An election cometh!

The election’s not due for over a year yet, but it’s best to get your despair in early

It’s always been my contention that Modi became prime minister despite the BJP rather than because of it. His appeal as a singular personality lay in the combination of his auspicious achievements in Gujarat as chief minister and his position as a social and political outsider. Remember the dynamics of charisma: you win charisma by gaining successes; you don’t gain success by having charisma. Modi was elected on his record.

It helped that Modi was a great orator and had fresh ideas and was a moderniser and was the very first social media genius among politicians—Donald Trump was the second Twitter leader, Modi was the first.

The dangers for Modi (and the NDA government) once he was in office and in power came from two sources. The first was the Delhi “swamp”, which included not just the entrenched establishment interests of the Congress party and its sycophants and hangers-on, but also the same in the BJP. Advani and other senior BJP folk were just as comfortable with their lifestyles in Lutyens Delhi as their Congress peers. The political/media class as a whole was the obstruction to change and their privilege easily outweighed any partisan political identity. This is much the same as we see in Washington, DC, where Donald Trump is hated by the elite establishment among both the Democrats and the Republicans, who make common cause against him.

So there was that: would Modi be neutered and domesticated, and eventually dragged beneath the swampy surface as he struggled to re-organise and reform, hampered by establishment enemies close to him in the IAS (the Indian Administrative Service— or as the joke goes, the Indian Asphyxiation Service) and the BJP hierarchy?

But there was also danger from another source: the lack of talent and the regressive impulses within the BJP itself. I know I make a thing of mocking, or rather reviling, Arun Jaitley, for whom I have little regard (see his latest budget idiocies here). But it’s true of him as Finance Minister—I’m not being snooty; the UK also has a useless chancellor—and also as a representative of the herd of BJP cats that Modi has perpetually manage in the Lok Sabha (and Rajya Sabha).

Now, though, the BJP has lost three seats in the Vidan Sabha elections in Rajasthan a few weeks ago and looks set to suffer further losses as state elections ripple around the country. It doesn’t matter that a few weeks before that, there were celebrations for triumphing in Himachel Pradesh and Gujarat (though slenderly): the watchword now is disaster for Modi in the general election due in May, 2019.

It’s possible, of course, that the electorate is so disillusioned with the lack of progress in BJP policies that they cannot wait to kick the bums out. This is certainly the movie that the media class is watching. But there are always at least two different movies, and the typical mid-term flogging of incumbents in local elections should only be assumed with extreme wariness to be any sort of bellwether for the national election, where very different considerations will enter into where the “X” is inscribed.

The media movie, where Modi is doomed, has a plot where “demonetisation” for example was a complete disaster, and has resulted in even more black money being hoarded, to the disgust of ordinary Indians. The online bank account revolution has gone nowhere. Corruption is worse than ever. Investment is down, unemployment up. The goods and services tax has caused industry to grind to a halt. And so on. I call this living in the (Lutyens Delhi) bubble and counsel that it seems real and immediate to that class because it is all the media writes and speaks of. I see it not only in the Indian press but from Indian journalists writing for foreign newspapers, who always manage to put a subtle negative slant on anything that Modi does. I see it in the think-tanks and diplomatic opinion cooked up on the international cocktail-party circuit, and I see it in the “thought” of lauded academics who have always hated Modi and everything they think he stands for.

So let’s just say that I take it all with a pinch of pink Himalayan salt.

Here is what I think is closer to reality, or at least the other movie that ordinary Indians —the vast majority of May, 2019 voters—are watching.

Modi is doing exactly what he did in Gujarat, redesigning systems and processes for long-term benefit, and using the trust placed in him by poor Indians to supply a political “bridging loan” until the fruits of his re-engineering start to feed through in terms of prosperity and development. Meanwhile he is doing what he can to manage his parliamentary party including many ambitious and egotistical no-hopers, and weathering the aspersions of a propagandistic media machine in the pocket of Congress Party interests that also has great influence among bien pensant fake liberals in the West.

It will be interesting to see the villains, hypocrites and clowns that will stand against Modi in the 2019 election. Who will mark their “X” for Nitish Kumar or the Boy Rahul? As many voters as the media class desperately wishes? I beg to disagree because I have observed the quiet dignity of the average Indian, who understands what Modi has set out to complete and is still willing to repose trust in Modi’s patient and long-term programme despite temporary discomforts.

Modi is a mildly left-wing, market-orientated populist technocrat. And yes, he is a nationalist: an Indian nationalist, not a Hindu nationalist. A nationalist is different to a chauvinist, a bigot or a fascist, despite what the Indian elite and media class claim. Their attitude is that India should prostrate itself and act against its own interests whenever possible. This seems entirely illogical until you realise they do very nicely out of the arrangement by being rewarded with money and positions, either by each other while they loot their own country as a privileged class, or by foreign powers, such as the USA and Pakistan.

The model for what Modi is doing remains, as I have said several times, the electrification of Gujarat he undertook in 2002, which involved considerable pain for everybody and was denounced by both Left and Right, but which he weathered and was eventually declared a hero. Gujarat never looked back, and neither, I am sure, will India after Modi’s first term. And for that he will be rewarded with a second.

Modi more popular than ever

What on earth can be going on?

Modi’s been “doing a Trump”.

After winning the state election in Gujarat a fortnight ago—and after a simultaneous victory in the formerly solid-Congress territory of Himachel Pradesh (As BJP wins Gujarat, Himachal, it is Modi vs Modi in 2019”), there can be only one interpretation: Modi and the BJP are doomed.

It is hilarious. These unceasing BJP victories mean the Indian mainstream media is forced to interpret damning defeats for the Congress Party as “a great opportunity” for the boy Rahul. And this despite the latest figures  that demonstrate Modi’s governance is heartily approved of by the Indian population—which must therefore increasingly be seen as “a bunch of deplorables” by the sophisticates in Delhi to keep their hallucination intact.

I’ve been muchly struck by the similarities in the treatment of  Modi, and now Donald Trump, in their respective countries during and after their election campaigns and victories. It’s been enlightening to observe Donald Trump being trashed by the limousine liberals (and even much of the Republican Party) in exactly the same way that previously Modi received abuse and brickbats in India from the Congress Party and its media sycophants (and a lot of the establishment BJP too) before and after he was elected PM.

Both leaders were initially condemned for being “Hitler” (who else?). Modi was to unleash a genocide against Indian Muslims the day after he became Prime Minister, before plunging the subcontinent into a fascist Hindutva dark age. Likewise Hitler Trump was going to deport eight million foreigners from the USA before shooting all the black population and installing the Ku Klux Klan in the State Department.

When these original hallucinations died they were replaced by the second hallucination (I am indebted here to Scott Adams’s insights, which I recommend to everybody either via his website or his almost-daily Periscope broadcasts). This second hallucination implicitly admitted that while neither Modi nor Trump was exactly Hitler, they were instead chaotic and hopeless, and their countries accordingly still doomed.

This story had clung to Modi for some time. He was narrated by the media as an “uneducated” son of a chai-wallah who would be lost in shepherding a nation, despite his two degrees in political science and a stellar decade-plus governing Gujarat. Likewise billionaire Trump was dismissed as a reality TV clown who had taken daddy’s money (one meellion dollars!) and once been bankrupted (administratively, like almost every other big US corporation).

Does anybody recall how the limousine liberals cried that Ronald Reagan would of course be useless because he was only an “actor” (despite already being two-terms gov of California)?

In fact, like Modi, Trump was tough and super-competent (he didn’t tolerate fools, especially ones on the public payroll), and very threatening to entrenched privilege, as has been proven in both cases. By now Modi and Trump have both got a lot done—exactly according to what they said they would do, not according to what their political enemies, still moaning, would like for them to have done.

And this has led to the third stage of the hallucination, in which reality at last begins to creep in. This third stage, in the case of both Modi and Trump, says, “Well then, he might be effective and get things done, but I don’t like it”. Which is fair enough, and tough luck, too, because lots of people do like it. In India they like it very much.

One example of what Modi has accomplished is the much (Congress)-maligned and -obstructed Goods and Services Tax (GST), a nation-wide levy imposed last July to replace and rationalise the complicated, inefficient and legendarily corrupt system of inter- and intra-state charges that kept India’s economy from growing. It was predicted, by me amongst others, that GST on its own would add at least 1% to GDP over time. Now we are starting to see some of the effects. In trucking and transport, for example, where it was expected to have a large net positive effect, GST can be somewhat quantified:

  • The average daily distance covered by a truck in India has gone up almost 25% in a matter of months since the advent of GST, from 300-350 to 400-450 kilometers per day.
  • Previous checkpoints for imposts (and bribes) entailed average five-hour waits before truck journeys could continue. All over India, trucks were parked up in an endless queue to be robbed. Now the stops have gone and the harassment from tax officials has vanished. The truck-stop hookers might moan, but then again, business might be a lot brisker, too.
  • Fewer, briefer stoppages have slashed maintenance costs for vehicles by up to 30%, claim transport firms. They also say that because the journeys are steadier and less interrupted, fuel consumption has improved by 10-15%.

So, conservatively, we could say that trucking has benefited by 15% overall in the last six months, and that’s taking into account the inevitable administrative difficulties of imposing a new system. What’s that going to look like going forward, and across all the businesses of India that will benefit in their own different ways?

Now Modi’s approval ratings start to make real sense, despite the way the Indian media desperately spins it. In fact, Indians are still hopelessly in love with Narendra Modi . Indeed, a new Pew Report out of Washington, DC, is astonished that Modi’s approval rating is stuck at a miserable 90%. Apparently even the Indian media is being forced to admit the economy is “returning to normal” (Is Indian economy on the mend after demonetization shock?  after the “disaster” of demonetization—and you can see here and elsewhere what I think about that particular limousine-liberal hallucination.

Happy New Year!

April update – and the contortions of the Left

Modi gets his man, triumphs in Delhi local polls; how the Left now backs the bankers; a great new magazine

A little bit of a round-up and some thoughts on the plight of the Left around the globe: I have been busy on something else this month (see below), so I am running around catching up on what I want to discuss on here. Back to normal service soon! OK …

At last Vijay Mallya, rural Hertfordshire’s most notorious alleged loan defaulter (but ask the banks and his wretched employees, who should know, or the Central Bureau of Investigation in Delhi, which recently charged the business genius with fraud) was arrested in London on 18 April on an extradition warrant. This doesn’t mean he’ll be dragged, handcuffed and squealing, onto an India-bound jet next week, desirable as that might be. It’s the start of a long, lawyer-enriching process that should nonetheless eventually see the ‘businessman’ back in the country he loves – and I do mean India not the Bahamas. PM Modi tweeted, ‘There is no place for corruption in India. Those who looted the poor & middle classes will have to return what they have looted.’ Not much fun to be in Modi’s crosshairs, I should think. Mallya’s besotted cheerleader at the FT must be sobbing.

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Antifragile India

What are we to make of the extraordinary progress and results that Modi is achieving? It could be the ‘antifragile’ phenomenon in action.

Of the five recent Indian state assembly elections – in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur – the BJP either won outright or formed a ruling coalition in four of them. Only in Punjab did the party strike out, and this was easily foreseen. I think it is time to begin to speak of Modi making India – and himself – ‘antifragile’.

The most stupefying electoral result was from Uttar Pradesh. At the conclusion of my last post I cautiously guessed at a 60-70% chance of Modi (and I purposely say ‘Modi’ rather than ‘BJP’) winning in UP. It transpired that an unprecedented landslide in Modi’s favour gave the BJP 312 seats (excluding alliances) out of a 403-seat Vidhan Sabha. This is almost unbelievable, especially when the doom-laden predictions of electoral oblivion – heavily predicated on the ‘disastrous’ demonetisation of late 2016 – are taken into account.

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Election fever is breaking out in Uttar Pradesh

In a tight, dirty race, which of the electoral horses in a three-party race will cross the line first in UP?

In legal circles it is said that hard cases make bad law, but in electoral politics the opposite is true, and a crunchy election may be a decisive pinch point and an interesting, perhaps reliable indicator of the future course of events.

At present several Indian states are electing their assemblies, which is done every five years. For those not familiar with the Indian political structure, the simplest way to describe it is to say that it’s mostly like the US federal system, but with bits of the British parliamentary arrangement thrown into the mix.

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So much more than musical chairs

Studying the changing profile of power in Modi’s government will reward those who wish to understand and do business with India

A week ago Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated a major reshuffle of his cabinet and ministers. Halfway through the NDA’s term of government is a good time to take stock in a significant way, and to position the government for the coming election in 2019 whose approach is still just below the horizon.

What seems clear is that with this reshuffle Modi is further putting his stamp on the character of the administration, and that he has one eye on the future electoral profile of the BJP: good performance is rewarded and poor performance, including ministers getting too big for their boots, is punished. The demotion everybody is talking about is Smriti Irani being moved from Employment to Textiles due to her proclivity for never knowingly avoiding a fight and admiring herself way too much. Some claim it is not a demotion but a sideways deployment that positions her to fight in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections. (Note that the Gandhi family ‘pocket boroughs’, Amethi and Rae Bareli – which hold the honours of the most severe child malnutrition in India, and some of the worst highways – are in Uttar Pradesh.) Others say that is nonsense and that caste issues by far outweigh any influence that Irani could bring to bear in that state. We shall see.

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Raghuram Rajan “resigns”

India may well regret seeing off a sober money-man if it now lets slip the dogs of boom

This weekend saw the announcement by Indian central bank chief (and former IMF director) Raghuram Rajan that he would not take up a second period where, appointed by the previous Congress administration, he has been in post since 2013. Instead, Rajan will return to the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. There he is Distinguished Service Professor of Finance, and has been on an extended sabbatical that has seen him steady and even turn around India’s economic situation.

At least that is what some say. Others, such as deadly loose cannon Subramanian Swamy, who campaigned for his removal, accuse Rajan of hobbling India and indulging in egotistical grandstanding, to the government’s and the nation’s detriment.

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Things are finally moving …

Modi entered Delhi facing an entrenched and obstructive government bureaucracy that was bespoke-designed over many decades to serve the bigwigs of Congress

Despite being Modi’s biographer and genuinely liking the man, I am not here to defend him. It is a fact that as we pass the two-year mark of the BJP administration in power, there are justified criticisms to be made. Overall the biggest complaint has to be the apparently slow and timid pace of change and reform – for, incidentally, nothing dramatically disastrous or unforgivable has occurred, despite such being endlessly predicted by Modi’s political and media enemies loyal to the Gandhi dynasty.

When I am asked, as I always am asked, the reason why Modi has not changed everything quickly and delivered India to its wonderful prosperous destiny already, I reply with an offering of a reality sandwich. First of all, Modi entered Delhi facing an entrenched and obstructive government bureaucracy that was bespoke-designed over many decades to serve the bigwigs of the Congress Party and the Gandhi dynasty. Very many careers were owed to and depended upon the established structure; forcing it to change was always going to be a Herculean task. The babus of government service constitute a complete society, unbelieveably  loyal to that Gandhi dynasty, and changing their orientation would be a work of years and would require a master administrator.

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On Vijay Mallya and committing gross acts of journalism

Business hero Vijay Mallya broke his dignified silence to speak to the FT.

As I write, Kingfisher airlines and beer boss, or rather ex boss, Vijay Mallya, is holed up in his ugly oversized Barratt home just around the corner from me here in North London; indeed so close that I can almost smell his distinctive scent of privilege, greed and egomania – traits characterised by a better writer than me as ‘sociopathic’.

India, which is owed 9000 crore rupees (nearly a billion pounds sterling, or £935,394,495 to be precise) by that genius of business – who is certainly not a corrupt gangster and thief despite what it might say in the arrest warrants – has tried to persuade the UK to deport Mallya back to his home country from whence he scarpered or made himself scarce on March 2, one whole day before his creditors were able to have his passport impounded.

But the UK demurred: ‘Sorry old chaps, but this Vijay fellow hasn’t actually committed any crimes on British soil so we’re afraid our hands are tied. Love to help if we could and all that. You might try extraditing him. We probably wouldn’t actually raise an objection if you went that route. Probably …’

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Bye-bye Facebook, Monsanto!

What’s behind India’s new-found assertiveness?

First it was Facebook. India’s potentially enormous, and as yet largely untapped, internet and mobile phone market will see about half a billion people come online over the next few years (I hope soon to write at some length about its implications). And this in the country that will enjoy the world’s best economic growth for the next two decades.

Mark Zuckerberg was salivating over this juicy prospect and launched a portal called ‘Free Basics’ that tied the user to Facebook’s domain in exchange for free online access. Except of course it wasn’t free because Facebook decided what sites could be accessed and would eventually have its own access to the most valuable of all commodities: the users’ saleable metrics and private information, the bread and butter of Facebook’s business.

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