India’s dangerous political vacuum

September 30, 2013 6:35 pm

India’s dangerous political vacuum

As elections loom, voters confront a dearth of good options

In times of crisis, people turn to desperate solutions. In India, desperation has a name: Narendra Modi. Mr Modi, once politically crippled by his alleged complicity in the killings of several hundred Muslims in Gujarat, is visibly edging towards the premiership. Business, especially, is turning towards him as a saviour.Indian leaders are not directly elected. They emerge from the political soup. Still, Mr Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat and now the official candidate of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party, probably stands a better chance than anyone after general elections that must be held by May. To his supporters, Mr Modi’s record speaks for itself. Gujarat is among the fastest-growing states. It has attracted substantial direct investment and Mr Modi has a reputation for personal integrity and swift action. Those are qualities that would be welcome at national level where growth has stalled and the Congress-led coalition has been floundering for years. Mr Modi, the son of a tea stall owner, would also make a change from a Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has plucked the fruits of Indian democracy as though it owned the tree.

Yet there are grave doubts. The Gujarat model is not all it seems. Growth under Mr Modi is not the great outlier often portrayed. It is not clear that his no-nonsense efficiency could be mapped on to the complex national scene. Mr Modi is not alone in being tainted by communal violence, tragically common in a country where Muslims make up 15 per cent of the population. In 1984, Congress failed to prevent the massacre of thousands of Sikhs in revenge for the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Her son, Rajiv, infamously said of the killings: “When a big tree falls the earth must shake.” That this has happened before is no excuse. Mr Modi’s lack of public contrition for events that happened on his watch in 2002 is disturbing. So is his failure to appoint Muslim ministers in Gujarat. Many around him regard secularism as a dirty word. A tinderbox such as Indiacould do without such sparks.

Those who rightly worry about the prospect of a prime minister Modi should press Congress to form bolder, clearer policies. It also needs a better candidate thanRahul Gandhi, the 43-year-old heir apparent whose main qualification is his name. The Supreme Court recently ruled that Indians should be allowed to vote for “none of the above”. Given a choice between Mr Modi and Mr Gandhi this looks like the best option. That is a tragedy for India.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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