With love, to my Leftist, “Secular” Friends

It’s deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra observed. We’ve seen this play before. Not once but all throughout human history.

The pendulum swings. Instead of introspection and looking into the mirror, the breast-beating, hand-wringing crowd of ignoramuses can’t — or worse won’t — read the writing on the wall. But that’s par for the course for the leftists and “secularists”, the people that this piece is addressed to.

Five years ago, in May 2014, I had tweeted, “Will @narendramodi be PM for the next 5 years? Absolutely not. He will be PM for the next 15 years. Get used to it.” It was a bold expression of hope that Modi will bring about structural changes in the economy and the governance of India, and that will ensure his continued leadership.

Well, now I know better. Modi did nothing that I find commendable. In fact, he even intensified the failed policies of the previous regimes. The Congress Raj was a continuation of the British Raj, and the BJP raj is a barely disguised continuation of the Congress Raj. But Modi won hands down. He won fair and square. He took out the rubbish. He compacted the trash to be incinerated.

Modi Failed

Modi won because he is the best. Modi is not good. There’s no contraction between those two claims. In the political marketplace, just like in ordinary marketplaces, in a competition among the worthless, the perceived least worthless wins. If the Congress had not demonstrated over the decades that they are a vile, thoroughly corrupt, incorrigibly incompetent bunch of criminals, there would have been no scope for a marginally better but a similarly unsavory bunch to take control of the nation.

It’s all karma, neh?

Karma is the concept that we need to pay attention to. Actions and deeds have consequences. This is not some newfangled truth. It’s an universal verity that the millennia old Bhagavat Gita teaches. Kabir, the Hindu poet and mystic, expressed it thus 600 years ago:

kare buraai sukh chaahey
kaise paavey koye
ropay ped babool ka
aam kahan say hoye [1]

Rough translation for the benefit of those who don’t follow Hindi: “If you do bad, how can you expect happiness? If you plants thorn bushes, don’t expect mangoes.”

The non-BJP parties have been planting poisonous weeds for decades. The harvest is in, and it is naturally bitter. The BJP was guaranteed to win. This is the second round of the same game. Pardon me for piling on the cliches, but they truly made the bed they are now obliged to sleep in.

But Modi Won

In my considered professional estimation, Modi did not do any good. In fact, I think he harmed the economy and has set back India’s economic prospects.

So then, if Modi did nothing good in the last five years, why did he win even more handsomely than before? That I chalk up to the fact that the opposition continued its assault on the ethos of the country, and the people judged that economic and governance incompetence is preferable to nakedly expressed intense animosity to their civilizational values and identity. Modi did not have to do anything good; all that was needed was to point out that the alternatives were worse. The Indian voters are not geniuses but they are not absolutely comatose cretins either. Pure survival instincts take over when the threat is existential.

Unconstrained Government

Any serious analysis of the structural causes of India’s dysfunction has to refer to the institutional deficiencies. One major causal factor is that the government has practically no constraints on it. An unconstrained government has the power to effect radical change if it so desired, or to impose the status quo by not allowing any innovation or dissent. The content of the actions of an unconstrained government, therefore, matters immensely.

Unconstrained government power is wonderful provided good and wise people govern. But good and wise people, by their very nature, are the exception in the population, and even rarer in government. Given that an unconstrained government has the power to extract and exploit riches from the economy, the most avaricious and the most corrupt can be expected to compete for the power to govern. The outcome is predictable: a kakistocracy — the government of the least capable and the most corrupt.

Where the Worst can do the Least Harm

A government that has severely limited powers avoids that fate. If being in government does not provide opportunities to enrich oneself (and one’s extended family in a foreign country which gave pizza to the world, for example), then it is possible that the power-hungry will rationally stay away. That does not guarantee anything other than that it allows space for the good and the wise to at least have a shot at governing. It’s up to the collective wisdom of the people to elevate the good and the wise.

But instead of having a powerful government where the best kind of leaders can do greatest things, it is better to design a government where the worst kind of leaders can do the least harm. That means curtailing the powers of the government.

Non-discrimination and Non-interference

It is easy to specify necessary constraints on the government. First, the government must be forbidden to discriminate among citizens in any way — religion, socio-economic status or any other group identity. All citizens must be equal not just before the law but also before the government.

Second, the government must not interfere in the economy. The economy needs to have an agency that will punish with force any instance of fraud and enforce contracts. The economy is a game among competitors who are people and firms. To ensure fairness of the game, the government has to be the impartial referee. Prohibiting the government from interfering the economy means that government cannot itself become a player in the game. Allowing the government to play in the game is idiotic and those who allowed the Indian government to do so were insane or stupid, or more likely both.

A Systemic Problem

Ok, back to the matter at hand. The Indians have been on an unending quest — to find good leaders who will govern wisely. It’s unfortunately futile. The search for the good and the wise is OK in other domains but not in the matter of government because even if they do find the good person, the power that comes with being in government always corrupts. Once a person (good or bad) reaches the pinnacle of power, it’s human nature to seek to retain and enlarge that power. And that ensures that continued expansion of governmental power, which attracts the dregs of humanity to governance.

It’s not Modi’s fault. It’s not even the fault of any particular political party. It’s systemic, not idiosyncratic. It’s in the DNA of the organism. You cannot grow a dwarf into a normal sized person by changing the diet or replacing the cook; the dwarf’s constitution dictates how he will grow. The DNA of the Indian government is written in the constitution. The names and other particulars of the leaders that the system selects change but their fundamental core characteristics don’t change because that’s what the system selects.

To my leftist, “secular” friends, I present to you the bitter fruits of the poison that you’ve deliberately planted for so many decades. Get used to eating that. I hope you choke on it, because innocent Indians — rich and poor alike — are going to continue to suffer for your sins.


[1] The quoted verse from Sant Kabir is from a bhajan “Dheere dheere subh kuch hoye”. An absolutely brilliant rendition of that bhajan is by Rashid Khan. Listen. The verse is sung around the 5:00 minute mark.

Another of my favorite bhajans is Kabir’s “Man laago yaar fakiri mein”. Veenatai Sahasrabuddhe’s version is awesome.


Author: Atanu Dey


7 thoughts on “With love, to my Leftist, “Secular” Friends”

  1. Ajit, I am allowing this comment. I cannot fathom what it means, however. Have you considered not commenting on this blog because all it does is waste your time? Please take this suggestion seriously. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am mighty happy with Bengal election results this time. Pseudo-secularism/Muslim-appeasement have been dealt a good blow. This does not ensure the end of the malice, but it is a good beginning. Bengal had seen once false dawn earlier, though. Bharatiya Jana Sangh won two seats in Bengal in very first Loksabha election. But then winds of pseudo-secularism blew it away.

    On the national front, I have been disappointed by the continuation of big-government under NDA. However, there are small mercies which indicate that NDA is teeny-weeny more pro-market than UPA. Here goes:
    1. UPA talked about right-to-health. NDA went ahead with Ayushman Bharat which is more pro-free-market.
    2. NDA made a half-hearted attempt to privatize Air India. It is better than making no attempt. Hoping Air-India is privatized in this term.
    3. NDA continued MNREGA (ideally it should have been scrapped). However, there are reports condemning NDA for trying to kill MNREGA. I hope those reports are true.

    On free-market-front, NDA is still evil but a lesser-evil than the rest of the crop.


  3. I saw Smriti Irani speak with Arnab Goswami after her victory in Amethi. On being asked to distill the reasons why she won, seemingly against the odds, she said this, way more articulately than my paraphrasing. “Around 200,000 families got toilets for the first time during the last 5 years. If you were a woman, battling the acute embarrassment of being seen or warding off animals every day to defecate, you deeply appreciated the privacy and security of a simple toilet at home. The same thing with an electrical connection at home . You cannot understand how fundamental these utilities are for someone who didn’t have it, you having not lived without it ever. For these advances in their lives, we have the policy and priority of Shri Narendra Modi to thank. I’m the beneficiary of the Amethi voter’s appreciation of that”.

    I think you’d agree that electrifying every village is the government’s job? Article 4b 5 in your proposed constitution states: “Fund the provisioning of public goods such as public access roads, water, sanitation, public primary health services, primary and secondary schooling.” – does this include electricity connections?

    What about providing toilets to nudge those who will not purchase them otherwise? Is that covered by Article 4b 5 or does it fly in the face of Article 5a 2: “Governments shall not engage in the financing, production, and distribution of goods and services that are otherwise produced by commercial enterprises and for-profit firms.“ Perhaps you’d say that providing sewer lines to every home is the government’s job, not buying them a toilet too.

    Do you agree that what Smriti describes was the government’s job? If yes, isn’t that a small yet practical achievement of Modi sarkar? While I share your frustration with the slow pace of change and the still remaining mindset of a government intending to remain entrenched in areas it should get the fuck out of, hasn’t there been some positive impact of the provision of utility services and the benefits of infrastructure to the less literate and rural poor without the stench of financial malfeasance? Previous governments didn’t even do that.

    Shekhar Gupta summarizes this in points 2 and 3 here: https://theprint.in/opinion/4-reasons-why-modi-remains-in-the-hunt-for-a-second-term/237190/


  4. Atanu, 2 quotes from a recent MJ Akbar article in the Open magazine. If the stats are accurate, given the atrocious governance in the last 67 years, aren’t these real accomplishments. I know opportunity cost is tremendous and we should expect a lot more. But is India really a basket case after the last 5 years? Isn’t more reform likely to happen after a better base is built?

    “When Jawaharlal Nehru was in power, the Nobel Prize winner VS Naipaul wrote a book that scorned India as an area of darkness after he saw Indians on their haunches in open fields. Neither Nehru nor his daughter mentioned toilets. Modi did not need any foreigner’s book to learn about India; he built over 75 million toilets and has now announced the next phase of this mission, which is ensuring a steady supply of clean water. Sanitation coverage rocketed from 38 per cent in 2014 to 83 per cent in 2018.

    “Five years after the Red Fort speech, do the math. Over 300 million new bank accounts were opened for those without money. Over 100 million took Mudra loans, with three- quarters of the beneficiaries being women and half from the backward castes. Some 50 million smoke-filled kitchens got gas cylinders. Over 10 million new homes were delivered to those with bare accommodation. About 125 million soil health cards were distributed. Over 40 million farmers got crop insurance. It would be logical to assume that at least half-a-billion low-income Indians benefited in some form or the other in the last five years.”


  5. @Atanu: “Modi won because he is the best. Modi is not good.” I get it. The visiting Italian family who never fit into the native scenery and who stand out as special did not make It even with a local brand name. Some consolation.


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