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In this episode we talk to Akshay Alladi, an Indian conservative. We talk about what it means to be an Indian conservative and Indian cultural and political issues in general. Check it out.
19 thoughts on “Browncast: Akshay Alladi, Indian Conservative”
Good listen. Found a lot to agree and nothing to disagree with.
Akshay is the kind of Indian conservative I could get behind.
Good podcast. On Twitter, he is the closest to what i think. After Rohit Pradhan(Retribution) left.
Hello Akshay (in case you’re reading this),
On twitter you mentioned a few times recently that fiscal expansion and boosting demand were the need of the hour. How would this work with the current budgetary situation the govt. is in? Wouldn’t it make the deficit go too high?
There was recently an article by Yogendra Yadav on the Print (20th on this month) where he’s demanding an MSP on all products, saying that spending 1.3% of the GDP and 8% of the union budget just on this was a matter of “political will”. That is, he wants all of the taxpaying population to shell out money for the farmers to provide compensation for all their produce even if there’s insufficient demand. Where do all these NGO-types learn their voodoo economics from? It’s almost as if they’re going full-on Maoist mode.
Do you think Yogendra Yadav’s doing this just for attention (possibly jealous Kejriwal became CM and he ended up with zilch?) or does he really believe that demand-supply should play no role in the country and market forces will always be seen with suspicion?
For a solution to the farm bill impasse, is it possible for the govt. to pass an amendment applying the three laws everywhere except Punjab, and letting the state govt. of Punjab decide to take up the laws when they’re ready?
It’s not just the intellectual liberal (or leftist) types like Yogendra Yadav. Things like MSPs and price controls are extremely popular with the Hindutva base (based on anecdotal hearsay). I’m hearing that the RSS is pressuring Modi and co into making concessions to the protesting farmers now.
I don’t get why people are interested that much on inner workings on RSS-BJP. At the end of the day it was BJP only which brought this farm legislations, right? While the whole association of liberals/left and the charlatans masquerading as economists and ‘intellectuals’ are opposed 2 it. If the conclusion to the whole set of events is Congress/Left=BJP on economic matters than its misguided. Contrarily, my belief is BJP is actually fiscally responsible to a fault and it will be its undoing.
“In fact the unfortunate thing in the farm law liberalization has been the shift of most of the media and intellectuals, who initially welcomed the change as an important reform but then changed their stance as political pressure was mounted by the interest groups.”
If the conclusion to the whole set of events is Congress/Left=BJP on economic matters than its misguided.
Well, I look at outcomes. Clearly, there is a constituency for economic reforms within the BJP that doesn’t exist in the Congress/Left. But if that constituency isn’t strong enough to overcome the socialist/Swadeshi wing of its party (RSS, etc.), then what’s the essential difference? Are you that easily won over by the act of introducing (and even passing) a law but then rolling it back under public pressure?
Why can’t Modi, with the cult-like devotion he’s inspired in a big chunk of the population, forcefully stand by these policies? After all, he does that when it comes to stuff I regard as useless or harmful (demonetization, NRC/CAA, abolition of a state, mandir/masjid, draconian lockdown…) He has enormous political capital. If he isn’t willing to spend it on the important things, then what use is he?
Well then looks at outcomes, shall we?
Modi economics reforms, despite RSS and Swadeshi Manch.
1. Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.
This is outside of the positive impact outside of D-B-T , infra, cooking gas etc.
Now negative reforms
This all in 6 years.
We can only compare with its immediate predecessor. Because that’s the only choice we have. Irrespective u like them or not.
UPA. 10 Years. UPA Reforms – 0 . Under “economic reformer” MMS
Not really a competition.
If you are comparing Modi on economics to the MMS govt, yeah, he does come out looking better. But that’s setting the bar too low for me. To your list, I can add stuff he didn’t (have the courage to) do, like abolish MNREGA.
There’s another thing: I consider all the cultural stuff he’s been doing actively harmful to the country and to our social fabric, so in a sense I’m setting the bar higher on economics for compensation. (Apart from the policies, what I really hated was his and his cronies’ blurring the lines between science and religion, creating fictional glories of our past, etc.) Of course, anyone with Hindutva sympathies with have a very different PoV.
The current economic thought ecosystem happened primarily via P. N. Haskar and his acolytes as a side-effect of Indira’s consolidation of power, they used the political capital from the ’71 war (which to be fair, was one thing they pulled off well) to make decisions that were debilitating for long-term growth.
Ideological capture of institutions and selective promotions of only those who believed in certain economic theories resulted in the propping up of groups of administrators, journalists, sociologists and economists who spent year after year circlejerking each other and always passing on the blame to shoddy implementation rather than self-reflecting on whether their own policies made any sense.
Just to give you an example, look at the recommended reading material for the UPSC, it has EPW and the Hindu prominently up there. In the former, there were marxist economists like Prabhat Patnaik dominating the pages, and with the latter, it’s well known that N. Ram is a card-carrying member of the communist party (and the views drift onto the paper’s op-ed pages obviously). The result being that a generation of IAS, IRS and assorted officials grew up on these views being mainstreamed and other economic views getting drowned out. Why would you expect the administrative elite to be market friendly if there’s a decades-long effort to see that they don’t become so?
The Hindutva crowd back in the Jan Sangh days used to team up with the Swatantra party of Rajagopalachari often, even if they disagreed with his market friendly views. After the Swatantra dissolved and post Janata Party, the new BJP didn’t have an ideology to hold on to except some vague self-sufficient jargon and influence from the various farm and labour unions, so they wholesale (at least officially) took up the Congress’ economic mantle, since they’d contest on Hindutva anyway. The structure of the Sangh Parivar is partly a refection of that reality.
Then there’s the added issue where the ones who suggest old outdated policies (like Patnaik at EPW or P Sainath at the Hindu, or for that matter even Yogendra Yadav) are well-spoken in English, in a way that the upwardly mobile vernacular-raised petit burgeiouse of successful businessmen and traders are not. So you have a situation where Patnaik or Sainath can wax lyrical about the benefits of socialism and centralization while the latter can barely string two sentences together in English, even though the content of their words would actually lead to better outcomes. As English debates are what the policy crowd watches, a non-technical MP or MLA would look at the conversation and think, ‘Wah. So-and-so speaks better than the other person”, even if the content was contradictory and makes no economic sense.
It’s possible for these people to (1) research data, then (2) identify the problem, and (3) come up with a completely wrong and hare-brained solution. But because they carry out step 1 and 2 with such finesse and are suave, they can get away with others believing that their solution for step 3 is correct. P Sainath in recent months mentioned that the fix for farm issues was to multiply the number of mandis and thus, middlemen. His solution to everything appears to be more, more, more government to the extent that his policies aren’t that different from what was tried in the Soviet Union. College-age men and women in the ’80s and ’90s who were exposed to people like Sainath naturally gravitated towards his economic ideology and carried those beliefs through when they entered the IAS, IRS etc. since there wasn’t a strong enough market-friendly counterpoint view.
Good history lesson, Ronen, but the English-speaking lefties have no political power or influence in the Modi era. Do you think anybody in our ruling class cares if, say Ramachadra Guha (a liberal, not a leftie, mind you) criticizes them? To the contrary, they have perfected the art of weaponizing criticism made by English-speaking intellectuals to shore up their own base. And it’s been working mighty well. (I’ll give you one anecdotal example. My dad stopped buying English dailies a few years ago and these days exclusively reads Hindi newspapers and exclusively watches Hindi news channels. Whatever the English-speaking chatterati is saying is increasingly falling on fewer ears.)
I take your point that the permanent bureaucracy is hopelessly mired in Nehru-Indira-even soviet-style socialism, but the big ticket reforms we are talking about require political will at the highest levels first. If Modi really wants to steer the country in a market-friendly direction, he can. Of course he’s going to piss off some interest group or the other, but that’s true of all the policies he’s stood by in the cultural/religious sphere too.
Apart from the reforms that Sourav mentioned, there is the fact of low inflation, DBT , generally corruption free but effective governance, focus on hygiene and cleanliness etc. The handling of the COVID crisis is another distinguishing feature. Pretty sure under UPA there would have been a procurement scam for PPE and/or vaccines +medication, while media would be focusing on lack of effective opposition. The media does focus on lack of effective opposition even today but that does not stop it from criticizing the government, even though the criticism is motivated in ideological reasons.
Regarding reforms, apart from few exceptions, the usual suspects who talk about big ticket reforms quickly turned around to criticize the farm bills. So I am not sure, there is a genuine pro reform constituency in the elite crowd. There may be lay readers of influential papers like FT, economist, WSJ who take those papers seriously. Most of the pro reform advocacy in pink papers is usually focused on privatizing PSUs with usual bromides about free markets but never tying them to actual benefits for greater good. I suspect the focus is more on prime assets the PSUs have acquired rather than genuine entrepreneurial interest.
I am really surprised that you expect Modi to abolish MNREGA after UPA hitched people to the idea of free/easy money for 10 years and destroyed the financial viability of small farms. He has made an attempt to focus on creating tangible physical assets as part of MNREGA. I am pretty sure that even if there was an attempt to remove MNREGA, then the usual suspects would scream that it was not sold well politically or 100 other things needed to be done first.
So to recap, the UPA +left get decades to screw the economy while picking favorites among social interest groups thus exacerbating tensions. But they get brownie points for managing social cohesion while their economic mismanagement is condoned. The Bjp comes along and tries to implement sensible reforms without favoring any special interests. Your response is that it does not meet your expectations on reforms and gets lower score for not maintaining social cohesion. And mind you the decrease in social cohesion is partly because the earlier special treatment to some groups is gone.
I am guessing you are libertarian. I increasingly, like Adrian vermeule , believe libertarians (including me) were used as “useful idiots” by left to stop the right from being a cohesive force.
Another way to look at justification of UPA vs BJP is how girls choose abusive bad boys vs good boys.
Sorry did not mean to make this personal since I don’t know you personally but you arguments seem to symbolize an entire class of arguments that I have heard often over the years.
Yeah, my ideology, to the extent I have one, comes closest to “libertarianism”. (I’ve been commenting on this site for years, so this isn’t news to regulars.)
I don’t claim there’s anything original in what I’m saying; as most libertarians are, I’m pro-market, socially liberal, and privilege individual rights over group rights.
And I never take personal offense to argumentation, so argue away!
you and I are similar numinous
On your first question on fiscal expansion: Yes, it is the need of the hour. Ever since the twin balance sheet crisis hit the Indian economy we have had low investment and hence low demand in the economy, and after the NBFC crisis, and some needlessly right monetary policy at the time, low consumption demand as well. Hence we have had an overall demand drag on the economy for a while. Under such circumstances, the only entity that can expand its balance sheet and generate demand is the government – as both corporations and households are deleveraging.
We should not adopt some of the rhetoric and mental models of the US right wing in saying deficits and debt are bad (different matter that their own track record in government actually doesn’t show any deference to that principle they claim to espouse). On economics I tend to be a pragmatist – and hence the functional finance and post Keynesian frameworks I find quite useful in how to think about macroeconomics in general, and demand, balance sheet issues a hence debt and deficits in particular.
For the deficit to be “too high” – the two pieces of evidence would be that we have sustained demand driven inflation (well above 6%) and that the current account deficit is out of whack (well above 2%). We aren’t close to either frontier.
On your second question: Yogendra Yadav’s voodoo economics are well known- let’s not forget he was part of the group that asked for a possible confiscation of ALL property post COVID- something that even the most ardent Communists would hesitate to do.
On your third question: Leaving it to states can be a potential solution. But we should reframe the problem. If the problem statement is just a way out of the current impasse – that could be a possible solution. But this is a much broader issue than farm laws. India needs to build a strong state, we historically had a “strong society, weak state”. The writ of the state has to prevail over a capture of the streets by organised groups. A strong state is an important project for modernity, and hence my own view is that the state should stare down the protests , and engage openly to modify specific clauses, but not buckle on withdrawing the laws fully, or on not making it applicable to particular states. That way – the state will have incentivised hostage taking – not a good foundation for the future.
Akshay Alladi has pointed out that conservatism is very much socially dominant in India, and this is a big contrast to the West.
Therefore, the political appeal of the BJP has little to do with ‘hurt Hindu sentiments’ or cultural/social conservatism per se. The party leadership is smart enough to understand that Hindu traditions, already diffuse, are embedded in a context, where expending political capital on preventing female entry to Sabrimala is going to cost them way more Hindu votes in UP than gains in Kerala.
The BJP has been elected to get the Indian Muslim to abide by the core of the Indian Constitution. To understand the BJP’s rise one has to talk to the 10% of Muslims who consistently vote for it.
I went through Akshay’s twitter thread on constitutional reform to give more representation to minorities and dalits. I came away with the impression that this is a case of trads shooting from minority shoulders. Apart from dalits and minorities, UCs are also geographically spread out in India such that they can’t win too many MP seats on their own strength. Linguistic organization has given OBCs dominant political representation in almost every state. UCs control media, judiciary, bureaucracy and big business. Till Modi, Prime Ministership and central political leadership was also heavily dominated by UCs. Most of the angst against Modi-Shah is for upsetting this setup. Ofc Modi had to agree to a faustian bargain of having non-OBC CMs in states (MH, HR etc). The campaign for freeing temple control or even more power(s) to cities is also partly driven by UC angst against OBC politicians.
Explain last part about temple control more?
Well if rich temples (esp. south India) are not going to be controlled by governments then who is going to control them? The spectrum of possibilities ranges from separate “temple” electorates to trust/societies controlled by an unrepresentative cabal. I suspect the trads see these “trusts” as a way to dispense patronage just like OBC politicians use cooperative societies. Government control of temples was based on unwritten assumption that CMs would be mindful of Hindu sensitivities if not devotees themselves. The situation in AP is cause for concern though.
Just finished listening to this podcast. It was excellent.
India’s class problem is more than 10 times as big as her caste problem and policy should focus on class. Would love to see a follow up podcasts focused on how India can dramatically improve K-12 education to sharply increase total factor productivity (or real GDP per capita). Plus further liberalization.
Bhumiputra, the temples and other institutions ran themselves before the government took them over, and they can run themselves again. It works for Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Parsi institutions. In practice in ancient times the donors to temples and other institutions often wielded influence (business people and royal families). Is this what you mean by “unrepresentative cabal”?
Numinous, can you share your thoughts on CAA/NRC? Modi sent clear signals that illegal Bangladeshi muslim immigrants in India (tens of millions of them) would not be deported under NRC. This was understood in West Bengal, with her large muslim population. In 2019 about 20% of West Bengal muslims voted BJP. The BJP are expected to make big electoral gains in West Bengal in elections this year.
In 2019 exit polls, 26% of muslims said they supported Modi’s reelection. If the BJP grows their muslim support, why are you worried about the BJP’s cultural policies?
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