Published March 27-29, 2021
The Next Mission
December 6, 1992. I clearly remember the day. I was at IIT-Bombay meeting some professors to discuss a few ideas for joint projects. I had returned to India from the US seven months earlier to begin my entrepreneurship journey. Late in the afternoon that day, someone said I should go back home because a mosque had been demolished and there were reports of disturbances. That was an era where only landlines existed – no mobiles, no WhatsApp, no way to easily call and check with others what was happening. I took heed and left quickly in my Maruti 800. I managed to reach home safely and switched on the TV and saw what had happened. The Babri Masjid in Ayodhya had been demolished.
I was not in India at the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the Rath Yatra that took place in 1990. I had left for the US in September 1988 for my Masters in Electrical Engineering at Columbia University in New York. In the US, news from India was sketchy – it was either India Abroad (the weekly newspaper published from New York) or the fortnightly and delayed international edition of India Today. And frankly, I did not care much – my focus was on my job at NYNEX and then planning my return to India with an entrepreneurial venture. Politics was a distant world – stories in pages of print publications which I quickly skipped over.
It was only in 2009 that I became interested in politics and decided to proactively do something about it. India needed an economic transformation and I saw BJP as the best bet. The lack of prosperity could squarely be laid at the door of the policies of a succession of Congress governments since Independence – they had ruled for all but 10 years since 1947. The only efforts at real economic reform had been made briefly by Narasimha Rao and expanded by Vajpayee.
Even though Advani’s BJP lost in 2009, Modi’s BJP rode to power in 2014 and then again in 2019. The Ram Mandir agenda was never far from the core narrative. A historical wrong had to be righted in the minds of many Hindus. And that project was finally complete when the Supreme Court judgement in November 2019 handed the disputed land to a trust to build the Ram Janmabhoomi temple. A grand new temple will be ready sometime in early 2024, just in time for the next Lok Sabha elections.
For a Hindu majority scarred by a millennium of invasions, conquerors and conversions, the Ram Mandir verdict was a psychological victory, a civilisational triumph. Mission Ram, one of the core reasons for the BJP’s rise from 4 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984 to successive majorities in 2014 and 2019, was finally complete. For three decades, Ram has held the BJP together, fuelled its rise and brought it power across large swathes of India.
It is now time to move on to the next civilisational project – bringing back India’s prosperity that history books talk about and which attracted traders and invaders. The extractive and exploitative policies of the British government were never fully reversed by successive Indian rulers. As a result, most Indians have never experienced large-scale, sustained prosperity. This must be our next focus – Mission Lakshmi, bringing wealth into the homes and lives of a billion Indians.
Mission Ram was about fixing historical injustices by righting the wrongs of the past. Mission Lakshmi is about a future for our children. Those who delivered Ram will not be able to deliver Lakshmi. It is time for a new union. This is the Nayi Disha Bharat needs – Ram to Lakshmi.
A Union for Ram
To understand why a new union for Mission Lakshmi is needed, it is important to address two questions: how the union for Ram was crafted and why the same union cannot deliver Lakshmi.
As I analysed past election data in 2010, it became clear to me that a very different approach was needed for the BJP to return to power. In both the 1998 and 1999 elections, the BJP under Vajpayee was unable to cross 182 seats in the Lok Sabha. After that the number had declined to a low 116 in 2014. The late Anil Dave asked me a question that set me thinking: find out how many Lok Sabha seats the BJP has won at least once in its history since 1980 when the BJP was formed. I crunched the numbers. The answer was 299. (The delimitation exercise done in 2008 meant that the seats were not all identical.)
I then asked myself a new question: what would it take for the BJP to win a majority on its own in the next Lok Sabha election? Instead of just getting more than 182, what strategy would the BJP need to win 272+ on its own? This held the answer for the future campaign. I wrote out my ideas in a series of public blog posts in June 2011 – “Project 275 for 2014.” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.) An extract (with emphasis as it was in the original post):
For the BJP to form a govt at the Centre, it needs to focus winning not just 175 but 275 seats (or 225 + 45 with the three current NDA allies). Winning 275 needs a dramatically different strategy from trying to win 175. To get to 275 seats out of 350-odd seats, the BJP needs to ensure a “wave” election with a 75% hit rate. That needs to be focus of future efforts. A summation of state elections will only get us to 175-odd, and if the Congress manages 150, BJP will not be able to form the government.
A wave election last happened in India in 1984. BJP’s approach needs to be to work towards creating a wave in 2014 – across the country, and especially in the 330-350 seats where the BJP is competitive. No one, as far as I can tell, is thinking of what it takes to create a wave. 2014 may still be three years ago, but a lot of groundwork will need to be done to make this happen.
Switch focus from maximising allies to maximising seats for 2014. All strategy needs to be focused on this.
Modi’s BJP did this – not once, but twice. The “wave” covered the entire Hindi belt and West, with some overflow from a few other states. The “Black Swan” event of 2014 re-occurred in 2019. It was a union of voters that delivered entire states to BJP in clean sweeps. Modi’s BJP did what had seemed impossible after the Congress majorities in the early 1980s – a single-party majority in the Lok Sabha. While the Kamal was the election symbol on the EVMs, Ram was in the hearts and minds for a huge cross-section of voters. The 2019 Supreme Court judgement completed the mission that had begun in the late 1980s – a recognition of Ram’s birthplace and a magnificent temple complex to make it permanent for future generations.
Most of the union of voters that made BJP’s victory possible will probably not even visit Ayodhya ever. The Ram mandir will not make a material difference to their lives. This is where there is a need for the next mission – to bring Lakshmi into every Indian’s home, a mission neglected by every Indian government. That will make a material difference in the lives of Indians. The leaders who delivered Ram are incapable of delivering Lakshmi – just as the party that was in power during Independence could never deliver Ram. Once again, a new union of Indians is needed to create an electoral wave.
A Union for Lakshmi
We need to discuss the next question: why will those who delivered Ram be unable to deliver Lakshmi?
This is a question that was first asked in a different way by Adam Smith in 1776: what creates the wealth of nations? In other words, why are some nations rich and others poor? It is a question that has been at the core of economics and even more central to public choice theory, a subspecialty which takes the tools of economics and applies it to the study of voters, politicians and bureaucrats.
This is a question that was also central for the founding fathers of the US and at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. All one has to do is to read the American Constitution – and yes, it is very readable at 4,543 words in plain English. They put the limits on those in power and diffused power among the three branches of government – to ensure the freedom of Americans was never compromised or intruded upon.
The answer to why the leaders who delivered Ram (or India’s Independence) can never deliver Lakshmi lies in understanding their motivations. From Nehru to Indira to Modi, the single driver for every leader is power – and the desire to stay in power for as long as possible. Everyone wants to be Emperor (or Empress) of India. And that means using the full force of government to alter the lives of people. It results in more interventions in people’s lives – with every such act, however well-intentioned it may seem, working as an obstacle to Indians bringing home Lakshmi. The biggest ally of the government in its mission to control the Indian economy is the Indian Constitution which actually mandates government interventions anywhere and everywhere.
To bring home Lakshmi, Indians need the government to do only a few things – protect private property, enforce contracts, maintain law and order, and secure the borders. That’s it. To paraphrase Lewis Carroll: “If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.” It is not an easy thing to understand – we grow up in a family which is the epitome of paternalism and socialism, we are led to believe that the world has to have a designer, and we see all sorts of government institutions around us. If someone is not in charge, how will things get done?
Adam Smith answered this question in 1776. Unfortunately for us, none in India absorbed the full meaning of Adam Smith’s ideas as we were busy dealing with the British for the next 170 years. When the opportunity came in 1950 to craft a new set of rules for India, the blueprint used was the 1935 Government of India Act rather than the 1789 American Constitution.
Mission Lakshmi needs individual, political and economic freedom while a politician or bureaucrat in power seeks to perpetuate his or her power and control. If only we are left free to ‘mind our own business’, Lakshmi will make her way into our homes. It is not an easy idea to understand – especially for those in power who have the monopoly on the use of force to control our lives repeatedly.
Our leaders – politicians and bureaucrats – in whom we have faith are the real enemies of our prosperity. All we need to understand is human nature to figure it out. Their self-interest lies in wanting power and wealth for themselves, not freedom and prosperity for us. If we want to move from Mission Ram to Lakshmi, a new union will need to be crafted. A union where we, not they, are the alternative. A union with an agenda to dismantle decades of anti-prosperity rules and regulations. A union to ensure our lives are our own and our businesses are our own – neither is there for the government to mess around as it pleases. A union for freedom.
Bharat needs a Nayi Disha – a mindset switch from Ram to Lakshmi. And for that, we need a majority of Indians to unite and create a government of freedom, not intervention, in the next election. Only then will Lakshmi come into the home of every Indian and the real civilisational project of Mera Bharat Mahan be complete.