This grand moment from May 26, 2014 is still etched in our memories.
Today, in a few hours from now, this will be joined by another memorable image as Narendra Damodardas Modi is sworn into office for a second time. And yes, I will boldly predict, without any doubt whatsoever, that there is going to be a third time.
What if we take a moment to speak of that which now seems unthinkable? What if Modi had lost these elections? What if this was either Rahul Gandhi or someone else being sworn into office with his support, beginning the 59th year (yes 59th year!) of Congress rule in India? Beyond the partisan egos, what would we have lost as a nation?
The real loss is that we as a nation would have gone back to the bad habits of old. Those would be the bad habits that have kept us from achieving our potential even after 70 years of independence.
What makes a ‘first world country’? One of the most fundamental things is ‘rule based governance’. In other words, the rules are the same for everyone, whether you are a small shopkeeper or running a global multinational company. Money and prestige and power coziness will get you nowhere.
That’s not how things used to go in India. If a young student owes Rs 500 on her hostel mess bill, she doesn’t get her degree until she can settle the account and get a “No Dues Certificate”. But if you owe, say Rs 5,000 crores, you can get all the exceptions and extensions you want. Even more credit.
All that changed with Modi. He put Indian business houses on a “diet” of rule based governance for the first time in 70 years. The best example of this is the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).
This is not anti-business, but pro-competition. It is the most pro-capitalist thing you can do. When big business cannot use its influence to shut out the competition, that’s when you unleash the true uplifting potential of capitalism.
Every child in India today knows the sequence : 0, 5, 12, 18, 28. These are the slabs for GST rates. Can you imagine a common person five years ago being able to remember the service tax rate, the sales tax rate, the VAT, the excise duty, the local body tax rate, etc on each item? No need today. This is the kind of transparency that is needed for business to flourish.
The other endemic problem in India is a culture of corruption. PM Modi ensured ZERO top level corruption in five years, possibly delivering the first “scam free government” since independence.
This should have been the norm. It is a pity that this is an exception. Unlike floods and cyclones, scams are not natural disasters. But we learned to take them for granted. Indeed, we learned to take scams as an integral part of politics.
To become a first world country, we had to stop this corruption some day. Somebody had to draw a line in the sand and say: thus far and no further.
But what about corruption at lower levels? Well, corruption is a culture and the cues come from the top. Once the tap is turned off upstairs, it will take some time for the stream to dry up below. For the new habits to be cast in stone.
In fact, some direct benefits have been clearly visible and have massively contributed to the BJP’s victory. Money from the government arrived directly in bank accounts of the poor, with no scope for middlemen to take a cut. Many of the benefits such as gas connections, electricity connections, toilets and pucca houses were obtained without paying bribes.
If the Indian electorate had gone the other way this time, the tap upstairs would have been turned on in no time. And the flow would have continued just as it has for decades.
There are other visible symptoms of this. The new Modi sarkar will be formed in just a few more hours. And yet, every anchor has shrugged miserably on every show and admitted that they have no clue who is getting what. Most have admitted openly that “sources” simply don’t work when it comes to Modi sarkar. What a sea change from just 10 years ago, when celebrity journalists would be on the phone with lobbyists fixing portfolios.
It takes time to build good habits, to build a routine with a healthy diet and regular exercise. We had five years and that was a good start. But India could not afford to go on a binge just yet. From the Insolvency Code to Swachch Bharat, we needed at least five more years of discipline.