All hail the new snake oil salesman in town

All hail the new snake oil salesman in town

Narendra Modi

After months of needling by detractors, the BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, has finally released his vision document for the upcoming elections. Most of mainstream media has received the vision document in a highly tepid fashion except for overtly pro-BJP commentators who have hailed it as manna from heaven. The sting in the tale actually comes from this pro-Congress commentator, who has made an audacious, but plausible argument that the BJP is trying to sell what the UPA made. That just reiterates what we’ve been telling you since even before we (Indian Libertarians) existed as a formal group – there’s nothing of substance separating the Congress & the BJP, Narendra Modi included. But this post is not about the Congress & the BJP being similar. This is meant to be a critical appraisal of the single page vision document that encompasses the Earth. Perhaps a wee bit of Mars too.

The document is not very different from an essay my 8-year old daughter would write on the subject India of my dreams, except that she wouldn’t dabble in fancy but meaningless wordplay like the first two sections of this vision document do (5-T’s comprising Brand India and the Rainbow of India). A gimmick-driven vision is often a bankrupt vision. But if gimmickry in words is what rocks your boat, 2:15 to 2:22 in this video articulates a far better vision to look forward to. The inanities done with, let’s get to the meat of the document – the 8 point development model, which is accompanied by “detailed” initiatives on each point – the details even managing a second line in one instance.

Education & job opportunities for the youth

No, I won’t get into the usual libertarian argument about whether the government should venture into creating job opportunities. That’s something we’ve been shouting from the rooftops for decades now. But I guess most people are not even ready to listen to that argument. What I’ll ask instead is that if this was a matter of political will, why is it so that never once in human history have we seen a situation where everyone is employed? As for setting up IIT’s, IIM’s & AIIMS’s in all states, let’s first ponder over why the IIT’s & IIM’s created over the last decade or so haven’t matched up to the standards of the older IIT’s and IIM’s. And while we’re at it, let’s also ponder over why the older IIT’s have failed so utterly at the post-grad level and why the IIM’s are nowhere close to the brand value of ivy league business schools. Let’s also ponder upon how well the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu & Andhra Pradesh have fared on the employment stakes by allowing 100’s of professional education colleges? And why are businesses set up in these states still lamenting on paucity of employable manpower? All these questions seem to have escaped Mr.Modi’s mind (or that of the whizkids at APCO) while this vision document was being worked on. But that’s no reason why you can’t spare a thought on it.

Children & women empowerment

I’m amazed at the BJP leadership’s sensitivity to irony given that they completely miss out on the deep gulf between what they claim to stand for and what they come up with in their election manifestos & vision documents. This point is a glaring example. This is a party that claims with pride that it does not believe in appeasement politics. What exactly is children & women empowerment if not appeasement of specific classes? If the appeasement of religious & caste groups is a bad thing, on what basis does the BJP justify appeasement of gender & age groups? The detailed initiative mentioned under this point is called the Beti Bachao Programme (an amalgamation of children & women?). It’s anybody’s guess what this programme would entail if it sees the light of the day. Fresh laws aimed at preventing female foeticide that we know have failed everywhere or more “public service” advertising campaigns that won’t do anything more than maybe win a couple of awards.

Inflation/Price Control


This is everyone’s dream. But given that the mechanics of our currency themselves lack fundamental integrity, whatever measures one might claim to take, or forget claims, even take in all earnestness, this will remain a PIPE dream. The solution? B.R. Ambedkar had proposed a solution to this even before independence. But B.R. Ambedkar got canonized in India for all the wrong reasons and the reasons for which he deserved to be remembered were ignored lock, stock & barrel by all the politicians & bureaucrats of independent India. Mr.Modi is just another sheep in the herd. When he talks of setting up a “Price stabilization fund”, he’s putting forth a euphemism for “subsidies”. When he moots special courts for black marketers, he’s ignoring the reasons why black markets come up and merely applying ointment to cure cancer.

Agriculture reform

This has been one of the most tom-tommed points in the Gujarat success story being peddled by the PR machinery of the prime ministerial aspirant. In his vision document too, he appears to be quite ambitious about it. On closer examination, the ambition appears to be nothing more than tepid air. He talks of creating a data bank for agri-produce (whatever that means) and a National agriculture market (wouldn’t this measure intrinsically carry a data bank under it…rendering the previous point redundant?). He does so without realizing that this would involve dismantling the APMC act, which he has applied extensively during his 2+ terms at the helm in Gujarat. One wonders what brings about this change of heart (if indeed there has been one) just on the eve of the elections. And then there is the two-facedness of a supposed proponent of minimum government who wants the government to create & maintain data banks. Get me the aspirin, please.

Health-care for all

So what do we have here? More subsidies (since it’s for “all”), more intervention (since the vision document has taken upon itself to blanket define “preventive healthcare” and focus on it). Is this Modi’s counter to the Congress’ Food Security Ordinance or an attempt to impress Barack Obama by bringing out India’s own version of Obamacare?

Federal Structure

Mr.Modi has a knack of picking up fancy sounding terms & throwing them around. The problem happens when he has to elaborate on these terms, and that’s when the contradictions start tumbling out of the woodwork. “Minimum government” is one term he has made a career out of abusing; “Federal structure” is another. While he doesn’t miss mentioning the word at any given opportunity, his other statements betray glaring internal inconsistencies vis-à-vis his commitment to a stronger federal system. Let’s examine this document itself for these internal inconsistencies. Social welfare is supposed to be a state subject. But Mr.Modi’s vision for the next union government tramples all over the social welfare sector (women & child empowerment, healthcare, education etc.). Same is the case with agriculture reform. Now, had he been in favour of a stronger federal structure, it would have been contingent upon him to have the union government withdraw from these areas. Hence, it’s clear that he is quite the Feku that his detractors refer to him as. I can go back to every speech he has made over the last few months & point out to a plethora of such inconsistencies. But I’d rather not patronize you, the reader, by reiterating the obvious over & over again.

Anti-corruption measures

Bringing back black money stashed abroad is one of the stupidest “ideas” to have gained popularity in recent years. How exactly do the proponents of this measure plan to do it? To begin with, the money is no longer in Indian rupees. It has already been converted into foreign exchange. It has been stashed away in tax havens where the banks are not answerable/accountable to the Indian government. Is there any way to even identify the money that’s supposed to be brought back? And if it can be identified, for argument’s sake, is there any way it can be confiscated from the bank where it’s stored? High time the Indian voter started seeing through this annoying fiction.

Urban Development/Infrastructure

Consider the perfunctory joke about the spelling mistakes in such a crucial one page document made. The humour in this point is deeper. And that’s the reason I kept it for the end. In the points outlining this aspect of his vision, the so-called anti-Nehru channels his inner Nehru. He talks of a 100 smart cities. One wonders whether India even has half that number of municipal units that deserve to be called cities, smart or dumb? He talks of interlinking rivers through a system of canals. He dreams of bullet trains alongside the golden quadrilateral. Needless to say, this would involve a massive takeover of private property by the government. Hello, wasn’t somebody mentioning federalism & minimum government? Nehru had a fetish for the big & the beautiful (the longest dam, the tallest dam, the largest steel plant yada yada). So does Modi. End of story.

snake oil

I’ll wrap this up with a request and an assertion. The request is to ask yourself a couple of questions – How much of this vision do you see in place in Gujarat where Mr.Modi has ruled for the last 12+ years? How different is the “development” in Gujarat from that in similarly placed states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala etc.? The assertion is that Mr.Modi is selling you the same snake oil that others have been selling you for decades now. He has simply packaged it differently. If you have high hopes from him in the coming few years, I’d suggest you get a reality check. If you’re still not convinced, I won’t force this down your throat. But I’ll definitely rub it in with a rather caustic “I told you so” a few years down the line when I’m proved right.