be confused with democratic choices.
The lesson behind Wednesday’s endorsement of Modi is very clear. Indian companies and corporate leadership want heads of state governments and the political executive in general to have better decision-making abilities and have far lesser response time while taking investment decisions.
Ultimately, the ball is in the political court. If we are to preserve both the form and content of our democracy, it is incumbent on our leaders to realize that they need to perform. That way, there will be fewer blandishments for Indian businessmen to make outlandish wishes.
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