Competitive Federalism in India

by Reihan Salam

Rajeev Mantri and Harsh Gupta argue that Narendra Modi, the controversial chief minister of Gujarat, arguably the most successful of India’s 28 states, and a leading member of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is the “anti-Nehru.” While Jawarhalal Nehru, widely-regarded as the founding father of the modern Indian state, was a devotee of central planning, Modi is a rare Indian defender of the free market and competitive federalism. Moreover, while Nehru sought to accommodate India’s Muslim minorities in various ways, e.g., by establishing a separate system of family law for Muslims, Modi, like most members of the BJP, favors a uniform civil code. Modi has also been accused of being complicit in a 2002 outbreak of communal violence in Gujarat, though he adamantly denies the charge. Ruchir Sharma, author of (the very entertaining) Breakout Nations, points to Modi as one of a several pragmatic, entrepreneurial chief ministers who have presided over robust economic growth in their own states even as India as a whole has languished under the Congress-dominated UPA coalition goverment in a new Foreign Affairs essay, which ends on an optimistic note: 

The next elections will see a generational shift, with 125 million new voters raising the likely turnout to more than 500 million. This is a post-liberalization generation: all the new voters will be too young to remember the darkest days of caste discrimination or the worst absurdities of the license raj, and they are likely to push the outcome in favor of younger leaders who understand their economic aspirations. If a combination of state leaders spurs India to embrace its natural federal structure and delegate more economic power to the states, it could well put the country on the path to a comeback.

Left-liberals tend to be more mindful of how their ideological allies are faring in other countries than conservatives, possibly because left-liberals are more ideologically inclined towards cosmopolitanism than nationalist conservatives. Yet I’ve always though U.S. conservatives have good reason to root for the success of market-oriented, center-right parties elsewhere in the world, even when these parties operate in very different cultural contexts.