Maybe I should amend the title to "Can all this be sold to the electorate" ? Well, I am not sure whether this can or cannot be sold (admittedly a difficult task), but I strongly believe it SHOULD be. In a democracy, we elect the form of government we want. However imperfect, it is better , in the long run, than any other alternative. But a sensible democracy is only possible when presented with a choice of ideas - not a choice of personalities as Indian democracy tends to be.
Despite the Indian electorate being enamoured of freebies, open to bribery, largely illiterate, etc etc, it is not dumb. It is actually a highly intelligent electorate which maximises personal benefit ( why not ) and decides on the choices presented. It is the fault of the political class that they have not presented a different nature of choice.
I believe, its a complete misnomer that subsidies and freebies win elections. They do not. Consider the Congress party's last 5 years. Two major doles - the Rural Employment Guarantee and the Food Security Act are nothing but giveaways; totaling in excess of Rs 50,000 crores. Has it given them any electoral advantage ? None. What about the state of Tamil Nadu - where parties competed with each other to dole out mixies and grinders. The DMK, which started this and faithfully implemented the promise, was thrown out at the last election. The Samajwadi party , which doled out free laptops in UP, is facing a fair defeat in this polls. Many parties have written off loans, given free power to farmers etc etc - that hasn't always won them elections.
The Indian electorate has changed. Good governance wins elections now. The examples of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa, and to a certain extent Assam are showing us the way forward. Spread across the political spectrum , they are indicative of a trend. Development and economics works and it can win elections. After all, the current frontrunner is running precisely on this plank.
The challenge for the political class is to explain economics in a simple way to the electorate. Almost nobody has cracked this (anywhere in the world). But that doesn't mean we should not try. Present the Indian budget in an even simpler form than what I outlined a few posts back. And then engage in a national debate as to what the priorities should be. An honest, non corrupt leader, meaningfully engaging this issue will resonate with the voters. Indians understand debt and the need to live within our means very well - it is in our culture. Engage in a debate with them on priorities. I am willing to bet that a consensus amongst a vast majority will be reached, which would be sensible economically.
There are however some pre requistes for a politician engaging in an economic debate
- He or she must be completely non corrupt personally. At the moment only Manmohan Singh, Mamta Banerjee, and perhaps Narendra Modi qualify.
- He or she must be completely free of crony capitalism (both the gentlemen stand accused of this)
- He or she must have credibility (Manmohan Singh's has gone and the lady does her best to undermine her's) .
Such a leader must present the case for reform to the Indian electorate. It may not win him the election, but I strongly feel it won't lose him one. Building up some steam and buy in, makes the job of implementing them easier later on. Once the track record has been established, it will guarantee him future victories in elections far better than any populist measures will.
So here is a suggestion to the combatants in the elections
- Choose a personally non corrupt leader (most major parties have such individuals)
- Outline the boundaries of the economic plan. Of course, this is only aspect of a manifesto - others including social, political, cultural, and other issues are equally important
- Once in power, implement rigorously with zero tolerance for crony capitalism. State funding of elections, will help in this.
- When the time comes five years hence for re election, I submit you would win easily.
An alternate route to winning this election, I suggest, will doom you to defeat in the next one. So what, you might ask ? After all five years of power and moneys are pretty good . Yes, maybe. But politicians will quickly discover that short term gains are not that attractive to them any more. They all aspire for a place in history. That is certainly true of those who want to become the Prime Minister. A place in history comes with the nation doing extraordinarily well - not by thuggery or maximising personal wealth.
With this post, I rest my case on the economic manifesto for India.
We enter a crucial next month when we as a nation will make a choice. May we have the strength to chose wisely, and carefully. And May the Force be with the new leader, whoever that may be, and his government, to serve India well. May we be judged in times to come, as a generation which turned the corner for India.