Rajesh Jain says PM Narendra Modi has been unable to bring structural reforms in education, land, labour, agriculture etc., making a second term tougher.
New Delhi: Rajesh Jain is well-known as one of the architects of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s electoral success in 2014. Jain, a technology entrepreneur, was Modi’s campaign strategist before and during the 2014 elections.
He has since left Niti Digital, the organisation behind Modi’s win, and focusses on bringing India’s wealth back to its people through an initiative called Nayi Disha.
Jain spoke to Maneesh Chhibber, ThePrint’s Editor (Investigations & Special Projects), about why he thinks Modi may not win next year’s elections, and what the Congress should do to step up its game. Here is the transcript, edited for clarity:
MC: Modi is going to face a very, very crucial election, one of his toughest, in the next six months. How will the ongoing election campaign affect 2019?
RJ: I think the way we have to look at this is that the elections are in 5-6 months. The conventional wisdom is that the BJP will basically lose perhaps anywhere between 80-100 seats at this point in time. It will be very hard for them to replicate the near-clean sweep they had in the north and in the west, from what we are seeing in some of the state elections. The very fact that some of the elections are close elections will have an impact on the number of Lok Sabha seats they will get.
The question to really ask is not the number of seats the BJP will get, whether it’s 180, 200, or whatever be the number. What will BJP, Narendra Modi, and Amit Shah do to get to 250-300 seats? Because that is what will cement his position in history. And Modi, of course, as we all know from 2002 in Gujarat, has never lost an election.
MC: But getting to 250-plus seats in the current environment…it seems a little difficult. How do you think Mr Modi is planning to get to 250-plus?
RJ: I think the way things are going right now, it doesn’t seem easy for them to get to 250-300, which they also know. So the question to think is what are the ‘nuclear’ options that can be used, or which can be done, in the next 4-5 months to get them past this 250-300 figure? I would say target 300.
These options are not ‘conventional’ options. They’ve got to be big, bold ideas, which really transform the election from a summation of state elections into a national wave… In a way, replicate 2014, which is difficult.
I think there are three possible paths which can be taken here. The first is that I think Modi will consolidate his position with the poor. And that can be done through a large cash hand-out. And I think that is perhaps, according to me, what some of the RBI discussion was, of getting maybe Rs 1-2 lakh crore, so the 10 crore families which have already been identified in Ayushman Bharat, can each be given Rs 10,000-20,000 or promised and given after the election. That is one approach, so you are augmenting the relationship with the poor. Ten crore families effectively means 40 crore votes.
The second, which people have talked about, is basically unity at the Hindu level. BJP is, of course, the natural party for the community, so what is it that they can do? The obvious one is something with Ayodhya… but the question is what is there to be done?
The third is unity at the country level, because you need to make it into a wave. It’s not about caste or sub segments, or one state. You’ve got to make it national. Country-level unity is harder because while people talk about Pakistan etc., Pakistan today is effectively a Chinese protectorate. So you can’t just do anything with Pakistan and assume China won’t intervene. Imran Khan will not want his first year in office to be sullied with an adventure against India.
MC: Do you think if Mr Modi gets to 250-plus, will it be a strong government?
RJ: If you look back at the last four-and-a-half years that we’ve had, every PM basically likes to leave a legacy. With Vajpayee, you think of roads and disinvestment. People talk about these things. So what will Modi be remembered for? I think today, unfortunately, the first word that comes to mind is notebandi (demonetisation), which now after two years people have realised was a misadventure. There was pain, we are seeing this feedback on the ground level which has been there in the elections also, and of course economically, it has been devastating, which some experts had said at the time it had happened.
On the other side there is, of course, the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, which was a very positive development. GST — overall positive, but implementation left a lot to be desired. The tax rates I think are still substantially high. They could be brought down as we go along.
Some of the structural reforms that were required for the country to leap past its 7-odd per cent growth rate into a different league — that is what is going to lead to job creation, and the stress in the farm sector to be solved. These are the two stresses coming out in the state elections. This is the sort of legacy that is there; the structural reforms that have not been done, I think. In education, in land, in labour, in agriculture, in multiple sectors… administrative reforms, judicial reforms. A lot of these aren’t done.
I think what he will probably want to look at the second term, if he gets 250-300–plus, is not a government of more yojanas (schemes), but can it become a samriddhi ki sarkar(government of prosperity? And this is what can set Modi apart. For 70 years, India has really struggled with prosperity. Other nations that were at the same level as India have become wealthy. Look at China, look at South Korea, and look at Singapore. India is rich but Indians are poor. How can we change this? This perpetually planned poverty (PPP) needs to be changed. So how can he create, leave a legacy of prosperity? In his second term, I think he will want to make it substantially different from the first.
MC: There are many of his critics, the so-called liberals, who say if Modi is to come back to power in 2019, India as we know will cease to exist. It will be something that our Constitution makers never thought India would be. Do you agree with that?
RJ: See, whichever way you look at it, India has to change. The current scenario cannot go on. We need to create crores of jobs a year, we need to fundamentally address the agricultural stress. Loan waivers are not the solution. You have young people today across rural India standing at chaurahas (crossroads) during the day. That’s the sort of binding memory you carry away. These have serious ramifications on the social side. There is pain for farmers to take the time out and march. I think India has to change.
Now, there are two levels at which the changes need to be done. One is, how do you make Indians rich? How do you get past our divisions that are there? Today, the speeches in the campaigns are about caste and community and the legacy of the last 70 years. I think the fundamental question that should be answered by Mr Modi and by the people of India —because politicians also cater to demand — is mandir wapasi or dhan wapasi? That’s I think the core issue.
MC: Dhan wapasi is something you’ve been talking about. Can you explain it to our viewers?
RJ: India is a rich country. We’ve estimated that the surplus of wealth in India across public lands, across minerals, across the PSUs and their assets — comes to Rs 1,500 lakh crores. That’s Rs 50 lakh per family. And it’s a tragedy that you have 12 crore Indian families with a monthly income of less than Rs 10,000. These are productive people, there’s nothing genetically wrong with Indians that we should be poor or are inferior. If you take the same Indians abroad, they will do extraordinarily well.
So this has to change, and my belief is that this wealth should actually be returned to the people. It is the people’s wealth. The government is just a controller right now, and they are not doing the right thing by controlling all this wealth. Give this wealth back to people at Rs 1 lakh a year, and they can then craft their own path to prosperity. This really is the samriddhi kranti (prosperity revolution) that we need. Jayaprakash Narayan ji had talked about sampoorna kranti (comprehensive revolution) in the 1970s. I think the time has come for Indians to unite for the next five to 25 years. Our single focus should be how should we make Indians rich, how do we make Indians free from the clutches of the politicians and bureaucrats who are deciding who gets what scheme. Give every family Rs 1 lakh a year. It is their right, it is the morally right thing to do, it is economically efficient. Government holding on to this money is theft, and if we can do that we are unleashing a generation of prosperity and that will completely transform India.
This is really what we need, what dhan wapasi is about.
MC: Would that also change the way our politics is conducted right now? Do you suggest a change in the way our politics is conducted?
RJ: Absolutely, because the current political parties are not going to want to bring about the change. They benefit from the current system. In India, we don’t have democracy. What we have is a perversion of democracy — what we have is a democracy of the political parties, by the political parties, for the bosses of the political parties. What we have in India after 70 years is a kakistocracy — it is a government of the most corrupt and the least competent. This cannot go on, because we have a young population that wants opportunities in life. Prosperity has to become a right.
What we need is a bottom-up movement, where you create an Uber for politics. We as voters should be able to select our own candidates, not some ‘high command’ deciding who the candidate in your area should be — something like the US primaries. Right now, the MP/MLA candidate has no accountability. The MPs have no voice of their own, a party whip forces them to vote a certain way. They’ve become administrators of MPLADS funds, rather than champions of a representative democracy this country needs. Jayaprakash Narayan and C. Rajagopalachari had talked about a party-less government, and what they meant was people who think independently in the Lok Sabha. What we need is genuine debate.
My movement is about the return of public wealth, and return of the public voice, the people’s voice, back to them.
MC: Isn’t the Uber model the premise upon which the AAP was set up?
RJ: There are two reasons why they (AAP) have failed and why I think our approach can succeed. The game-changer is now technology. Everyone has a smartphone in their hands — or at least every family has one. How do you rethink India’s democracy when everyone has phones? A combination of three themes: The economic theme that wealth should go back to people, the political theme where people have the right and ability to choose their own candidates, and this made possible with technology. And there’s one more very important element in all this: Out of the 100 crore eligible voters in India, 70 crore are not aligned to any political party. BJP’s core support base is 15 crore out of 100 crore. Congress and regional parties put together is 15 crore — that is what is really deciding who comes to power. It’s a small minority.
The other 70 crore people fall into four categories: 30 crore people are not coming out to vote, 10 crore people are over 18 and not registered, 15 crore people are wasting their vote on small parties and candidates who have no hope of winning. Another 15 crore people are not loyal, deciding how the ‘hawa’ is before the election, or who is the highest bidder. What we are saying is technology, an Uber for politics, can basically bring all this together. That is our aim with Dhan Wapasi.
MC: You know how Mr Modi works. What’s going on in his mind now that people think the BJP could win at least two states in the ongoing elections?
RJ: I think Mr Modi’s aim will be how do I win the next election? I think what has happened, unfortunately for him, is that because of some of the structural changes that were not done in the first few months, and they were missed opportunities… I think if we had done that, we would have solved our ‘hamesha’ problems of poverty, unemployment, corruption. You would have got a limited government, a rule of law, these are the standard elements that really create prosperity. That’s what should have been done.
The Congress and the BJP are the same. Congress has basically adopted the BJP’s cow and Hindu card, and the BJP has fallen for all the failed economic policies of the Congress, of subsidies and one scheme after another. India needed to make a clean break. This anti prosperity machine had to be crushed.
MC: Is NDA-2 a UPA-3?
RJ: I just see this as the continuity of the anti-prosperity machine that has been running in India since independence. That’s what needs to be broken. Now your question was what might Modi be thinking? I think election at the end of the day is a competitive decision that people have to make. So it’s a choice. And right now I think there’s a limited choice people have between the BJP and Congress, and the reality is that people are not excited by the BJP, and they tend to not see the Congress as the possible alternative.
I think Modi’s challenge in the next 4 months will be to really lay out a road map for his second term. He has to talk about prosperity, because all the other paths that are there will not leave the legacy that I think he will want to leave going forward in a second term.
MC: We’ve spoken about Modi at 250, but what if he manages to get 300?
RJ: For the first time since 1971, a party will have the ability to change India’s Constitution. If BJP gets 300-plus, and you need two-thirds in the Lok Sabha, with the support of allies they can easily get that. They will have control of the states and two-thirds majority in the Rajya Sabha and they will control half the states. That’s really what is required.
If you go back, NDA-1 had actually set up a Constitution Commission (Venkatachaliah Commission) to look at what changes would need to be made. They would have to be thinking about some of these things because, according to me, the root of India’s problem basically goes back to the rules which are embedded in the Constitution. We are changing rulers, but unless we change the rules, we have a problem.
What is the problem with the Indian Constitution? 242 out of the 395 articles in the Indian Constitution were picked up verbatim from the 1935 Government of India Act, which was written by a colonial power to rule over India. What the Constitution has done is made the people subservient to the government. It should be the opposite!
People have to be the principles, the government is an agent of the people. The relationship has to be flipped. The Constitution mandates deep involvement in the economy, it forces discrimination on all levels.
I think if we think along these lines, there’s an interesting opportunity which is there to create a Constitution for a free and prosperous India.
MC: If I were to ask you what your advice to Rahul Gandhi would be, if he wants to take on Modi more effectively, what would it be?
RJ: I think it has to be economy, economy, economy. Today, I think the pain that is there (and the missed opportunity which was there) is around economic issues. It is around the failed promise of prosperity.
Of course Rahul Gandhi’s Congress has been instrumental in creating an India where we are all 1/10th wealthier than we should have been. I think that’s one of the legacy issues he has. But it has to be around the economy. He has to go out and talk of a plan of how he will make Indians prosperous, how will jobs get created, how will we really grow, because that is what is required out here? How will Indians basically create a country that is economically strong because from there is where you can take on the likes of China etc. It’s your economic strength that lets you take on another country, it’s not anything else.
His focus will have to be around the economy. I think the other thing that he will probably end up doing, which I think some of them will probably do now, is to talk about the promises made and unkept. So, that is another possible theme for the Congress.
I think most important for the Congress, actually, is to create a ground operation to match the BJP’s. This is the single most important thing. See an election is a very simple thing: On election day, you need to get your supporters out to vote, get the undecided ones to vote for you, and make sure you aren’t getting the other party’s supporters out to vote in your own…
That’s it, you can do anything before that. But as a ground operation on election day… That’s where technology and data will make a difference.
(This interview was transcribed by Simrin Sirur)