A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
The presumptive prime minister of the world’s largest democracy promised a “shining India” in his victory speech Friday. Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi’s B.J.P. party swept the country’s national election in a landslide — the scale of which has not been seen since the 1980s. In the streets of New Delhi, Modi’s supporters celebrated his victory with fireworks, dancing and singing. But the pro-business leader faces huge challenges, including job creation that is not keeping pace with massive population growth. Many are also wary of Modi’s willingness to represent the country’s 175 million Muslims. Guest host Susan Page and her guests discuss the promise and challenges facing India’s next prime minister.
- Gardiner Harris South Asia correspondent, The New York Times. He is the author of the mystery novel "Hazard."
- Alyssa Ayres senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations
- Akhil Sharma author of the novels "Family Life" and "An Obedient Father."
- Ashley Tellis senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's getting over a cold. Narendra Modi will be sworn in this week as India's new prime minister. His Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, and its allies won India's general election by the biggest margin in 30 years. Joining me to talk about the huge challenges facing him and India here in the studio: Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Alyssa Ayres of the Council on Foreign Relations. Thanks for being with us.
MS. ALYSSA AYRESThanks for having us.
MR. ASHLEY TELLISThank you.
PAGEJoining us by phone from his book tour in Jackson Hole, Wyo. is author Akhil Sharma. Thanks for joining us.
MR. AKHIL SHARMAMy pleasure.
PAGEAnd we'll take your calls and questions later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Ashley, this was a record-breaking election. Tell us in what ways.
TELLISWell, in multiple ways, I think. First, it was the largest turnout that Indian elections have seen in recent years. The amount of money that was officially spent on this election exceeded the amount of money spent in U.S. presidential elections. And, of course, the result was startling and extraordinary. India's had a series of coalition governments now for a couple of decades. And no one expected that a single party would make it past the finish line with an absolute majority.
PAGEYeah. Pretty amazing. Akhil, I know that you were born in India. You have family there. How much interest was there in this election compared to previous elections?
SHARMAPeople had -- people were -- everybody I knew was incredibly fascinated with this because, at least within my very conservative family. We -- I did not, but we, as in the communal family, did think that the BJP would win a majority. But that's because they're hardcore true believers. But they were absolutely fascinated.
PAGEAlyssa, it's such a rebuke to the Congress party that has been in power there for most of the past seven decades. What did the Congress party do to deserve this kind of election outcome?
AYRESI think what you saw unfolding over the course of the last decade, but particularly over the course of the last five years -- so the Congress-led government second term -- was first a series of corruption scandals that not only captured everybody's attention in India but internationally as well. So many people in India started to ask, what's happening? What is our government doing?
AYRESAre people just on the take and not actually delivering services that they're in office presumably to provide? So there was that element that -- and which it actually gave rise to an anti-corruption civil society movement that actually produced a whole separate political party. That's another sidebar story. But -- so one issue was the corruption matter.
AYRESBut the second issue was some challenges in the economy that ended up slowing India's pace of economic growth. India had been growing quickly, had, you know, gotten to nine, 10 percent growth around 2007, 2008. And it's now dropped below 5 percent growth annually, which, for a country like India, you need to create jobs for about 10 to 12 million people each year to accommodate rising work force. That matters a lot, so this was also a vote about people's pocketbooks.
PAGESo, actually, expectations must be pretty high for the new guy. What are people expecting him to deliver?
TELLISWell, they're expecting him to deliver miracles. And, unfortunately, that's not going to happen because it is impossible to produce miracles on the timeline that people expect. What he will do, I think, immediately is to do a few things that change investor sentiment, that make people optimistic about the near-term prospects of the economy. But the kinds of reforms that India needs to raise the growth rates to double-digit levels will be much harder to implement. But that is some time away in the future. For the moment, people are simply expecting that things will change magically overnight.
PAGEAkhil, what do you think people are expecting in India, expecting perhaps right away after delivering this big mandate?
SHARMAI think that they're expecting that, within six to nine months, everybody will have a job. I mean, I think it's that level of craziness. I also think that -- I just want to point out that there have been civil society organizations and anti-corruption sort of movements in India forever. The -- what was going on in terms of the -- mostly people were OK with their politicians stealing. And by that, I mean that, you know, we were willing to say, hey, go ahead, steal, as long as we get to eat, too.
SHARMABut what's occurred with the economy doing so poorly is now not only are the politicians stealing, but we're not getting anything. The -- at least when the economy was growing, sometimes these corruption scandals would occur. And people would feel so happy that there was so much money that you could steal in such quantities. I mean, it was that level of craziness.
PAGEInteresting. We're joined now from New Delhi by Gardiner Harris. He's South Asia correspondent for The New York Times. Gardiner Harris, thank you for being with us.
MR. GARDINER HARRISSure. I'm sorry I wasn't on earlier. Things don't always work here perfectly.
PAGEWell, it's been just a couple days since the election returns were announced -- big celebration. What's going on now? What is the latest on the election and the latest on the reaction among people in India toward the election?
HARRISWell, today, the big thing is that the Congress party is having its gathering of its top leaders. And there is obviously a lot of finger pointing within the Congress party about who lost this election. It was a historic loss for the Gandhi-led Congress party. They only won 44 seats, by far, their worst showing ever. So I think that there is, as was said before, there's sort of both kind of soul searching on the part of the losers who were -- it was just an amazing route of this traditional dynastic family here.
HARRISBut I think also, as was said, there's a huge amount of hope for the BJP led by Narendra Modi. And they're -- I think the other person was right, that it's -- that within six to nine months, people are hoping for jobs. And, you know, the job issue here is so big, so there a million people a month coming of age, of job age, here. It's this huge wave of youth coming down the pipeline. And so, you know, India's going to have to create 120 million new jobs over the next 10 years. And, you know, some 40 -- 30 to 40 percent of the people coming up are illiterate.
HARRISSo India also has to create a manufacturing sector which it simply does not have. You know, about 13 percent of India's economic output is in the manufacturing space, which is about what it is in the United States, which is just abysmally low for a country where India is in its development phase. So just huge changes are going to have to happen. And I think that they're -- you know, and if they don't, Friday's political earthquake is by no means going to be the last.
HARRISAnd I think, you know, the thing about the Congress party was that they did not have the kind of desperate urgency that is needed for this situation. I'm not sure that the BJP is up to the task either. And there has been a sort of a sense of euphoria not only among people but also among investors. You know, the Sensex stock index here has sort of soared.
HARRISBut there are a lot of, you know, worrisome contradictions within the BJP's own coalition, the RSS, which has the sort of shock troops of the BJP. They don't particularly like foreign direct investment despite the fact that it is desperately needed. So I think that there is reason for cautious optimism that things will improve on the economic front. But this sort of euphoria is just completely out of hand.
PAGESo let's talk a little about the incoming Prime Minister Mr. Modi. Tell us about him, Ashley. What do we know about him and what he's done in the past?
TELLISWell, let's start with the one thing that evokes most controversy. He was chief minister of Gujarat when you had a very serious riot in 2002. And he has -- since then, his reputation has been dogged by accusations of inaction, that he did not move quickly enough to quell the rioting and to provide assistance. After that, he continued as chief minister of Gujarat to this day where he is. And he's had a remarkable record. He has made Gujarat the most investor-friendly state. It's a state that has chalked up close to double-digit, if not double-digit growth rates now, for 10 years.
TELLISHe streamlined a lot of the processes that were required to get investment to the state. And he focused a great deal on the delivery of services, so he looked at infrastructure, he looked at power, he looked at water, and produced those things for average Gujaratis. And so there is now a Janus-faced picture of him, one where people have deep questions about his commitment to Indian secularism and includes a vision of India. But on the other hand, there's also this image of him as a very strong-willed leader who gets things done on the things that matter to him.
PAGEWell, they said these -- this issue of the riots in 2002 prompted the United States to refuse to give him a visa, consequences in Great Britain as well. Does he deserve -- should -- will he be held accountable for what happened there?
AYRESSo I think in the intervening years, the legal procedures that have unfolded in India -- India's widely regarded as having a free and fair and capable justice system. But it is very, very slow and very overburdened. The processes that unfolded in these intervening years have, in the end, found insufficient evidence to hold Mr. Modi responsible for the riots that took place in 2002. So in that sense, there has been an accountability review process in India and India's own legal system has determined that he has been held accountable to the extent that there's no evidence to prosecute him.
PAGEThat is not -- is that getting cleared? I mean, insufficient evidence isn't necessarily no evidence.
AYRESThat is getting cleared, yes.
PAGEThat is getting cleared. All right.
AYRESYes. There was a court case in December of last year, Dec. 26, 2013. A court case against him was quashed for lack of evidence, so...
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we'll go to the phones and take some of your calls and questions. 1-800-433-8850 is our toll-free number. You can always send us an email to email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And joining me here in the studio, Alyssa Ayres -- she is a senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations -- and Ashley Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. And joining us from his book tour in Jackson Hole, Wyo. is Akhil Sharma. He's an award-winning author. His latest novel is titled "Family Life."
PAGEAnd joining us from New Delhi, Gardiner Harris, South Asia correspondent for The New York Times. He is also author of a mystery novel titled "Hazard." Well, Gardiner Harris, we were talking about these riots in 2002 that have dogged the new prime minister. Is there concern? Should Muslims in India and other minorities there be worried about what he might do as prime minister?
HARRISRight. Let me just disagree sort of very strongly with what Alyssa said. You know, India's criminal justice system is shot through with political meddling. And the cases against actually Mr. Modi initially were largely dismissed because they were handled by state authorities over which he had great control. Justice was only sort of served when the Supreme Court stepped in forcefully. But there were all kinds of problems with that.
HARRISThere is no sense, I think, from a lot of civil society people necessarily that the case against Mr. Modi was necessarily investigated as vigorously as it might have been. Having said that though, there is an acceptance of political violence here that is, I think, hard for Westerners like us to kind of understand. Mr. Modi has also been linked with a police assassination squad that deliberately targeted Muslims. And there was case after case after case where the police sort of allegedly found some Muslims who were coming into Gujarat to try to kill Mr. Modi. And it all turned out to be made up.
HARRISSo what's interesting about the Modi experience really is that -- in the United States, as you know, mayors get dismissed if they don't clean the streets of snow. And he had blood running in his streets. Now, he may not have been criminally liable, but he actually grew more popular after the riots than he was before, which is a sort of a peculiar political dynamic here that comes from religious divides.
HARRISAnd so, you know, he does have a very dark and troubling past. Now, it happens to align with sort of a dark and troubling part of India. You know, Indian cities are deeply divided. There are Muslim areas, and there are Hindu areas. And there are -- you know, if you talk to the average middle class Muslim, nearly all of them will (unintelligible) someplace, tried to get, you know, loans, couldn't get it.
HARRISSo that sort of discrimination is just routine here. And the question is -- he's got sort of two things to do, right. He's got (unintelligible) around the economy. On the other hand, you know, you start hearing a lot of these BJP guys talk in a very bellicose fashion about Bangladesh and about Pakistan. And that is this kind of darker trend that, you know, if they go down that road, they will completely undercut the economic development stuff.
HARRISSo they -- there, again, are these very contradictory impulses within the BJP that, you know, they have to control. And there is some hope that Mr. Modi understands this and will control it and will, you know, decisively go for the economic stuff. But it's not at all clear whether that will happen.
PAGEAkhil, are you concerned about that?
SHARMAOh, yes, very concerned. I also think that we're misunderstanding the majority, the fact that the BJP won the majority, but they won over 31 percent of the vote. So it's a very fragile majority. And to that extent, the -- Modi needs to sort of pave -- needs to be very, very -- needs to cultivate his party very carefully. I don't think that he is in -- I don't know how much power he has over his own people. So if I were a Muslim, I would be very nervous as to what's going to happen.
SHARMAI mean, among the celebrations that occurred, along with setting off firecrackers, there were various mosques that were attacked. So there's already been some violence in response to these elections. So I don't -- and I also would agree with Gardiner that, you know, the Indian justice system is not tremendously reliable. And the fact that Modi has been allowed -- has been cleared is not that meaningful.
PAGEAshley, what do you think?
TELLISWell, I think it depends where you stand on this question. From the point of view of the United States, I don't think Washington has the luxury of adjudicating this issue. The United States simply has to take at face value the judicial process as in India. And if the Indian people cannot muster the political will and if the Indian state cannot muster the evidence to hold them accountable, then I simply don't see how the United States can act as a substitute.
PAGEWell, and, of course, we had President Obama congratulate him. And it was the Bush Administration that refused to issue him a visa to come here. Does this issue continue to affect U.S. Indian relations, Alyssa, or is this something that's just -- it's in the past, we're going to move forward?
AYRESI think the issue will continue potentially to affect U.S. India ties in as much as there may be some lingering resentment on the part of Mr. Modi. I don't know him personally, so I can't speak to whether he personally harbors resentment. He's made some public statements to the effect of saying that relations between nations should not be held to what happens between individuals, suggesting that he'll take a very pragmatic approach to this issue.
AYRESSo I would actually anticipate that U.S.-India relations proceed, continue to move ahead, particularly looking to do more together on the trade and economic side, which is a high priority for Mr. Modi. There may not be -- as Ashley has written, there may not be a huge embrace of warmth in the beginning, but certainly I think U.S.-India relations will continue to move on track.
PAGESo, Gardiner, what are you hearing from U.S. diplomats in New Delhi about U.S.-Indian relations going forward with this new government?
HARRISWell, so they're -- obviously it's been in sort of a deep freeze for the last several months since the arrest in December of the Indian diplomat Khobragade on, you know, visa charges. And that is just a surprisingly difficult process for the entire relationship. And, of course, then it got sort of frozen by the election. So I think that there is the great hope that any new government will sort of undo (unintelligible) things.
HARRISBut it is sort of a difficult thing for a president like Obama, you know. It is very difficult not to equate Muslims in India with blacks in the United States. You know, it's very much sort of similar issues with very sort of similar majoritarian problems. And, you know, the problems the Muslim face in India are very similar to the ones blacks faced in the United States prior to, you know, the 1960s. So it's a discomfiting kind of situation for, I think, Mr. Obama.
HARRISNow, having said that, the strategic issues are so compelling that Mr. Obama is probably just going to have to swallow and go on and try to make a partnership out of Mr. Modi. And I think that there is every belief that the BJP wants that partnership to go forward. You know, I was out on the campaign trail a lot with these guys. And the sort of the smart set in the BJP are all of these guys from the United States, you know, from a lot of software companies who came back to try to make a difference.
HARRISAnd they -- there is a hunger among them for acceptance in -- you know, among the American political classes. And they hate it when, you know, we talk about things like Muslims and equating them with blacks because they really don't like that (unintelligible). You know, many of them are Democrats in the U.S., and they're sort of right of center here. That's the way the two kind of political spectrums line up.
HARRISSo, you know, I think Obama has to try to move this forward. And I think the Americans want it to move forward. You know, how Modi handles that -- he's really been focused on China most of his career. He has gone three times to China (unintelligible) China. But he's (unintelligible) Chinese station troops on part of Indian territory in the Ladakh Kashmir last year. And it's unlikely that he will handle that particularly well if it happens again.
PAGEHere's an email from Jonathan who writes us: "Does Modi's win change anything between India and Pakistan?" Ashley, are there implications for the Indian-Pakistan relationship?
TELLISWell, there obviously are because Modi has taken a very tough line publicly that India cannot do business with Pakistan until Islamabad handles the problems associated with jihadi groups and terrorism against India. I think anyone in his position, particularly in an election campaign, would take that point of view.
TELLISSo the real issue going forward now is, does Modi continue the tradition of prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was a former BJP prime minister in India who reached out to Pakistan? Does Modi follow in those footsteps? Or does Modi chart a different course? My own sense is that Modi is so focused on internal issues in India, particularly the problems relating to the economy, growth, unemployment, inflation, that the temptation will be to actually forget that Pakistan exists for a while because he doesn't see Pakistan as being directly relevant to the problems that he has to deal with.
TELLISSo it will be a while, I think, before he gets around to thinking about Pakistan in some substantive fashion. And the danger, of course, in that delay is that many unfortunate things can happen. The India-Pakistan relationship is a very trouble-proned (sic) relationship. And until he seizes command of the issue and shapes it, he risks being driven by circumstances rather than his own interests.
PAGEAkhil, do you think he has the kind of the luxury of ignoring Pakistan or really downplaying foreign policy generally to keep what in the United States we might call a laser focus on the domestic economy?
SHARMAYou know, that's not going to happen. I mean, even assuming that nothing is going on in Pakistan, right, nothing occurs, you still have huge, well, movements of refugees or economic migrant laborers from Bangladesh into India. And he has to deal with that. So this international pressure is going to be constantly on him. And he has to deal with that. In terms of the U.S., my -- you know, nations don't have friends. They have interests. So I assume that India and America are going to try to figure out how to make this thing work.
SHARMAThe other thing to keep in mind is, you know, largely Gujarat grew economically for -- in terms of percentage terms because they grew off of such a low base. So you can have a 10 percent growth rate or a 12 percent growth rate or a 14 percent growth rate if you're starting so far down. And then the other reason that it grew is because it was acting almost as a port city or a port state. That is, if you wanted to do business in India, it was just easier to place factories there.
SHARMASo if you try to move that sort of investment outward into the rest of India, that's going to get diluted. And so, again, he's trapped. I mean, there isn't that much that he can do -- I don't think there's much that he can do economically. And I don't think that there's much that he can do internationally to the extent that he has choice -- to the extent that he can try to behave rationally. His own party's going to resist it.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to go to the phones, 1-800-433-8850. Alyssa, do you agree that he's got pretty limited parameters to act?
AYRESI actually think there's some areas where he's got broad scope to make some changes that would first increase investor sentiment in a positive way towards India. It has been very challenging in the last couple of years. First of all, one of the issues that Mr. Modi and the BJP policy platform have focused on is India's incredibly complex array of tax policies. And it's very difficult for a business to kind of work their way through.
AYRESAnd in the past two years, there's been a new amendment to India's tax policy that permits tax to be adjudicated retroactively. Now, that's been hugely disruptive for the international business community and investor sentiment. That's been an issue that he's focused on saying he'd like to end what he calls tax terrorism.
AYRESGetting rid of this kind of arbitrary application of taxation and having a regularized system that's predictable would make a huge difference in terms of bringing investors back to India. FDI policy, with the exception of one sector, insurance is generally set as a matter of policy and not through legislation. So there's tremendous scope to make changes there, being able to lift caps in different sectors from 26 or 51 percent to higher levels. That can infuse more funding into the country, which could also help support infrastructure development, another high priority.
AYRESSo I actually think -- I mean, we could go on and on, but I think there are a lot of areas where there's quite a bit of room for maneuver here that don't get into some of the structural constraints that of course do exist in India. The BJP doesn't control the upper house of parliament. It's a federal system. A lot of issues would be controlled at the state level. There may be states that aren't BJP led, so they wouldn't necessarily disagree with Mr. Modi. But there are a lot of areas where I think he could make changes.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let our listeners join our conversation. We'll go first to Tajel (sp?) calling us from Houston. Hi.
TAJELHi, Susan. Good morning. Thank you for taking my call. I just want to make a comment that western media always refers to the BJP as a Hindu nationalist party and Mr. Modi as a Hindu nationalist leader. But the Republican Party is not called the Christian Nationalist Party, which is essentially what this -- what it is.
TAJELSo this is a double standard that's noted by many Indians. And the reason it irks them is because Hindu nationalist is not a neutral term. It's a pejorative, and I don't see how it can be used to describe a democratically-elected leader. So can the people from the press please comment on this?
PAGEAll right. Tajel, thank you so much for your call. Let me ask our panel, what do you think? Is it unfair to call this a Hindu nationalist party? What do you think, Ashley?
SHARMASusan, I mean, on the...
PAGEYes, Akhil, go ahead.
SHARMACan you hear me? I'm sorry. On the BJP's website, until I think just a few weeks ago, they called themselves a Hindu nationalist party. So they actually do use that language themselves. I think it is fair. It's -- they clearly have all kinds of Hindu-oriented policies, such as constructing a temple at this particular place, the Ayodhya spot, as part of their manifesto.
SHARMASo it's an interesting thing that we occasionally hear from people in the BJP. And I thought it was particularly puzzling when they had those descriptors themselves on their own website. And yet they would complain to us about us using the language they themselves used.
SHARMAI also wanted to point out, Susan, that, you know, Mr. Modi was successful in Gujarat not just because Gujarat is a coastal place. But, basically, within a state setting, he was able to use the sort of force of his personality and political power to essentially ram things through the bureaucracy. He didn't sort of change the structure of decision making as so much as he was able to sort of get his personal authority to get it done. That (unintelligible) center.
PAGENow we're going to take -- Akhil, excuse me for interrupting you. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today filling in for Diane Rehm. And with us: Alyssa Ayres from the Council on Foreign Relations, Ashley Tellis from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Akhil Sharma, the author, and Gardiner Harris, a South Asia correspondent for The New York Times who joins us from New Delhi. Gardiner, here's an email that we've gotten from Alan, who writes us from Lauderhill, Fla.
PAGEHe writes, "Some months back, the subject of gang rape in India was the subject of much press coverage. Then the story faded into the usual state of news oblivion. Nothing has been asked of this new regime's attitudes on women's issues." What can you tell us about that?
HARRISWell, that's a really good question. Every political party basically agreed that women's empowerment and safety was a top priority. It certainly -- some elements of the BJP have some of these people who were sort of basically blaming the victims during this raping stuff and sort of saying, if women, you know, simply stayed in the village and if they didn't dress the way that they're dressing, everything would be fine.
HARRISSo it's -- it is sort of a curious element of this group. But I think that there is widespread agreement across the political spectrum that women need to be empowered and that that situation needs to be bettered.
PAGEWell, Akhil, we've heard Americans pay a lot of attention to this issue and with tremendous alarm -- front-page news, some of these terrible gang rapes. What do -- do people in India think -- what do people in India think about that? Do they think that it's misunderstood here, or overplayed, or what?
SHARMAI don't think it -- I think everybody in India -- most people in India find it horrifying. The other -- but the thing is, many people in India would rather look away or would -- or one would rather look away and to, if possible, find some way to blame the victim. So vast amounts of rapes occur. Only a tiny percentage of those are reported. But I think almost everybody in India would be horrified by it. They are, of course, quite able to, you know, think of good victims versus bad victims.
PAGELet's go to the phones and invite our listeners to answer -- to ask their questions or make their comments. We'll talk to A.J. calling us from St. Louis, Mo. A.J., thank you for holding on.
A.J.Yeah, hi, a great show. Quick question for the panel. I just wanted to see what their comments are with the Congress party losing. And they're still using the Gandhi family as the basis for the whole Congress party. I just wanted to hear the comments on what they think about it. Thank you.
PAGEAll right, A.J. Thanks very much for your call. Ashley?
TELLISWell, I think there's no doubt today that this is the most devastating defeat that the Congress has suffered in its post-independence political history. And as I think was mentioned in the lead up to the show, there is a moment now of introspection. And the party has to make some fundamental decisions, one of which is whether they'll continue to be a dynastic party of the kind that it has become or whether it will really go back to some alternative model where there is space created for regional leaders to really assert themselves and to reflect their own local interests in national decision making within the party.
TELLISWe don't know how that is going to go because that question is intimately linked to the preferences of Sonia Gandhi and the people around her who have profited from being close to the Gandhi dynasty. So that's an open question. But I think the larger point is really that India needs a Congress party.
TELLISIndia needs a national party which reflects broadly a left-of-center set of policies, particularly because, if Modi is successful, they're likely to see, over the next decade, the rise of the BJP as a national party with a right-of-center perspective. And I think it would be productive for Indian democracy if you have two broad parties with distinct political platforms that rive among themselves for the loyalty of the Indian people.
PAGEWell, Gardiner, what do you think is ahead for the Gandhi party, which has of course been in power for so long, such key players in the Indian democracy? Gardiner, are you there? I'm sorry. We've had some problems with his phone line, of course, calling us from New Delhi. Alyssa, what do you think, the Gandhi family future?
AYRESIt's interesting. Much of the focus over the course of the last two to three years has been on the future and the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, so the next generation of this dynasty that has played such an important role in independent India. He was very much front and center in this campaign, somebody who had been focused on reforming the party from the inside out. One of the issues that's been important to him that he's discussed publicly, has been trying to introduce internal party democracy. There were a limited number of seats, 12, I believe, for which they opened up the idea of primaries.
AYRESThis is something we'll have to see how it unfolds. It's actually, I think, important for our American listeners to just keep in mind that democracy in this kind of a parliamentary system doesn't work the way ours does. People don't have primaries where they go and vote for their local candidates, but rather candidates for specific places will be selected from the party authorities and then in some cases parachuted in. So opening that up and seeing a kind of broader flowering of democracy at lower levels could transform the party. But I bet that would take some time.
PAGEOur phone lines are open. You can give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email. Here's an email. This emailer asks, "Is corruption different in India and other parts of the world than it is in America? Specifically, if it is widespread and endemic, then does it change anything? Should we be viewing it as just another form of taxation or subsidy?" Akhil, is corruption different in India than it is here?
SHARMAI was asking a friend of mine who sells paints in India what he thought of paying bribes, whether he disliked these people. And he said, no, he just views it as business. It's different in the sense that you have a low-grade anxiety constantly. And you have a low-grade fear constantly. That is, you're not only anxious about, you know, having to bribe somebody to buy, if you want to start a business, but you're afraid all the time as to what's going to be in your medicines. Are they real medicines?
SHARMAYou're afraid all the time if you're going -- if you're driving down the street, what's going to happen to you. You know, your ability to get electricity is limited by corruption. So it's just part of the -- it is so widespread that it is like living in an enormously polluted city. It's going to make you sick.
PAGEWell, Ashley, is -- what steps could Modi take that could deal with this corruption issue, which, as I think you noted earlier in the hour, was one of the reasons he won such a big election?
TELLISWell, to understand that, you've got to take one step back and look at the character of corruption in India. There are three types of corruption in India. There is corruption which arises because of the scarcity of goods because India has simply not been as productive as it should have been over the years. There's corruption that arises because government processes are burdensome and onerous, and the citizenry look for shortcuts trying to circumvent those processes.
TELLISAnd there's a third kind of corruption which arises because of a struggle to command rule making, a struggle between very powerful entities which want to make certain that the rules that are derived for government business favor them. What Modi can do most easily is to deal with the third kind of corruption because rule making and the struggle over rule making is adjudicated by the central government. And if there is a transparent process that's put in place, it's possible to get some improvement on that score.
TELLISBut corruption which involves responses to scarcity and corruption, which involves responses to onerous, burdensome regulations, I think, will take much longer. That's part of the process of development. And those are not problems that are susceptible to quick fixes. India has to really, you know, master the challenges of underdevelopment before it can deal with those first two type of corruptions.
PAGEHmm. Alyssa, I know that we were discussing earlier this issue of these horrifying gang rapes that have made the news in India. What do you think about that? And what would you expect this new government to do on that issue?
AYRESWell, I think over the course of the 2013 year, you saw a very powerful response in India to -- first, the gang rape that had taken place in December 2012, the Nirbhaya case -- producing new legislation that has much stronger enforcement and punishment mechanisms, the creation of new fast-track courts in India that can now bring people to trial quickly. Again, the problem with Indian court systems is so often that it can just stretch out for, you know, a decade, while somebody is under remand.
AYRESSo the creation of this new legislation and the fast-track courts has been a very positive thing. There's also been the passage of a new law in India that targets sexual harassment, which again is another really important legislative fix to help women be able to bring charges and not be ostracized. I mean, this is something that people are talking about and care very much about.
AYRESBut the last think I just wanted to add is, on these issues of rape and sexual harassment, all these kinds of issues in India, they're debated very vigorously within India. But I think people don't often like to have that conversation with people outside India. They want this to be an internal conversation, but it's a matter, I think, sometimes of some embarrassment to discuss with foreigners.
PAGELet's go to Birmingham, Ala. and talk to Mohan. (sp?) Mohan, you're on the air.
MOHANHi, Susan. Thanks for taking my call. I would like to note that this is not really a victory of Modi nor BJP. It's significantly the anti-Congress wave against the corruption which was hugely made possible by the anti-corruption party, which I think someone called as a side bar story. It is more of a central page story that's a sentiment and culmination of all the anger. And I would like to conclude with one more, that of the 282 -- or 286 members of the BJP party who are being elected, there is not a single Muslim. It shows that the party has no inclination until now to take care of the minorities.
PAGEAll right, Mohan. Thank you so much for your call. What do you think, Ashley?
TELLISWell, I think there was certainly an anti-incumbency wave that shaped the outcome that we saw. But I disagree with Mohan when he says that it is not a pro-Modi vote. I don't think people voted for the BJP, but they certainly voted for Modi. And they voted for Modi because they saw him as the antidote to what was a rudderless government which was characterized by corruption, misgovernance, and essentially the failure to do anything that mattered to the Indian people.
TELLISSo I think we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn’t recognize that he turned out to be a charismatic personality who actually commanded national attention and positioned himself as the alternative to the detritus of the last five years.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Well, Akhil, there are -- the news reports here made him sound like a pretty charismatic politician. And I know there was a -- I saw a big picture, I think, in The Wall Street Journal Saturday that showed him in a sea of people on a car and raising his hand with a "V" for victory sign. It looked very American actually, the kind of political scene.
SHARMAIt, you know, we take -- we Indians take many of our cues as to how to -- as what is the proper way to behave based on what we see in the Western movies or Western TV. So that sort of behavior, the "V" for victory, might be derived from that. The -- one thing to keep in mind is, I agree that this is not merely an anti-Congress vote -- the BJP election is not an anti-Congress vote. The thing to question is, what exactly is it a vote for? Because what Modi has positioned himself for as is somebody who can get business, can get jobs, which we have strong doubts about.
SHARMAHe is also somebody who has, to a large extent, downplayed, you know, his -- the very -- the -- what was sort of the source of his original power at the RSS, the extreme wing of the -- of sort of the Hindu nationalists. And so we -- it's hard to say that this is a vote for Modi when he has positioned himself -- when he has sort of hidden who he actually is -- or to the extent that he has misrepresented who he actually is. Or we don't understand what he has actually achieved. So it's hard to claim that he -- that this is a vote for the BJP or it's a vote for Modi.
TELLISI disagree with that somewhat. I think it is a vote for Modi. If you look at the campaign that he ran, it was a very disciplined campaign that focused essentially on two issues, growth and governance. Only late in the campaign did he descend to employing, you know, Hindu nationalist strokes. But for the campaign, he focused really on issues that mattered to most individuals in India. Now, this may have been dissembling, but the fact of the matter was I think the people of India heard his story on what he was going to do for growth and governance.
TELLISAnd they voted him in expecting that he is going to focus on growth and governance. Now if he does something else, he, like Munmun Singh before him, will be in for a rude shock. This is a democracy that will go to the polls five years from now. And Mr. Modi will have his moment of reckoning, just like his predecessors.
PAGEWe're almost out of time. Just very quickly, what sort of bold stroke do you think he could take that could make a difference and launch his reign in a big way? Akhil, what -- is there some bold thing that he could do?
SHARMAI think the two things that he needs to do is he needs to signal very strongly that he's going to protect the minorities. I think -- and then the other thing that he needs to do is to pass whatever regulations that he can quickly, which will bring in investment. Those are the two things for, like, day one -- those are the things that he should do.
PAGEAlyssa, what do you think he should do or can do off the bat -- right off the bat?
AYRESWell, I definitely agree with the economic growth focus as a top focus. His other area of emphasis during the campaign was in good governance. He called it Su-Raj, good governance. He is interested in streamlining, consolidating parts of this enormous architecture of bureaucracy in India. If he can manage to do that and make the Indian government a sleeker and better performing kind of an entity, that would be huge for India.
PAGEAshley, what will you be looking for?
TELLISWell, I would be looking for steps that he would take to control the bureaucracy, to rationalize the way the government does business, and to really unveil in the budget, which will be coming up literally in a few weeks, a whole pro-growth agenda that signals to people that they made the right choice in voting him in.
PAGEAshley Tellis, Alyssa Ayres, and Akhil Sharma, thanks so much for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight, and Allison Brody. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts and podcasts. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington D.C. This is NPR.
Most Recent Shows
Kate Mulgrew, who stars as "Red" in the Netflix TV series "Orange Is The New Black", opens up in a new memoir about her complicated family and the baby she gave away for adoption as a young woman.
On the 100th anniversary of the publication of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," a discussion about why the poem and poet are well-loved but misunderstood.
"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is the first of the mysterious Italian author's Neapolitan novels. The series tells the story of a life-long friendship between two working class girls in Naples. Critics have called Ferrante “one of the greatest novelists of our time.” Yet nobody knows her true identity. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “My Brilliant Friend.”