23-29 May 2014 #708

Hindu rate of growth

There are parallels between the results of India’s election and Nepal’s Constituent Assembly polls in 2008

Six years ago, Nepalis cast ballots in elections that they hoped would finally bring peace, justice and development. They ousted the Congress and the UML and voted in the Maoists.

Even the former revolutionaries were taken aback by the unexpected windfall, but the people identified with the Maoists’ agenda of inclusion and equality, and were impressed by the Chairman’s charisma. Even those opposed to the Maoists voted for them in the hope that the comrades would abandon the jungle and join the democratic mainstream. After the results were announced, a garlanded and vermilioned Pushpa Kamal Dahal appeared on live tv to announce: “This is not just a victory for my party, it is a victory for peace, and a victory for Nepal.”

Every Nepali watching the breathless breaking news of Narendra Modi’s electoral avalanche on Indian tv will be reminded of how we were similarly torn between accepting a man under whose watch thousands died, and the need to put the past behind to play catch-up on development and growth.

True, one cannot really compare a person who allowed murder and mayhem for a political goal, with a Chief Minister who didn’t do much to stop his supporters from unleashing a religious pogrom. But in the perception of the victims and those who suffered, both are demagogues adept in the art of using the modern mass media to airbrush their role in history. Both understood that if people are fed up enough with corruption and bad governance, and desperate enough for jobs and development, it is possible to convert collective amnesia into votes by giving them a tantalising glimpse of the promised land.

Once elected, neither has said sorry for the past. Both have reveled in triumphalism and allowed supporters to speak the language of intolerance and intimidation. In Nepal, we have seen Prachanda Path unravel, implode, and finally suffer a humiliating drubbing in the second CA election last year.

India, meanwhile, has made another tryst with destiny. In the world’s largest first-past-the-post electoral exercise, a party which took communalism to the brink for votes has found that the strategy paid off brilliantly. It has an absolute majority in parliament, even though it garnered only one-third of the total votes.

Maybe once in office, the BJP and its even more radical allies will pull back from their corrosive rhetoric and focus on performance and delivery of the economic agenda of “minimum government and maximum governance”. But supremacist intolerance, once unleashed, can’t be easily capped.

As some researchers have pointed out, while Modi’s much-hyped Gujarat Model did raise the growth rate, it is Bihar that outshined all other states in performance. With nearly 85 per cent of the MPs in the new Lok Sabha crorepatis (up from 58 per cent in 2009), however, questions have been raised about whether such a pro-corporate legislature will allow new growth to trickle down.

As for Nepal, most of the analysis of the Indian election so far has been devoted to the possible revival of the monarchy or the Hindu state. The anti-theist snob secularism of the left has to be refined and redefined in Nepal's new constitution to mean religious pluralism. But too much sewage has flowed down the Bagmati for Gyanendra to be re-throned. Even the RPP-N conclave this week is expected to quietly jettison the monarchy and emphasise the party's Hinduistic mission.

Instead of looking at the political fallout on Nepal, we should try to see how a strong BJP in New Delhi could benefit our economy. Indian diplomats often say they want stability in Nepal. The opposite is also true: a stable and vibrant India will benefit Nepal, too. If Modi can quickly jumpstart India’s stalled economy, he can give new meaning to the term: ‘Hindu rate of growth’. That locomotive can also pull Nepal along.

But we first have to put our own house in order. Instead of looking at Delhi all the time, it is time to improve the investment climate for Indian business, push energy and water tie-ups, treat the 1,900km open border as an benefit rather than a barrier, get our national airline to start flying to India again, and finally send an effective ambassador to New Delhi.

Read also:

Modi’s momentum, Kanak Mani Dixit

Let’s not repeat 2008, Kanak Mani Dixit

The backlash against the BJP, Ajaz Ashraf

Sore losers, Trishna Rana

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