Interview

‘Elections are won with local leaders, PM is often a surprise’

Ruchir Sharma’s coverage of the Indian political system throws up interesting insights into coalitions and polarising leaders

Vishal Koul

The New York-based global investor and author Ruchir Sharma in his book, Democracy on the road, offers an unrivalled portrait of how India and its political system works, drawn from his two decades on the road covering election campaigns, travelling the equivalent of a lap around the earth! In an interaction with Outlook Business, Sharma shares his insights and why he believes India’s reforms will continue unabated.

How has India changed from the 1970s, when you were growing up, to what it is today, given that you have described the country as "disorganised, chaotic, constantly on the brink and yet, miraculously it functions”?

My favourite line in the book is: “Changes upon changes, yet India remains the same”. This was on my return trip to Bijnor, UP late last year to write the closing chapter. I say that, because it would take me four hours to travel 160 km distance from Delhi to Bijnor when I was a child in the ’70s; and it still takes four hours. It is significant that you have six-lane highways, major industrial towns, and heavy traffic, but that’s what also slows you down. In the olden days, there would be just one pontoon bridge and a road. That was the problem then. Today, we have a different one. Hence, changes upon changes, yet things remain the same in India.

Both the 2014 and 2019 elections have seen the issue of dynasty in politics being kept alive by the BJP against the Congress. What’s your own observation of the Grand Old Party being spoken about as a family enterprise?

I don’t think dynasty per se is a Congress domain but runs through the Indian system. Dynasty is deeply rooted in Indian culture, and statistics indicate that two-thirds of Indian companies are hereditary in nature in terms of ownership. It’s true of Bollywood, corporates, enterprises and politics.

Interestingly, in the ’80s almost all the chief ministers would be married. Last year, one-third of all the chief ministers were single. That is the transition that is taking place. The leader can claim to be less corrupt because he doesn’t have any one to share his wealth with. It shows a greater level of commitment. Being single is more of a USP, but dynasty is a fact of life in India.

Does “being single” give Modi an edge over others, not to mention Vajpayee, who was also single in a sense

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