Ideas for India 2nd Anniversary

The Ideas for India 2nd Anniversary Event was chaired by Prof. Ashok Kotwal, Editor-in-Chief, Ideas for India (I4I) and University of British Columbia. Prof. Banerjee, MIT, and Mukul Kesavan, Jamia Millia Islamia University, historian and contributor for the Telegraph, participated in the discussion.

I4I in the last two years has succeeded in the creation of national economic debate. In todays context, where the last national election led to a drastic change in the political panorama, I4I will represent even more a valuable platform for discussion on the political and economic national concerns and opportunities.

The discussion firstly verged toward the turnout of the last political election. As poverty and development indicators have vastly improved in the last ten years, voters gave a dramatic change the political direction of the country.

According to Prof. Kotwal, corruption, nationalism and frustrated aspiration of a fasting growing India are the likely causes for the Congress Party failure.

According to Prof. Banerjee, there are two possible causes that led voters’ disenchantment with the Congress Party. Due to the economic slowdown, Indian voters felt a strong sense of disappointment, seeking for a stronger leadership and success figure as Modi. A pervasive sense of struggling for basic needs and against rampant corruption, have also played a strong role in the will of political change, Prof. Banerjee stated.

Prof. Kesavan proposes pervasive corruption as one of the main reasons for the Congress Party’s fail. Also, the inability of the Congress Party to stop the concentration of provincial political powers and the sense of helpless indignation has led to the drastic election turn out.

The scholars also agreed that the lack of leadership in the Congress Party contributed largely to the political loss. The Congress Party, relying excessively on the dynastic nature of the party, blocked the emergence of local powerful leader proposing a less charismatic candidate.

On India’s future, according to Prof. Banerjee, Indian politics is going through a progressive era, passing from a highly corrupted society to a conventional democracy, where the power of local politicians is starting to be limited and impunity is not acceptable anymore. Although the rampant corruption, this transition was also due to the Congress Party that, in the last ten years, delivered a set of institutional reforms, leading the way to a new stage.

The discussion finally verged toward the role of elites in establishing extracting institutions and leading to poor governance and a failing state. Prof. Kotwal questioned whether local governments are turning into extracting institutions and what measures can improve local politics. According to Banerjee, historic reductionism proposed by the Robinson and Acemoglu theory of extracting institutions, cannot be helpful in analysing India’s current politics. The MIT Professor stressed instead the importance of the unfortunate feature of Indian politicians, who are often incapable of taking advantage of good economic opportunities.

Multiculturalism and Growth also were an important matter of discussion. According to Prof. Ashok, Indian ethnic heterogeneity still represents a challenge for collective action. BJP will need to coordinate and concertize with multiculturalism, having to decide whether being inclusive or exclusive in its political decisions.

According to Prof. Banerjee, diversity will not be a problem, since cultural and ethnic fractions are pervasive in India’s society, going well beyond the mere religious diversity. Instead, economic development could actually turn down any dangerous cultural revival.

Finally, the scholars agreed on the importance of further investments in Indian education, focusing on quality, accountability and inclusiveness of education at all different levels.

By Filippo Sebastio, Country Economist, IGC Bangladesh