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Congress Will Survive But Not Its Philosophy: Lord Meghnad Desai

Modi is an outsider in a different way as compared to Trump. The outsiders, who were deprived and did not gain anything from globalisation supported Trump

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In an interview with Businessworld, Lord Meghnad Desai has mentioned about how the congress party seems out of sync with the young, aspirational India and is still stuck with the obsolete secular-communal binary.

In his latest book, he has also argued that there is a lot in common between Narendra Modi and Donald Trump, the foremost being that both were outsiders and were scornfully greeted by the mainstream media when they entered national politics. Edited Excerpts:

Do you see Brexit vote a result of the outsiders’ win against the liberal elites? You call Modi, trump as outsiders. Do we have more such examples?

Modi is an outsider in a different way as compared to Trump. The outsiders, who were deprived and did not gain anything from globalisation supported Trump. Trump lined his campaign extremely carefully. He had a strategy of not winning the popular vote. He had to win 300 counties and scouted the ones which the opposition was not even looking. So he really scooped up people who felt ignored, people who were not a part of the happy liberal force and who hated Washington.

Modi is an outsider in a different way; he is an outsider in the Indian system. He is the first OBC Prime Minister. So he is an outsider in Indian social terms and in Indian political terms that congress had hegemony in. And by saying ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’, Modi suddenly caught an idea that people don’t like to be patronized. When you say Aam Aadmi, you are actually being very patronizing.

Child malnutrition prevailed not because children were not fed but because they could not retain what they were fed. It was an issue of open defecation and gastrointestinal problem. So, it takes outside of the box thinking to see such problems and make it a campaign. Modi is interesting in that way and the old system has still not accepted him in.

You argue Trump and Modi and other "outsiders" have come to power as results of systematic forces. Do you see this trend continuing or reversing?

Difficult to say. Trump is still in his early days. He would change the system if he is interested in getting re-elected. For that he would have to break the Republican Party and create another party which will help him defeat the strongest party. Then I think he is smart enough to take Bernie Sanders votes. If you were to do that, that would fundamentally change the American politics and create new hegemony of a different kind of politics.

Modi has already begun to do that. Congress party will survive but not its philosophy. Its ideology is wrong and they have realised how deeply people have rejected them. They are still hoping that they will talk about Nehru and sacrifice of the independence period. The median age of today’s population is 26. They are born with Narsimha Rao’s 1991 reforms and do not remember any of those things happened in 1942. It’s a game of lazy thinking of repeating the same old mantra.

How do you see India in global affairs in future?

I think India has aspirations to be a great power, but we still have to see seriousness of work. I am more worried about it, than anybody else, because of the ongoing trouble between India and China to settle the border issue. It maybe that India is serious and the government is not saying anything as it may alarm people. The Chinese are very serious. They have been for ages felt deeply insulted that the British took away their territory and they want it back. I do not doubt anybody patriotism or ability, but does India has the stamina and psychology for a seriously long war. Pakistan is a different case. Both the nations share the same training and same logic. With China, we are put to a test.

What about the economic aspect?

On the economic side, India really has to produce at least 10 years of single high digit growth. Starting in 1998, India’s growth rate went up, close to 10 per cent, but it keeps on falling down. Citing the example of Korea, Japan and other, you have to have a sustained 20 years of continuous high single digit or low double digit growth. The consistency is missing and it is not about the tightness of the policy making or implementation.

Even Narendra Modi, as good and strong he is, is not willing to challenge the system. According to me, there is a lot of stuff constructed by the congress that must be demolished. To that extent, I am hoping that Modi would be much bolder. Margret Thatcher was much bolder in her second term. India needs a sustained reform growth amongst all the challenges it faces.

Could you elaborate on the deconstruction of the age old systems as you mentioned earlier?

Take for instance the ongoing NPA issue with banks. I don’t understand why we need public sector banks at all. There is absolutely no logic of state owing banks today. Originally, Indira Gandhi had said that it is for financial inclusion and rural development. 45 years later, the current prime minster has to say the same thing. So what have we been doing for 45 years? Nothing! - Giving money to the rich, with no intention of re-paying.

Every time I go to an Indian bank, it makes me furious how old fashioned the methods still are. None of this is necessary and vital to the public at large. We have experimented this model for centuries and the system is lost today. Why should India stick to this inefficient system, build by the British, which is bad on both incentives and aspirations.

Talking about global powers, do you think India would form an axis with the US, UK against China?

It already has done so. I have said this for many years now that there exist ‘just in case’ military understanding between US and India. It started with Bush and Manmohan Singh, renewed by Obama and now by Trump. The story is that Bush found out that there is another country with a billion population, he certainly woke up to the possibility of India and started taking interest in the country. He and Manmohan hit off very well on a personal level. It was the remarkable friendship that Bush intervened on behalf of India for the NSG. Had Lal Bahadur Shastri lived, we would have had a separate equation. It was Vajpayee, then Manmohan and now with Modi and Trump. Modi is leveraging the Diaspora very successfully.

So I believe that there is a very good understanding that any war that China and India or China and US have, India will be able to give the manual and equipments and we would really be San Trinidad (The Holy Trinity). So I think there is this sought of implicit understanding.

Our army is not in a very well prepared state. Let me say this, if Doklam (India China border) became more than a standoff turning into a war and if India suffered any extremity, Americans would come and give us the equipments we need.