Harsh Gupta and Rajeev Mantri argue that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s controversial right-leaning political party, is far more likely to favor economic reforms that empower private citizens than the dynastic Congress Party that leads the current UPA coalition government:
Liberalization and economic development are not the natural instincts of any dynastic party because their effects undercut the legitimacy of the dynasty— and this is true for all such parties, whether it is the Samajwadi Party, Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal or the National Conference party. Such parties will never want that the populace becomes truly independent and prosperous—that would be inimical to their political interest and long-term sustenance.
The BJP, in contrast, has a strong interest in making a break with the status quo:
The fact is the NDA government followed a holistic strategy to drive reforms, a strategy that empowered Indians, while the UPA government’s perverse definition of empowerment actually only serves to subjugate Indians to state power, making them dependent on government handouts. Of late, it has become fashionable to connect the NDA government’s tremendous liberalization efforts solely with former prime minister Vajpayee’s leadership. An Indian Express story recently pointed out how the BJP-NDA government had proposed 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail in 2002, and now the BJP was hypocritically opposing FDI in retail. Without a leader of the calibre of Vajpayee, any BJP-led formation will veer towards swadeshi-stye socialism, we are told by various commentators and analysts.
What these analysts do not realize is that it is in the BJP’s political interest to implement reforms and drive economic development. Indeed, these analysts betray their leanings when they ignore a Manohar Parrikar cutting state taxes on fuels in Goa, or a Narendra Modi unequivocally saying that “the government has no business to be in business, it should play the role of a facilitator.”
I should stress that Gupta and Mantri are firmly in the minority among Indian wordsmith intellectuals, possibly because both are also entrepreneurs and investors. Mantri, for example, is a cofounder of Vyome Biosciences, a startup we’ve recently discussed.
Perceptions of the BJP among the Indian intelligentsia are not dissimilar to perceptions of the GOP in the U.S. intelligentsia, though of course the political landscapes are radically different. One of the leading members of the BJP, Narendra Modi, is both seen as one of the most competent elected officials in India, having presided over rapid economic growth and poverty alleviation in Gujarat, a state often described as India’s Guangdong, and as perhaps the most polarizing. Specifically, Modi has been accused of complicity in a series of anti-Muslim pogroms that broke out soon after his election as Gujarat’s chief minister. Modi’s unusual profile — as a hyper-competent technocrat and as an unapologetic nationalist — makes him a kind of Rorschach test for those who closely follow Indian affairs.