PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI

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The next India

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

NARENDRA MODI, THE NEW PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA, emerged victorious last week; in world’s biggest democratic elections. It was a conclusive victory by his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), way beyond what was expected by global political analysts. Analysts say that Modi ran a brilliant campaign, was attentive on issues that Indians care about the most – the economy and governance.

It was the party that led India to freedom that was humiliated by Modi’s overwhelming victory – the Congress Party. This was Congress Party’s worst performance at the polls in decades; that some wonder whether the party will ever bounce back, and if so, what will it take?

As tainted as Modi is, he ran an effective campaign, drawn on his record as the Chief Minister of Gujarat – a state that has had impressive economic growth over the past ten years. Chief Minister Modi steered his region in a pro-market direction during his tenure; enacted reforms attractive to the private sector. The result of his policies were impressive as Gujarat has been the only Indian state that enjoys more than China’s annual Gross Domestic Product growth.

Many big Indian companies including Tata have seen opportunities of growth in the State of Gujarat; have flocked into the region to exploit the opportunities; and all this is attributed to Modi’s prudent pro-market policies.

While the State of Gujarat maintained its remarkable growth, the most of India has been in economic decay; and corruption has been rife since Congress Party’s Manmohan Singh took power in 2004.

Under Modi’s 81-year old predecessor, Prime Minister Singh, who officially resigned last Saturday; India slipped into the economic conundrum; of which the result was a spike in inflation (due to weakening of the rupee), lack of investments and decline in economic growth (from almost nearing double-digits to around 5%). The “Indian dream” disappeared in sight; and the citizens became more and more disenchanted by Singh’s government.

So maybe given his economic record in the State of Gujarat, Modi is the “right man at the right time” to lead India. But it remains to be seen whether the transformative skills he exhibited in Gujarat will help in reviving the whole of India’s lacklustre economy. He does though, have a room to embark on market reforms without any hurdles, since his party won the majority of the parliamentary seats.

I have faith that Modi will deliver the necessary reforms needed by the world’s second most populous nation behind China. But perhaps I mustn’t be too optimistic.

When Manmohan Sigh was elected into office in 2004, there was so much hope that he would drive the Indian economy to the desirable direction. Singh was trusted, because as Finance Minister of India in 1990s, he was among the key drivers of bold economic reforms that revolutionized his nation for the better. But sadly, most of his time in office was a disappointment. So who knows? Maybe five or six years from now, the same will be said of Modi.

But at least he’s well-aware that should he perform poorly, Indians are likely to respond swiftly at the ballot box. They can, and they will if needed; evidenced by how they’ve embarrassingly ejected Mahatma Gandhi’s party out of power over its terrible leadership in the past ten years.

WILL HE UNITE INDIA?

Modi’s been described a Hindu nationalist who dislikes the actuality – that the Muslim community exists in India. His party’s rhetoric and his, about Indian Muslims has terrified this minority. Hindus account for more than 80% of the Indian population; while Muslims account for 15%.

Johan Blank, a political analyst at RAND Corporation, wrote a brilliant article in Foreign Affairs last week; about Modi’s attitude towards Muslims. Here’s an excerpt from that article:

“Third, the BJP’s ideology, and Modi’s own record and rhetoric, have raised fears of aggression: towards Indian Muslims, towards Pakistan, and even towards China. The biggest scar on Modi’s record is the wave of anti-Muslim pogroms that left more than 1,000 dead in Gujarat in 2002, when he was chief minister there. Modi has not been convicted of criminal responsibility, but under him, the state’s security forces pointedly refrained from intervening to stop the massacre. Modi has never apologized for his administration’s inaction, and he is widely believed to have tacitly supported it.

Not helping matters has been his fiery rhetoric on domestic and international issues alike. He has demanded the expulsion from India of Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants (but not Hindu ones) and blasted Singh for his restraint towards Pakistan following the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai and China during the confrontation over the Ladakh border in 2013.”

I doubt Modi and his party will pursue abrasive policies towards minorities in India; that is not in the interest of his country. Hostility towards Muslims would tarnish his nation’s reputation and derail him on the main issues which he will be judged upon by the end of his tenure – the economy and governance.

On top of this, he could strain relations with the majority of the Islamic countries; which again would not be in the interest of India. So my gut feeling is that he will embrace and protect minorities. It’s the only sensible thing to do if he wants to encourage political stability along with rapid economic growth.

MODI’S FOREIGN POLICY

Foreign policy will be a challenge for Modi, since he doesn’t get along with India’s very significant neighbors; for example China, Pakistan and Bangladesh; for, in some cases, valid reasons. His rhetoric has been very strong against these countries, which has ignited anxiety among many around the world. So it has become difficult to predict what he will do.

We’ll have to wait and see how he deals with these challenges in his region. But in whatever he does with his powers, he should take into account the plight of his fellow citizens, who are in desperate need of economic development.

Not everybody is uncertain about Modi’s foreign policy though. Dhruva Jaishankar (a fellow with the German Marshall Fund in Washington D.C.) wrote on Foreign Policy blog this week, about Modi’s foreign policy.

He argued that few have actually listened to Modi’s statements about how he plans to balance his foreign policy in the upcoming years in office.

The whole blog post points out that Modi acknowledges that foreign policy begins at home. He quotes him saying “I believe a strong economy is the driver of an effective foreign policy…we have to put our own house in order so that the world is attracted to us”. He further writes Modi understands the globalized world, of which India is part of.

We hope a constructive diplomatic engagement with his neighbors and the rest of the world will reflect exactly that – an understanding of a truly global world.

With respect to the West, Modi has promised to maintain warm relations with the developed world. President Barack Obama has already invited him to the United States; having revoked the ban on his Visa that was imposed by George W. Bush’s administration in 2005; for Modi’s alleged complicity in 2002’s pogroms against Muslims in the State of Gujarat.

Let me say again that we mustn’t be too optimistic about economic development in the next India, under Modi. We never know whether Narendra Modi will do a terrific job or not; because, “past performance does not guarantee future results”, as Johan Blank wrote in Foreign Affairs last week.

I think it’s likely that whatever he’s thinking right now, it is in the interest of his country. Governing one state is very much different from leading the whole of the very diverse India. He’s been given an overwhelming mandate – to revive the Indian economy and uplift the poor; as that is exactly what he will be judged upon.

As for the Congress Party, it’s time to relook at itself. It led India to freedom, and ruled for most of India’s 67-year old independence. But it is now that the party needs to revamp itself; and hopefully, for the sake of India’s democracy, it will come back strong. PM

© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI


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