As India goes into the 2014 parliamentary elections, the country seems to be facing numerous challenges not just in the economic realm, but in other realms such as external security and increased crime – especially against women. This naturally has created a doom and gloom scenario, with the urban middle classes especially despondent with the current state of affairs.
Yet, amidst all the negativity it is important to note that India’s march forward is being pushed not only by a few metropolitan cities or front-line states. In fact, many state governments are delivering stellar growth rates and also coming up with welfare schemes and policies. This includes not only states like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, but also states formerly considered economic laggards, such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Bihar. Ruchir Sharma powerfully illustrated this in his 2012 book Breakout Nations.
As a consequence, regional leaders are beginning to play an important role even in national politics. The best example is of course Narendra Modi’s nomination as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Modi, who triumphed in three elections in Gujarat, was the party’s choice, much to the chagrin of other senior leaders in the party including senior party leader LK Advani. While Modi has been projected by the BJP, other regional rulers like Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who belongs to Modi’s party, and Bihar Chief Minister and JD-U leader Nitish Kumar, who walked out of the National Democratic Alliance after Modi was made head of BJP’s campaign committee, are also being touted as potential future leaders.
Apart from the BJP, the Congress also seems to have realized the necessity of strong leaders. A clear example of this is Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit, who is running for a fourth term.
This significant political transformation in India, in which states are becoming more influential as a consequence of strong regional leaders, is also being recognized by other countries, which are reaching out to many of these leaders – most notably Modi, but also Nitish Kumar and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha, amongst others.
This leads us to a crucial point. Many have argued that Modi’s election as PM would be a direct threat to the “Idea of India” due to his hardline image. But it would be appropriate for Indian intellectuals to debate, one crucial aspect of what many think is the Idea of India: a strong center. This idea is already being challenged on one level by this decentralization of political power occurring at the regional level.
Apart from this, it is also important for the outside world not to conflate the failure and policy paralysis of New Delhi’s government with a slowdown in India as a whole. It is imperative to recognize that India has not come to a standstill, despite the policy bottleneck in New Delhi.
Perhaps it is time for intellectuals and students of India to understand that all of this is part of the ever changing Idea of India. It is not one static idea, but a dynamic one that adapts to changing social, economic and political conditions.
Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based columnist.