The Economist's Advice

The Economist magazine which is the internationally recognised voice of Britain’s conservative establishment has done it again. Before the 2014 elections it had advised Indian voters to prefer the Congress to the BJP despite, as it put it, the UPA’s poor record of governance. It has now, while the elections are underway, implicitly advised them: they would be “better off with a different leader”, (comment: meaning Prime Minister Narendra Modi) even though the Congress may be “hidebound and corrupt”.

Clearly, it is only for the Indian people to decide who should they vote for in the elections but it appears that a section of British opinion feels that they need to be counselled in the matter. Perhaps they are still unaware that the British empire has gone into the dustbin of history. They also do not realise that Britain is just a small island with much still to commend it but its star is on the wane. And strangely they are also overlooking the fact that Britain is in the middle of almost complete political chaos because of its inability to handle Brexit. In such a situation the British political class should only focus its energies on how to extricate itself from its present mess.

 Instead, the Economist obviously feels compelled to bear the white man’s burden and advise the ‘natives’ on who is worthy of getting their vote. Hence, its offensive lecturing tone. Small mercy that it does not repeat the sentiment engraved in stone on the gateway to the North Block rotunda in New Delhi— “Liberty will not descend to a people. A people must raise themselves to Liberty. It is a blessing which must be earned before it can be enjoyed”.

It is for the Indian people, as for all peoples in all democratic countries, to decide who would govern them. This is an essential attribute of national sovereignty and has to be exercised without outside influence or interference through free, fair and impartial elections. India’s record of conducting such exercises at the national level has been excellent ever since the first Lok Sabha election of 1952. It needs no advice on how elections should be conducted, including campaigns. As noted earlier in these columns whenever for whatsoever reasons free elections at the state level have been tinkered with the country as a whole has suffered. These are now matters of the past and the nation has learnt appropriate lessons.

The record of the Indian people in scrutinising the record of ruling parties is robust despite all the din of election time propaganda. Indian voters in this election are doing so too;  examining  the claims of the ruling BJP of what it states to have accomplished over the past five years on the economic and security fronts. In so doing they would have applied the real test: how did its actions make a difference in their day to day lives.

Did demonetisation impact on their livelihoods and has it accomplished its many stated objectives? Has the GST clearly helped in reducing prices of commodities and services or in improving their quality? Have the many governmental programmes for cleanliness, clean domestic energy, housing, roads and many more been implemented well? The Indian people do not need others like the Economist, to tell them that they should evaluate these while making up their minds on the BJP’s performance.

The BJP has projected that it has strengthened national security. Modi has asserted that he is strong leader who has ensured that the nation is safe in his hands. He has pointed to the actions that he has taken in the neighbourhood for national security. However, the opposition parties led by the Congress have given a counter-view. Thus, the electorate has the opportunity to make up its mind on these issues without foreign inputs.

The Economist has drawn special attention to the social situation in India. This is an aspect of the present BJP period which has attracted a lot of comment. Some sections of Indian opinion are deeply concerned about alleged attempts at changing the orientation and direction of the Indian social order and moving it away from fundamental constitutional principles. There are others in India who deny that such attempts are being made.

Social peace is vital for national progress and that can only be secured if all the people feel that they have full and equal status in Indian life. This is also the assurance of the Indian constitution. A foreign magazine does not need to inform the people that social harmony is critical for India. The people know this instinctively. While there may be momentary tilting in one or the other direction Indian society has demonstrated the capacity to restore balance. There is no doubt that in this election too, the vote will go to those parties which the people assess will provide truly balanced and inclusive growth.

Apart from issues relating to some external aspects of national security India’s foreign relations have not attracted attention during the campaign. Nor have internal issues relating to centre-state relations have been priorities except in some states. Certainly, these aspects would not have escaped the people’s attention. Popular sentiment favours, even in unsettled and violent conditions, firmness to be accompanied with fairness and the doors of dialogue to be open at all times. This is also a basic need in a country with large diversity although subsumed in common nationhood.