The Promise of India’s Growth and Development Under Prime Minister Modi

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By Kaplesh Kumar
INDIA New England News Columnist
Julius Caesar’s famous quote “Veni Vidi Vici” (translated as “I came, I saw, I conquered”) upon winning the war in what is modern Turkey well describes the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly and his speech to the Indian diaspora assembled at New York’s packed-to-capacity Madison Square Garden. Modi’s highly successful U.S. trip, including his bonding with the U.S. President Barack Obama, who personally escorted Modi to the Martin Luther King memorial – the first for a U.S. President, contributed to a high euphoria among the diaspora and great expectations at home that the Bharatiya Janta Party’s (BJP’s) promise of “acche din” (“good days”) under Modi during the election season was about to come to fruition.
Before coming to the U.S., where he had been persona non grata since 2002, having been denied a visa for entry on the grounds of his presumed culpability as Gujarat’s Chief Minister in the Godhra massacre, Modi had already laid the groundwork for his early bold forays into foreign policy. Defying those who had expected an aggressive and assertive India under his leadership (in view of his past Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) affiliation), Modi invited Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s then recently elected prime minister, along with the heads of state of the other South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, to the swearing in of Modi’s Government. Any acrimony between the Indian and Pakistani leaders was noticeably absent, and they even traded gifts at a personal level, raising hopes of a fresh impetus to restarting bilateral talks and the development of normal India Pakistan relations.
As an indication of his foreign priorities, Modi’s first visit was to the Kingdom of Bhutan with which India has historically enjoyed good relations. A visit to the hometown of a young man of Nepalese origin who had perchance came across Modi in Gujarat and had the good fortune to have been supported by Modi in his education and growth showed the human face of Modi to Nepal’s delight, while on a state visit to that country. Modi followed his SAARC interactions with a visit to Japan, where, yet again, the human side of Modi came to the fore endearing him to the Japanese people with his playing of drums and joining in the fun at an event held in his honor. He developed a close friendship with the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, who promised him a $30 billion dollar investment towards India’s infrastructure development. A later state visit of the then recently installed Chinese president, Xi Jinping, saw Modi entertaining him in Gujarat on a swing and extracting from him a pledge of $20 billion, also for infrastructure investment, even as Xi’s visit was marred by aggressive Chinese troop posturing at the Line of Actual Control between the two countries.
Even as he set about early in his tenure to rapidly reassert India’s international presence, which had been seriously marred during the second term of the Dr. Manmohan Singh government on account of numerous scams, policy paralysis, a declining economy, and lack of effective governance, Modi also began addressing domestic issues of importance to the Indian electorate that brought him and the Modi-led BJP to power with an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament. His immediate focus was on reviewing the work of all ministries, consolidating some, and reengineering the way the federal bureaucracy functioned, while also defining a code of conduct for his partymen. The bureaucrats were directed to enforce punctuality and take the bold decisions required for implementing government policy initiatives, with the assurance that Modi would back them should anyone, including their ministerial bosses, interfere. BJP Members of Parliament (MPs) were subjected to training sessions and directed to adopt austerity measures. Foreign trips of MPs and even of Modi’s ministers are often scrutinized for justification by Modi’s office. Modi has also been reported to have reprimanded his ministers for dress wear that he deemed to be inappropriate for one representing the nation.
Modi has initiated a number of programs to address the socio-economic inadequacies that have largely remained unaddressed since India’s independence and which have affected the quality of life of Indian citizens. His focus on building toilets for the poor (and especially the women) who are presently forced to respond to the call of nature in the open fields, has drawn high praise and support from various quarters and corporate India. His recently initiated “Swacch Bharat” (“Clean India”) campaign, which aims to engage the average citizen to keep India clean, has enlisted the support of leading Indian figures, including Bollywood stars and politicians across party lines, and holds promise of developing a cleaner Indian environment for improved human resource development and nation building.
In moving forward with his agenda, Modi has not shied away from retaining (and improving) programs of the previous Congress led government which provide a benefit to the “Aam Aadmi” (Common Man), such as providing funds to the poor equivalent to getting paid for a certain period of the year. Modi has improved this program, for instance, by ensuring that some useful work is extracted in return for the state’s largesse, and that the funds are deposited directly (rather than provided through middle men) into the individual recipients’ bank accounts, tens of millions of which have been opened across the country under Government direction. Such measures, in addition to reducing paperwork and emphasizing e-filing and e-processing of applications and forms, potentially go a long way towards eliminating corruption.
For all of Modi’s efforts, his BJP party has been rewarded well by the Indian voter. The BJP has won a string of victories in state elections, and in the process minimized the clout of regional parties in determining national priorities and reduced the previously formidable Congress Party to largely being a regional party controlling only a few states. Many state and national level leaders of the opposition parties have, consequently, begun to gravitate to the BJP to remain relevant. Modi’s efforts have also caught the imagination of the world with his policies, as the Indian economy, which had been in dire straits with the GDP growth rate in the 4.5 percent range, has been inching upwards under the Modi “sarkar” (“government). The World Bank has projected a rate in the mid to high 6 percent, and predicted that India’s GDP growth rate will outstrip China’s in 2016. U.S. President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to India as the Chief Guest at the 2015 Republic Day celebration is a measure of India’s current and projected standing in the community of nations, besides being indicative of an evolving close India-US relationship.

So while Modi and his sarkar have much to be proud of in the short time they have been in office, certain BJP leaders and leaders of related parties like the RSS, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Mahasabha, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, have been taking the focus away from Modi’s accomplishments with the hate filled words aimed at the minorities that they have been mouthing periodically. By design or otherwise, Modi has chosen not to comment on such conduct, instead, always speaking of inclusive growth and the need for a united nation. While people may be willing to give Modi the benefit of the doubt in the short term, such “good cop, bad cop” tactics, if they be such, will in the long term hurt Modi’s image as a statesman and an inclusive leader, and no amount of “good governance” or improved economic growth will be able to compensate for it. He needs to clamp down firmly on those, especially from his own party, who see this as an opportunity to transform India into a Hindu nation. The Founding Fathers gave birth to a democratic and secular India, and the Indian voter will not accept any attempt to undercut its secular identity, irrespective of the costs.

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