Modi Facing a Rocky Road <br>As He Seeks To Govern <br>India From the Right

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The New York Sun

NEW DELHI – Elections are all about arithmetic and atmospherics, about calculus and celebration, but they are also about a division of the spoils. To put it another way: Winning parties that get to form governments also get new opportunities to get lucre, not merely political power.

The winning center-right Bharatiya Janata Party campaigned, among other things, on a platform that promised clean governance. Its prime minister-designate, Narendra Modi, has pledged that his will be a scrupulous administration, that financial corruption will not be tolerated, and governance will be transparent. In short, the Modi Administration will be an adret — that side of a mountain that always gets sunshine and is clearly visible on most days.

But an adret is also typically rocky and steep, a metaphor well applicable to the incoming administration’s monumental tasks. Rejuvenating a sluggish economy will have to be a priority; generating millions of jobs to cater to a growing cohort of the unemployed young will have to be another key objective. Reassuring India’s minorities – mainly Muslims and Christians – who might have apprehensions about the strong Hindu leanings of the BJP, would be still another priority. As the Germans say, und so weiter – and so on.

And so on indeed, especially in a country of 1.3 billion people where nearly a half of the population still lives below the poverty line some 67 years after India gained independence from the British Raj. This is especially reprehensible in view of the fact that the so-called “underground economy” sustained by black money is estimated at $2 trillion — almost exactly the size of India GDP.

How, then, is Narendra Modi going to rise to the task? He’s already climbed atop the adret during the election, where voters have the BJP 285 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, a clear majority in the Lower House of Parliament. Seats won by the BJP’s associates in the National Democratic Alliance make that figure rise to 334. Slowness of policy-making need not characterize the new government as it did the fractious, leftist Congress-led UPA administration for a decade.

That chaotic and corrupt administration sporadically raised GDP growth to around 8%, but in the last couple of years the annual figure fell to just about 4%. Most economists opine that in order to make any meaningful dent in poverty and to ensure sustainable economic growth, India needs an annual GDP growth rate of at least 7% or even 8%. A lack of consistent pro-growth policies hindered economic development.

Economists also say that the outgoing administration didn’t do much more than pay lip service to economic liberalization. Mr. Modi has said that a genuinely open, free-market economy is what he would fashion. In the western state of Gujarat, where he’s served three terms as chief minister, Mr. Modi demonstrated a strong pro-business ideology, one that has generated large numbers of jobs in manufacturing, attracted much needed foreign direct investment, and has also enabled agro-business to flourish.

It’s been called the “Gujarat Model of Development,” and if Prime Minister Modi successfully adapts it to India’s 29 states and seven federal territories then the country’s prospects would be bright.

He certainly has the mandate to formulate and push for any economic policy he wishes. Mr. Modi might want to work more closely with Western countries such as America and the European Union, not to mention pro-West Japan, to invite more investment. The opportunities for outside investors are vast in a country where the middle class, already at 350 million, is increasing in numbers.

But it’s not just the welfare of the middle class that should concern Mr. Modi. The vast majority of Indians lives in its 565,000 villages. Economic development needs to be accelerated in rural regions, especially the remote ones in the Northeast.

Mr. Modi should be emboldened by his electorate mandate, and his post-poll speeches have clearly demonstrated that he has the self-confidence to offer India bold new leadership. But India being India, and Indians being Indians — argumentative and disputatious — there will be many political and social hurdles in the path of this low-caste former tea seller from Gujarat.

His background shouldn’t matter. What counts is his will power, his willingness to take on the odds, his energy in governing, and his ability to select experienced and expert associates. He will have a “honeymoon” of no more than 100 days. Then the cribbing will start, and the political undermining, and a fresh examination of his credentials and — in typical Indian style — the question of whether, even in this modern era, a low-caste man is be able to lead the world’s biggest democracy.

Mr. Gupte is a contributing editor of the New York Sun.


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