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Leading India: Mission impossible?

It has been said before in this column: India’s new government does a few important things differently than most of its predecessor governments. First it is run by a party less identified with the country’s history of the last sixty years than the perennial Congress Party. Then it is led by a man who distinguishes himself with a stronger determination than what the Republic has seen over recent years in that position. And thirdly, it has taken action against the biggest evils of the country: bureaucracy, corruption, legal uncertainties. The incriminating legacy of the ruling party’s communal bias, however, is still remembered. Statistics still document that the Muslim population is disadvantaged and being discriminated against. The current Prime Minister may accomplish many of the right initiatives he has taken and may be taking in the future; he will hardly ever overcome “the shadows of his past” as Gujarat’s Chief Minister, who is being kept responsible for communal riots against Muslims. What comes in addition, he has recently shown an inclination to promote popular traditions which go against the major achievement of the founder of the Republic, Nehru, that is the establishment of an unconditional secular state. Making India and the world believe that he is not communally biased and not anti-secular is his political challenge resembling something like a “mission impossible”. From the outset of his premiership, he has at least demonstrated a clear vision of India’s place in international affairs, and he has done something for it by visiting the most important players in world affairs. Breaking up old patterns of strategic allegiances and inclinations, he has sent the message to the international community that India is resetting its relationship with big and regional powers by thinking afresh what is in India’s interest and that this interest lies in freshly engaging with other powers without making strategic concessions. Ascertaining aspirations in all directions, like a big power, is a good achievement for the Prime Minister’s first year in office. But it is not enough to become a big power. Having soon the largest population on earth does not make a country a big power per se. It is the economic weight that counts. To gain weight, however, there is no way around creating industries, and for creating industries there is no way around building the infrastructure that transports people and goods to the places where value is added to basic substance. Excelling at IT-services and other modern services demanded by the market can continue to employ millions. But only industry which produces for the market, domestic and international, can employ hundreds of millions. Untypical for emerging economies like China in recent decades and Europe in the 19th century, it is not industrialisation that has driven the relative emergence of India since the early nineties of the last century. One after the other, international conferences and seminars on India’s economic potential have concluded that the key priorities are: closing the gender gap by guaranteeing equal rights to women, massively creating and improving roads and other means of transport across the whole country and improving the investment climate for foreign and domestic investors by creating greater clarity in the legal and tax system and by massively cutting red tape. This task is superhuman; for the time being, it looks like a mission impossible. Domestic economy and politics will keep it impossible; only successful Indians from abroad can make a difference by taking back to their country the rules and habits of global business. To turn PM Modi’s apparent mission impossible into a mission possible is in the hands of the Indian diaspora.

21st August 2015 / Philippe Welti

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