Beneath the hullabaloo

One of the tenets of the democratic feudalism that governs our polity is that we do not attack the Dynasty.

Narendra Modi said some very important things in his speech in Chhattisgarh last week, but they escaped the notice of political pundits and did not make newspaper headlines or TV prattle. Unless you actually watched the whole speech, you would not know that he said anything other than that if Sonia Gandhi was sick she should give Rahul charge of fulfilling the election promises the Congress made in the last general election.

One of the tenets of the democratic feudalism that governs our polity is that we do not attack the Dynasty. Political leaders rarely do this and us political pundits do not either. But nobody appears to have told Modi this, so he treats them as he would any other political opponent and nearly always it is his comments on the 'shehzada' that make headlines.

Last week, I found this particularly annoying because of the significance of two economic points that he made. He talked of how Sonia and Rahul had in their rallies in Chhattisgarh gone on about how much money "we" have sent from Delhi, and then asked two questions — Was Chhattisgarh standing before Delhi with a begging bowl? And, whose money was it in the first place, did Rahul bring it from his uncle's house that gave him the right to talk this way?

Let me explain why I think these questions are important. The leitmotif of the economic policies that Sonia and the Prime Minister have espoused in the past 10 years has been what I call the Lady Bountiful approach. We cannot give the people electricity so give them laptops instead. We cannot give the people clean water so give them cheap food grain instead. We cannot create an economy that generates real jobs so give the people MNREGS instead. When Modi taunts his audience into admitting that they do not have a begging bowl in their hands, he is actually explaining in populist language what has gone wrong with India's economic policies. Without saying this in so many words he is managing to say that our economic policies have not empowered people to lift themselves out of poverty. On the contrary they have kept people mired in poverty and got them accustomed to freebies and sops.

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