Market Maniac

Modi ka magic chalega kya
Sep 29, 2014

There’s no gainsaying that Mr. Modi is taking the world by storm. More importantly, domestic sentiment, cautiously optimistic till now, is getting ready for a party – witness, for instance, the enthusiastic reaction of the stock market to the Supreme Court decision on coal blocks, even though this would weaken several large listed companies and their bankers, and – worse – could bring the focus back to the investment bugbear of frequently changing rules.

Sentiment is more than holding up well with most people believing that while there will certainly be problems – some related to past sins – the path ahead is clearing significantly and rapidly.

I believe, however, that to make this forward move sustainable, we need to make sure that we eliminate, or at least dramatically reduce, current sins. And here there hasn’t yet been enough work done.

The BJP is privileged to have the largest number of MPs with criminal cases against them. And while it is highly commendable that Mr. Modi asked the Supreme Court to fast track cases against MP’s with criminal cases, he has not been able to respond to its comeback that at least MP’s (and MLA’s) with criminal cases should not hold ministerial positions. Mr. Modi’s cabinet has no fewer than six ministers who have criminal cases against them. And his go-to man for everything, Amit Shah, also has several such cases against him.

Clearly, Mr. Modi is constrained by the limited number of skilled people he can access who would also be 100% loyal (subservient). This highlights an important structural problem with his leadership. A truly great leader surrounds himself with people who are, in many instances, smarter and more skilled than him.

Looking around, it’s hard to see too many – if any – of those. Indeed, the BJP sans Modi looks pretty pathetic, as has been reflected in the results of the multiple by-elections since he became PM. Maharashtra will be an exception because it is clearly of key importance to Mr. Modi and Amitbhai (with a few billion rupees left over from the last election or fresh money raises) will make minced dhokla of the disarray in all the other parties.

To my mind, Mr. Modi’s next task should be to make the BJP and, indeed, the entire Indian political establishment, more truly representative of the people. This is a very, very tall order because right now, like its predecessor, the BJP is simply about money. Let’s not forget the gargantuan sums spent in the Lok Sabha elections, which will all be looking for their pounds of flesh (or, perhaps, shakh). Until there is no financial accountability – political parties must have their accounts audited – the entire political system, including the BJP, will continue to resemble a filthy, polluted lake.

And even if, as now, a single lotus rises gloriously out of the muck, the inspiration cannot sustain in such an environment forever, or even for very long. Perhaps, Mr. Modi will get to this critical job in time – there is such a huge amount to be done and, I guess, everyone prioritizes things differently.

The good news is that he appears to have successfully quietened the more obnoxious members of the political tribe. His Independence Day speech, where he squarely targeted the backwardness of a patriarchal mindset, has halted senior politicians’ loose talk about rape. I would imagine his interview with Fareed Zakaria, where he didn’t quite lambaste the more virulent members of the Hindutva brigade but pointed out simply that Indian Muslims are as patriotic as any other Indian, should have something of a calming effect on the communal poison that has been spreading quite rapidly.

Many people, including myself, had wondered why Mr. Modi was so silent for so long in spite of so many terrible incidents. Now that he has come out squarely in defense of a modern secular India, perhaps we will move to a long and much-needed window of healing. Of course, he will need to be much stronger if any such incidents burst forth again. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, he needs to talk softly and carry a large stick.

And finally – and of great importance – is Mr. Modi’s sartorial splendor. He is immediately the most colorful politician on the world stage. And while some may pooh-pooh the value of this, the truth – and I know this from experience – is that bright colors put everyone in a better mood, which directly translates to better business and more joy in life.

And, if Mr. Modi graduates to floral printed bandhis, we would be in for a real magic show. It won’t be long now.



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