by Manoj Ladwa
"The world today is wild with the delirium of hatred,
the conflicts are cruel and unceasing in anguish...”
Rabindranath Tagore wrote these lines almost a century ago, but they could just as well have been penned yesterday or today about where the world could be headed if we don’t, collectively, cap the isolationalism and fear-mongering going around. Just look around – at Britain and the Brexit vote, at the US and the election of Donald Trump as President, at France and the rise of ultra-rightist Marine Le Pen, at the mindless violence being unleashed by the Islamic State and at the insecure reaction of Western societies to refugees from the Middle East – and you will find events that, left unchecked, could herd all of us towards a future we would rather not contemplate.
Why is this delirium of hatred, still fortunately at a nascent stage, spreading all over the world? The short answer to that is the liberal democratic ethos – sometimes also referred to as the Washington Consensus – is breaking down. The big idea – that free trade is good for the free world and all its people - that guided most of the world since the Second World War is being seriously challenged. The next big idea to replace the now belied belief that the combination of a liberal democracy and free market economy – the bedrock of the modern Western world – would lead to a steady rise in living standards almost till eternity has still not dawned.
Till it reaches a new consensus on a new ideal, the world seems condemned to flounder about searching for a new direction and a new equilibrium.
This is because globalisation and easy trade and investment policies, which enabled the West to dominate the world till very recently, have come back to bite the very societies it had earlier enriched. The Brexit vote was fanned by fear and insecurity about jobs being taken away by foreigners and may force Britain to pull up the drawbridge for global (and Indian) talent.
The US vote was also driven by the fear of globalisation and the migration of jobs to cheaper locations in Asia and elsewhere. It could lead to American policies that veer away from the path of free trade and shrink global opportunities as US companies pull back investments from around the world to create jobs back home.
But this policy is bound to fail. Are American workers, I wonder, willing to accept Indian or Vietnamese salaries to remain globally competitive? This won’t be possible, but it will take time for this simple economic challenge to sink into the American public and their elected representatives. Till then, the turmoil will continue.
But just as Lee Kuan Yew showed South East Asia the path to prosperity in the 1960s that led to the emergence of the Asian Tiger Economies in the decades that followed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s credo of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas (development and prosperity for all) can not only transform India but also seed the next big idea that shapes the new world order.
It is now 25 years since Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost policies freed a third of humankind from the clutches of an addictive ideology that had shorn them of their freedoms.
We may need to reimagine these two concepts in a more global context. The key to a new global consensus lies in re-skilling and retraining the people who find themselves on the wrong side of globalisation. Here, Modi’s guiding ideological philosophy of Antyodaya (a total focus on uplifting the last person in the queue), and which he has manifest in schemes such as teaching millions of urban and rural poor new skills to make them competitive in today’s world, can offer another blueprint for the design of the new world order.
The demonetisation of high value Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes should be seen in this light also as a scheme for a massive redistribution of wealth to benefit the marginalised sections of society - without causing the kind of social upheaval that such initiatives typically entail.
These two ideals, which Modi is turning into his unique approach to governance – Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas and Antyodaya – can, potentially, lead us to the world that the poet Tagore envisioned and I quote from Gitanjali, which made him Asia’s first Nobel laureate:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls...
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
A true reflection of Modi’s approach and initiatives should finally nail the misconception spread by rivals, and the ill informed, that he is a strident rightwinger by traditional western parameters. Instead, he is evolving a unique alternative to the development paradigm that has been blindly followed since India's Independence despite its conspicuous lack of success in achieving most of its stated goals. It's guiding ideals of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikaas and Antyodaya perhaps could also set the discourse for a new type of Washington Consensus - or dare I say, a New Delhi Consensus.
Maybe, and I say this only half in jest, we could think of a new way to describe Modi in the New Year?
Wishing you all a successful and prosperous 2017.
Manoj Ladwa is the founder of India Inc. and chief executive of MLS Chase Group @manojladwa