Dear Narendra bhai,
Congratulations on your re-election to the Gujarat assembly and for becoming chief minister for a third term. Few have occupied the chief minister’s post as many times and none have attained that by reaching beyond narrow loyalty to party or caste. You are also likely to be re-appointed to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) parliamentary board and that too by the same person—Rajnath Singh—who removed you from that position in 2009. Nicely done. Your meeting with European Union (EU) members after the election effectively ends the EU’s decade-long boycott. The US may look upon your visa application with less prejudice now.
Let me begin with a confession. I am no fan of authoritarian government, much less one which has been charged with a fascist streak. To be fair, while former minister Maya Kodnani has been convicted in the Naroda Patiya massacre, no institution has proven errors of commission or omission against you for human rights issues related to the post-Godhra riots in 2002. The widespread perception is that the government was complicit in abetting (though perhaps not in actually inciting) the riots. Only you know the truth. As you well know, in politics, the perception of a serious mistake is as bad as having made the mistake in the first place. But, real or perceived mistakes can be addressed and corrected. It is in that spirit that I suggest the following plan.
Apologize: The perception of your culpability for the tacit sanction of violence against Muslims post-Godhra is serious. The only way to get beyond it is to apologize. You did give the Gujarat electorate an apology of sorts recently. For India to believe you, it will have to be heartfelt and real. The Congress party was forgiven its transgressions after the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 that took place in the wake of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. While Rajiv Gandhi was elected in a thumping sympathy vote a mere two months later, the Congress party did ultimately apologize for the Delhi riots.
The political reason for this apology is simply one of coalition arithmetic. Without an apology, most of the NDA allies of the BJP will have to opt out. Mamata’s TMC, Nitish’s JDU, Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK, Chandrababu’s TDP, and Biju Janata Dal will think twice with you at the helm. Even the opportunists like Mayawati’s BSP and Mulayam’s SP will likely stay away. The BJP and remaining allies (who is left other than the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal?) will then not have the numerical strength for an effective coalition.
So, for both profound and practical reasons, there is no other way forward.
Institutionalize: We have heard a lot about NaMo, the able administrator. Deservedly so. But we hear little of NaMo, the institution builder. The hallmark of a great leader of any institution is to sow the seeds of his own obsolescence by building talent, processes and capacity below him. People say you have destroyed the Congress in Gujarat but you have also destroyed the BJP. Imagine for a moment that you are no longer in Gujarat. Have your dozen years as chief minister improved the odds of better governance for the next two or three decades? Your person-centred “presidential” form of government will not work at the centre.
Practice inclusive economics: Your speech at Shri Ram College was an overdue case for liberal economics. But we do not merely live in an economy. We live in a society. There is no contradiction if human development indicators are also front and centre in your priorities. Your goal is to make the economy an equal part each from agriculture, services and manufacturing. You have done some effective things to improve agriculture like the use of check dams and separate power lines. You have done a fair bit for manufacturing by ensuring land allotments, speedy clearances and access to ports and highways. Industries and industrialists have flocked to your state. If the Congress Party has political sycophants, you are beginning to have industrial ones. Both are dangerous.
Services in Gujarat have suffered from benign neglect. There are no world-class cities, indeed not even plans to make them much better than those in the rest of India. Gujarat has done well to increase per capita income in the last 10 years but its record of poverty reduction is worse than an average big state in India. Social indicators—infant mortality and malnutrition, to name just two—are worse than the average of India. This is not a good and balanced scorecard. You will have to focus on all-round development.
Do this and you will have redeemed yourself and allowed yourself the opportunity to lead this great country. Indians have an innate ability to forgive and move on. The very act of seeking forgiveness requires acceptance and humility. Show us you are man enough for that. You will change the path of politics in this country if you do.
PS: “It is his capacity for self-improvement and self-redemption which most distinguishes man from the mere brute,” said Aung San Suu Kyi.
Narayan Ramachandran is an investor and entrepreneur based in Bangalore. He writes on the interaction between society, government and markets. Comments are welcome at email@example.com
To read Narayan Ramachandran’s previous columns, go to www.livemint.com/avisiblehand