Narendra Modi, My Safe Bet for PM
By Soumya Sundar Chowdhury
India’s story is that of a vibrant republic; a story of unity in diversity. Unfortunately, it is also a story of unfulfilled hopes of a 1.2 billion strong democracy. India is a young country with more than 35% of the population falling in the age group of 18-40. However, a majority of this young population is either poorly educated or have no relevant knowledge and skills for the existing weak job market. Wrong policies and poor infrastructural growth have evaporated the industry goodwill. In 2004, when the torch-bearer of the Indian economic liberalization in the early 90s, Mr. Manmohan Singh, became the Prime Minister after a bullish economic growth (8.4% GDP growth in 2004) ushered in by Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government, major financial institutions declared India as the next superpower in the making, along with its neighboring country, China. Ten years down the line, the hopes are shattered; Indian economy has dwindled to a 4.4% GDP growth; prudence of the government has been pegged back by multiple scams; massive joblessness has led to hopelessness in youth; directionless foreign policies have created a big question mark on India’s credibility as a global power. Now the world’s largest democracy is yearning for a change that can restore the faith of its 1.2 billion citizens. India needs a leader, who will give them the direction to move forward from the regressive economic blunders; a government which will bring back the respect it has lost due to a decade-long weak policy measures.
The Lok Sabha Election 2014 has an array of prime ministerial candidates from across the political spectrum: Rahul Gandhi (Don’t get fooled by his surname, not really related to Mahatma Gandhi), the reluctant prince of Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty from Indian National Congress; Samajwadi Party supremo, Mulayam Singh Yadav; Bahujan Samaj Party head honcho, Mayawati; All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam demagogue, Ms. Jayalalita; Trinamool Congress Chief, Ms. Mamata Banerjee; Arvind Kejriwal, the chieftain of the newbie, Aaam Aadmi Party; and Mr. Narendra Modi from Bhratiya Janata Party. Most of these candidates, barring Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, enjoy limited support base confined only in the state they operate.
As a Prime Minister, India needs someone who is decisive, a visionary, and an effective communicator, one who enjoys popular support, and who can stamp his authority. Sadly, barring, Narendra Modi, no one really fits this category. If Indians can get past the stigma attached to him for his apparent failure to stop the Godhra Riots in 2002, he very much qualifies as the best candidate among the lot. His twelve years of experience as a top administrator of a performing state with a relatively low corruption record speak for itself. Most of his competitors are either highly corrupt or lack the leadership quality, vision, and experience.
As a person, Narendra Modi leads a simple lifestyle. As he comes from a very humble background, he is able to connect with common people and address their problems. A workaholic, introvert, a fantastic orator, and a practical dreamer, sometimes his leadership style is compared to that of Indira Gandhi. Modi has also successfully amended his image from being a Hindu Nationalist politician to that of an able administrator. In the last 12 years of his rule, Gujarat, a riot prone state, has seen minimal communal violence. Despite being cornered by the vilification campaign of the opposition parties and endless media trial, he has successfully run the state of Gujarat. His perceived image of being a ‘Hindu Hitler’ did not resonate with the Indian Supreme court, which has given him a clean chit in the riot cases.
Over the past decade, Gujarat has made excellent progress on all fronts and these efforts have not gone unnoticed: whether it is rehabilitation of earthquake victims or the implementation of e-Governance for transparency; best practices in solid waste management or environment consciousness. Gujarat is the only state in India which has the infrastructure to provide E-services to 13685 Gram Panchayats through the Gujarat State Wide Area Network (GSWAN). Modi’s GIFT (Gujarat International Finance Tech-City) has added another feather to Gujarat government’s hat. In a recent interview, Modi said, “Built on 986 acres, the GIFT project is setting a benchmark for the whole world about how one can deliver financial services, technological security, real time operations, multiple activities etc from a single place, at the same time.” In last few years, Gujarat has properly implemented the Targeted Public Distribution System introduced by the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Gujarat constructed India’s first 1 megawatt Canal-top Solar Power Project on the Sanand Branch Canal of the Sardar Sarovar Project. Another significant achievement for the Narendra Modi governement is the ‘Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit’ which is held once in every two years and has resulted in the signing of 20,000 MOUs, garnering an investment of $1200 billion. Of course, statistics show that the actual projects under implementation are worth approximately $280 billion, a success rate of 23.3%, which is general for all the states and true for India as single investment center. As a result, Gujarat accounts for 15.14% (USD 114.52 billion) of the total investments in India, highest among all the states in India. Gujarat has pursued excellence in several areas and won over 100 accolades and awards for a variety of sectors right from economic freedom to environmental protection, e-Governance to energy conservation, health to heritage protection, and sanitation to software development, reflecting holistic development of the state. Some of the awards noted below reflect the variety of development activities which took place in Gujarat over the last decade in the social and economic spheres.
16 Oct, 2003: United Nations Sasakawa Award for outstanding work in the field of disaster management and risk reduction.
Oct, 2004: CAPAM Gold Award from Commonwealth Associations for Innovations in governance.
5 August, 2005: Best Investment Environment Award by India Today.
30 Oct, 2006: Asian Innovation Award at Singapore from Wall Street Journal and the Financial Express for Chiranjeevi Yojana (initiative for reducing maternal and infant mortality rate).
3 Nov, 2008: India Power Awards 2008 for exemplary work in rural electrification under the “Jyoti Gram Scheme”.
23 June, 2010: United Nations Public Service Award for Gujarat’s role in transforming the delivery of public services.
17 Oct, 2011: eRatna award for e-Governance.
15 January, 2013: Total Food Grain Production Award by the President of India.
Asia’s leading brokerage firm, CLSA, lauds Gujarat for growth and opines that Gujarat is shining in both the agriculture and the industrial sectors. In Gujarat, 37 lakh hectare new lands have been made cultivable in the last decade.
Mr. Modi has also initiated the much awaited police reform for improving internal security. Gujarat is set to become the first state in the country to have a complete integrated police ERP (enterprise resource planning, a software integrating all aspects of an operation) system.
Also noteworthy, the Modi government in Gujarat has been working hard to recalibrate the face of tourism development, with five million tourists visiting Gujarat in the last two years. The Gujarat government has an outlay of Rupees 730 crore to develop its tourism infrastructure in 22 districts across the state. According to a recent survey done by TripAdvisor Website, Ahmedabad is selected to be the safest city for women travelers, which is a huge achievement considering the recent sad state of women’s security in Indian cities.
The unemployment rate in Gujarat is the second (the lowest rate is in Chattisgarh, ironically, another BJP-ruled state) lowest among all the states in India.
However, Mr. Modi’s critics have been punching holes in his development model on the basis of disparity between the social and economic development, including malnutrition and sex ratio. There are central government published reports, which, too, flayed the Gujarat government on different indices. While I agree with the ‘more work needs to done on the social sector’ argument, it is also true that Gujarat has definitely achieved more than the other Indian states in last decade.
There is a question, though: Would Mr. Modi be able to translate the Gujarat model of development onto the national scene in a diverse country like India? There is also a concern if his anointment as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate will increase communal tensions in the country. Thankfully, though, he is the only candidate, who has stayed away from the communal-secular debate and has tried to make the election a fight on developmental agenda, based on his showpiece in Gujarat.
Below I outline some of his main concerns in his election campaign.
The rivers will be connected to each other using artificial canals in order to ensure water availability round the year for farmers across India. A good irrigation system is one of the main components of agricultural development. Interestingly, whereas every other political leader takes the shortcut and promises to revoke loans for farmers, which, in turn, batter the exchequer, Modi proposed the constructive idea of creating better facilities for farmers to ensure sustainable progress.
Only 2.77% of Indians pay income taxes. Every extra decimal number added on the tax payment burdens this small population of people immensely. Unfortunately, every now and then, in the name of welfare, the government tightens the screw on these poor souls. Tax reforms in India is long overdue and is the need of the hour Modi has already proposed his idea to resolve this conundrum.
Indian Railway is the biggest public transport system in the world but lack of modernization and proper maintenance is harming railway efficiency and revenue. Modi has proposed to bring new technologies like bullet trains to fast-track the much needed infrastructural modernization in the railway sector. This kind of infrastructure will help industrialization in a big way, and, in turn, will boost the job market.
Corruption and scams have been an important issue in modern India. Modi has proposed a three point formula to eradicate corruption. First, the governance must be policy based, which will take away the power to discriminate from bureaucrats and ministers. If the policies are made available to people, then the people in power will have no option but to work according to the policies. This will reduce corruption. Second, he wishes to provide a fixed tenure to the bureaucrats, which will ensure their accountability and reduce corruption in bureaucracy. Third, he wants to introduce a system based on IT, which will reduce grass-root level corruption, and dependence on human judgment. To reduce corruption, Lokpal/Janlokpal (Lokpal is an idea, which came from pre-computerization era; machines are always more reliable than man) is not enough, because at the end of the day, it will still depend on human judgment.
Mr. Modi wants India to focus on the 5T formula, which foregorunds Talent, Tradition, Tourism, Technology, and Trade to come out of the present economic sink-hole and create Brand India.
A price stabilization fund is proposed to take on inflation, by increasing import on occasions for particular products.
A real time agro-price databank will be created to keep parity with international and domestic market.
For the economically lagging North Easterners, Modi proposes the 3H formula based on Herbal-product production, Horticulture, and Handicraft to improve economic condition of the common people.
In the domain of police reform, Modi vows to bring more transparency using Information Technology. Also he proposes to form a pink police for protecting women, similar to the one that is already in place in Gujarat.
Internal security in India is a serious matter of concern. Modi has promised to deal with the anti-national separatists and anti-establishment forces with an iron-fist. He has proposed a discussion on Article 370, which will strengthen the complete integration of Jammu and Kashmir into the state of India.
On the external front, it is pretty evident that Mr. Modi will not let China, or Pakistan play an aggressive role in Indian soil. Since the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, and the European Union are already warming up to Modi, it suggests that India will actually have a concrete foreign policy in place, which has been missing for long. Even though the international community is skeptical about press freedom in the ancipated Modi-ruled India, I doubt it will be a major concern. One of my really close friends, who happens to be a senior assistant editor in a leading Indian daily, pointed out that the Emergency in 1977 has been the biggest blot on India’s media freedom. If Modi does not abide by the rule, our democratic system will put him back in place.
While there is concern regarding Modi’s attitude to the LGBT community, which has been further aggravated by the BJP President Mr. Rajnath Singh’s statements, Mr. Arun Jaitley has pointed out recently that there was no concrete party decision on this issue. In fact, the young guns in the BJP are not necessarily aligned with their party president’s idea on this particular issue.
On the basis of recent surveys conducted by various agencies, Narendra Modi is definitely a front runner for the post of the prime minister. But BJP’s limited reach is definitely pulling Mr. Modi back. It is almost evident that the BJP cannot form a government by itself. Although I am not a big supporter of the coalition government, it is a reality which cannot be ignored. A coalition government has its merits and demerits but the lack of a common agenda can create chaos and become a hindrance for a party forming the core of the government to implement the promised agenda. Since the present scenario predicts a coalition government at the centre, India needs an alliance which is naturally cohesive with a national party forming its core. NDA fits this definition perfectly. Most of the allies in the coalition have naturally flocked together. Most of their common agendas are very similar as well. The existing UPA government’s miserable failure in eradicating corruption, implementing right economic policies, and devising a strong foreign policy opened up the gate for lot of regional players. But the lack of a common national agenda will be disastrous for the future of India.
Indian economy is suffering from wrong economic policies pursued by the present government. Populism in the name of social justice has shaken the core of economic growth. Investors are fleeing, resulting in massive unemployment. Stalled infrastructure development has resulted in huge fiscal deficit. Inflation has hugely added to public misery. So the Indian economy needs to be revamped, which includes gaining investors’ confidence by implementing right economic reforms. Investment in infrastructure development has to be one of the core agendas. Inflation needs to be controlled by eradicating wrong import and export policies. National security has to be one of the topmost agendas. Continuous security threat has been a bane to tourism as well as steady growth. Safety for women needs to be assured with much needed police reforms and other law and order reforms. Preparing a system to minimize corruption should be another goal. Week foreign policy has been hurting India badly. Adverse neighbors must be treated with an iron feast. It is important to initiate confidence building measures with the powerful countries. The non-alignment policy may sound very romantic but a refusal to align oneself with the powerful is not practical anymore., India should strengthen ties with the US, Australia, UK, EU, Japan, and Israel even if it costs India old allies like Iran. Maintaining peace in South Asia is important but not at the cost of India’s interests.
Having laid out all the issues, it appears at the moment that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by Mr. Narendra Modi, is slowly but surely emerging as the best bet to bring the change India has been yearning for.
Soumya Sundar Chowdhury is a Civil Engineer by profession. He completed undergraduate degree in Construction Engineering at Jadavpur University, Calcutta, and graduate studies at West Virginia University in Civil Engineering. An avid follower of Indian and world politics, his opinions are personal and mostly right-leaning.