A place for NRIs
Today the PM is like a virtual czar of the country. He can carve states into union territories, anoint as their heads who he wants to, all without the slightest peep of criticism from within the Sangh Parivar or without. Abroad he roams like a titan from Russia to America to Saudi Arabia. In India he welcomes global titans like Angela Merkel and Xi Jinping.
Not since Nehru has an Indian leader bestrode the world stage as the PM. But I will come to that later. There is an elephant in the room that few are pointing to the PM. It’s almost like his new clothes. And that is the economy.
Right now the BJP is in rapture. Six months into its second term, it feels that it has another 20 years to rule. Amit Shah feels that he can do anything and say anything. But let’s not forget UPA2. Six months into its tenure, it seemed liked the Gandhis would rule forever.
The state election results of Maharashtra and Haryana are warning bells for the BJP. In both states, the Congress party’s national leadership barely campaigned. Sonia Gandhi was too sick. Rahul Gandhi, who knows what his role is. As Shashi Tharoor says, the Gandhis seem to have been stunned into negligence. Priyanka, Sonia will not let out of the box she’s placed her in.
Yet, the Congress did resoundingly well in both states. The BJP did far below expectation and cannot even form the government in Maharashtra. The economy is beginning to tell.
One of the greatest Indians alive is Manmohan Singh. In 1991, when the economy needed shock therapy, he gave it a full jolt, shaking off the slumber that many Indians found themselves in. As PM from 2004 to 2014, he delivered an over 10% growth rate as calculated by the current methodology. He channeled growth into Sonia-inspired redistribution programs like Mnrega, which PM Modi co-opted. Dear PM, the man deserves a Bharat Ratna. No Indian has had a greater impact on India since Nehru.
Which brings me to Nehru. Nehru brought in Indian expats like Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai to India and we can see today what they were able to do for India. There is no shortage of talent of Indian origin around the world. When an Abhijit Banerjee wins a Nobel, we are all incredibly proud, but quickly proceed to tear him to shreds if we don’t agree with him.
Make in India is a grand scheme that has become mired in allegations of crony capitalism. Sure, there will be a day when an Indian industrial house would be able to make a decent pistol, but I wouldn’t die waiting. The garment export industry moved from India to Pakistan to Bangladesh, a country that beats us in almost all social indicators. What are we doing to get the garment industry back?
See, the economy needs targeted solutions, like you give an injection to a specific part of the body, not a body-wide jolt like a morphine shot that is Make in India. No specific plans, no roadmaps, just a lot of hot air.
And yes, the country needs a new finance minister. There I said it. The previous finance minister was a generalist whose ill-founded policies have led to the stasis of today. The current finance minister too is a generalist, who goes around doing patchwork therapy to the economy. She seems to be seeking answers from people. But that is not the right attitude. As my boss once told me, he had hired me to give answers, not to ask questions.
The economy needs a finance minister like a Raghuram Rajan or an Abhijit Banerjee. Homegrown Indians will say that they are used to the easier and greener pastures of the West than the more complex ones like India’s, but they are mistaken in their assumption. The West is a cutthroat place to be. Some like Rajan have proved themselves in India. And can anyone doubt that Banerjee will.
More broadly, the PM must institute an NRI quota in Indian institutions, public and private. Hah, there I see the hue and cry. When NRIs can come to India naturally, why have a “merit” quota for them? Well, because, many of them come to India and hit a brick wall. Homegrown Indians refuse to listen to them or tap into their expertise, saying that they themselves know the “Indian” way best. The PM must empower NRIs the way Nehru empowered Bhabha and Sarabhai. Only then will the PM be seen a transformative PM that Nehru was, Nehru a man the PM loves to hate, but one who he must learn to love to love.
NRIs need a place to call home. A place called India.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.