Very nice article by Shri Minhaz Merchant. Left, Right and Centre: Redrawing Indiaâ€™s Ideological Map Will the battle for 2014 be won or lost on a single ideological argument: entitlement vs. empowerment? Rahul Gandhi at CII last Thursday used entitlement as a metaphor for his vision of an inclusive, harmonious India â€“ a hard-working, diverse beehive where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Narendra Modi at FICCI on Monday emphasized empowerment of women and good governance which deliver not only gender equality but power, water, infrastructure, housing, healthcare and education. So will 2014 end up as a proxy contest between dynasty and development? The former stresses continuity, paternalism and benevolent feudalism. The latter stands for merit and no-nonsense delivery of efficient public services. Many also see the contest as a black-and-white one between centre-left liberalism and centre-right market economics. This of course is a misconception. To understand why, we need to redraw Indiaâ€™s ideological map, circa 2013. * * * â€œNo respectable young man,â€ my tutor in England thundered, â€œcan be a capitalist.â€ He was right. We were all proudly left-wing. The more radical among us 18-year-olds were Marxists. And we practised what we preached. Back from Britain, I declined to run my industrialist-fatherâ€™s chemical factories and joined The Times of India instead â€“ at a princely salary of Rs. 550 per month. Then, in quick order, came India Today and, at 25, my own media firm. It was now the 1980s and our old ideas of socialism were changing. Indira Gandhiâ€™s own left-wing economic policies had become more centrist. By the late-1980s, Rajiv Gandhi, embracing technology, had steered Indian economics firmly towards the right and free markets. The liberalization of the economy in 1991 by Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and Finance Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh tethered Indiaâ€™s economic policy to the centre-right, a process that continued through the Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral and A.B. Vajpayee governments up to 2004. India thus had 13 years of steadily rising GDP growth. Poverty reduced. Manufacturing and exports soared. In 2004, India ran a current account surplus. Inflation was below 4%. The UPA-1 government, held together by the stentorian Left, slowly began to reverse policy during its first term. Populism was the new watchword. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and her National Advisory Council (NAC) changed the thrust of policy from empowerment to entitlement. It was to prove a fatal mistake. Nine years later, the chickens are coming home to roost. The current account surplus of 2004 has turned into a record current account deficit (CAD) â€“ 6.7% of GDP in the third quarter of 2012-13. For the full fiscal year ending March 31, 2013, for which numbers will be published in June, the government hopes to keep CAD below 5.5% of GDP. Thatâ€™s still nearly Rs. 6 lakh crore. To get a fix on the number, CAD would then be 60% of Indiaâ€™s total annual revenue. Food inflation remains over 10% â€” more than double the level in 2004. The fiscal deficit, at 5.2% of GDP, is damagingly high. External debt has ballooned to $376 billion â€“ 1.30 times foreign exchange reserves of $292 billion which have remained range-bound for nearly five years. * * * Through the 1980s and 1990s, I backed the Congress and its reasonably sensible economic policies in print â€“ both in my media firmâ€™s own publications as well as my columns in newspapers like The Times of India and others. These criticised â€“ fairly sharply â€“ the BJP for its divisive post-Babri politics. All of these are on the record. So what changed after 2004? Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister has been a disappointment. He was straitjacketed by the Leftâ€™s Common Minimum Programme (CMP) in UPA-1 but retained his liberalizer halo. The scams had not yet surfaced. The NACâ€™s welfare populism was meanwhile â€“ subterraneanly â€“ allowing corruption to flourish in a dole-based economy. In UPA-2, the Prime Minister has been pinned down by â€œcoalition dharmaâ€. Roughly translated, that means â€œstay in power at any cost, including the nationâ€™s.â€ Is this â€œcentre-leftâ€ politics and economics? No, itâ€™s corrupt politics and zombie economics. It is unworthy of this Prime Minister. He has allowed himself to be held hostage to the Congress partyâ€™s obsession with staying in power by entitling, not empowering, the poor. It is a dishonourable policy that creates dependencies and does not build competencies or productive physical assets. It does not help the poor or the minorities. It only helps the UPA-2 government to cling to power. Whatâ€™s the alternative? The Left is discredited. Regional parties like the TMC, DMK, AIADMK, SP, BSP, SAD, NC, MIM and Shiv Sena are either casteist (BSP), communal (SP, MIM), maverick (TMC, SAD), sectarian (Shiv Sena, NC) or parochial (DMK, AIADMK). It is ironic that the UPA-2 government is supported by some of the most communal, casteist and parochial parties in India who justify such support on the grounds of â€œkeeping communal forces at bay.â€ Who will keep them â€“ the real communal forces â€“ at bay? And the BJP? A genuine centre-right alternative to the mish-mash above is necessary. But the BJP has some outdated ideas on economic policy. A genuinely right-of-centre political party would support policies to build on the economic reforms of 1991-2004, not dilute them. Will the BJP reinvent itself as a modern, centre-right party, shorn of ideology, focusing on good governance and rapid economic development? That could provide it the key to unlock the gates of the 16th Lok Sabha.