One Year of Narendra Modi govt: Bold moves on world stage

With Narendra Modi’s arrival, the list of genuinely non-aligned powers has grown from two to four: US, Russia, China and India.

Written by Kishore Mahbubani | Updated: May 29, 2015 1:14 pm
Narendra modi, NDA government, BJP government,  modi, narendra modi, Narendra modi government, United States India relation, India China relation, India Pakistan relation, Barack Obama India visit, Modi Obama meet, One year of Narendra Modi government, one year of modi govt, modi govt accomplishments, Modi one year, Modi government anniversary, modi govt, modi news, bjp news, Narendra Modi news, India news, nation new, indian express, indian express column India could never really emerge as an independent global power if it could not clean up its act in its regional backyard. Modi understands this. (Illustration by: Pradeep Yadav)

With Xi Jinping in charge, we now know what the new strong China looks like. With Narendra Modi in charge, we are finally getting glimpses of what the new strong India will look like. It will be a radically different India from the one that the world has got used to. Three new points stand out.

The first transformation is paradoxical. For decades, India has aspired to be a leader of the non-aligned movement. But it is only now that India is becoming genuinely non-aligned. This observation is shocking. It deserves an explanation. What does “genuine non-alignment” mean? At the NAM summit in Cuba in 1979, at the height of the Cold War, then Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene shrewdly observed that there were only two non-aligned countries: the United States and the Soviet Union. He added that all other countries were in one way or another aligned with these two powers. With Modi’s arrival, the list of “genuinely non-aligned” powers has grown from two to four. It now includes America, Russia, China and India. Modi has given birth to a truly multipolar world.

There is no doubt that the world is now full of sharp differences between key world leaders; for example, between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Putin, and, most sharply, between Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran. It takes great political and psychological confidence to maintain equally good relations with such sharply divided leaders. Modi has it. Hence, he can sign deals worth $35 billion with Abe and then follow up with signing deals worth $22 billion with Xi. If Modi is shrewd, he can use China-Japan competition to benefit India. For example, he can encourage China and Japan to compete in delivering the badly needed bullet train services to India. Similarly, under Modi, India will move even closer to Israel, especially in defence technology. Yet, Modi has also just signed an agreement to build a port in Chabahar, Iran, which will provide India a much-needed logistical lifeline to Afghanistan. Only a new strong India under Modi can get away with such bold moves.

The second transformation was expected. Modi has moved India to the right. But he has done it in surprising fashion. He has no interest in moving towards the Ronald Reagan-Margaret Thatcher consensus. Instead, he would rather move towards the Lee Kuan Yew-Deng Xiaoping consensus. The intellectual output from the Washington DC think-tanks and even the IMF and World Bank means little to him. Instead, the extraordinary performances of the East Asian economies mean a lot to him.

Certainly he believes that the private sector has a critical role to play. However, he also believes that like the other East Asian countries, the government has a key role to play in economic development. Modi has been criticised for not introducing “big bang” economic reforms. But his hands are tied politically by his lack of control of the Rajya Sabha. Modi should, therefore, shrewdly try to implement some of the economic reforms predecessor Manmohan Singh launched. He has passed the insurance bill. He should now push for the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST) that the Congress party had proposed. A national GST would make a massive difference and boost GDP growth by at least 1 per cent a year. Now trucks delivering goods in India take circuitous routes to maximise tax avoidance. With a unified GST, they would take the shortest possible routes. The Indian economy would become vastly more efficient. In short, there remain many significant economic reforms within Modi’s grasp. This is why India now enjoys a bubbly new economic confidence. And double-digit growth rates could become the hallmark of the new strong India.

The third transformation was unexpected. India could never really emerge as an independent global power if it could not clean up its act in its regional backyard. Modi understands this. In the past, India was perceived as a regional bully by its smaller neighbours. Now Modi is taking a leaf from China’s book and trying to share India’s prosperity with its neighbours. There has been a major psychological breakthrough with Bangladesh. Forty-one years ago, the Congress-led government signed a border agreement with Bangladesh with unilateral border concessions to the latter. Yet, no subsequent Indian government dared to ratify it. Modi has had the political courage to do so. This has created a new psychological dynamic with the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) countries pushing for new levels of connectivity, including in electricity and transportation grids. Taking a leaf from Asean’s famous Asean-x formula, Modi has implemented a Saarc-x formula to boost South Asian regional cooperation.

Still, challenges remain. Ultimately, Modi will succeed if he can build a broad church in India to support his reforms. In 1984, the newly elected rightwing government of Brian Mulroney bought a lot of political capital in Canada by appointing a leftwing ambassador to the UN, Stephen Lewis. Modi can be equally Machiavellian. A few shrewd appointments from the opposite end of the political spectrum will buy him a lot of domestic political space. With strong domestic support, he can become even more adventurous on the global stage. The world will happily welcome this new strong India.

Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, is the author of ‘The Great Convergence: Asia, the West and the Logic of One World’.

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App now

First Published on: May 29, 2015 12:00 am
  1. R
    Rahul
    Jan 11, 2016 at 5:52 pm
    I do not completely buy-into the opinion of the author. I am going to counter two of the three major points that the author talks of. Firstly, I do believe that the economic and political landscape of the world is such that no country can risk aligning itself to a country. I think that the author is mentioning about globalization in the veil of the so-called "TRUE NON ALIGNMENT". When Pandit Nehru viewed a status of non-alignment for India, it was not that he wanted India non-aligned at once. It was an immediate dream but a long term reality. Second, I would like to counter the backyard transformation of India that the author highlights. The enclaves exchange is not a matter that can be taken care of within a year. Any person of average intelligence would doubt to think that after coming to power in mid 2014, Modi goverment ratified the 1974LBA, addressed the concerns of involved states, thousands of people living in those enclaves and an altogether different country. It was the Manmohan singh govt that brought the 2011 protocol and Modi govt just followed the recommendations of that. I feel that the author is way off the ground realities and needs to revisit the basic facts before praising one for the deeds of others !
    Reply
    1. B
      BhaktSingh
      May 31, 2015 at 9:15 am
      The phrase 'badly needed bullet train services in India' speaks volumes of author's understanding of India. :)
      Reply
      1. A
        ANJURE
        May 29, 2015 at 4:00 pm
        From Modi, we get mostly show and more show, packaging and re-packaging and more of it, also only 'mein' or 'me' and less of 'hum' or 'us'. A lot of acting and drama. He does not care for the poor and under-privileged. He can give Rs. 6400 Crores credit to Mona and ask SBI to give Rs. 5000 Crores to his industrialist friend Adani who helped him with thousands of crores funding during the 2014 elections, but he cannot take care of the poor farmers and the hungry people. As per the latest report of yesterday, there are 140 Million poor people in India, the most in the world. He is a smart and manitive guy and has fooled so many gullible countrymen of mine. Please wake up before it is late.
        Reply
        1. K
          Karunakaran
          May 29, 2015 at 5:34 pm
          Dear sir, the ills of India were created by the people themselves. At Independence we had 300 million people. Now we have managed to created a potion wealth of FOUR times as many people. No Government can turn a magic wand to make lives better for so many people. The only other country with similar numbers of people is China. And they have a tight control over potion growth. India has no hope.
          Reply
          1. K
            Karunakaran
            May 29, 2015 at 2:29 pm
            What a ridiculous article. The foreign junkets jokers' Government spoke tough regarding the border issues with stan, and scores of our soldiers got killed by the stanis. So much for the press releases indicating tough talk. The world leaders will NEVER have any respect for a selfie-taking joker. If the foreign junkets joker wanted to send some strong message, it should be by first improving the myriad issues in India - starting with the bureaucracy. The foreign investors find too much of red tape because of the bureaucracy. But the joker is scraed of the bureaucrats. If the indications from the world are anything to go by, India has lost all respect under this joker. But he has industrialist backers who have got plenty of cash to pay to the media and journalists.
            Reply
            1. K
              Karigar Medha
              May 31, 2015 at 1:34 am
              Good take on NaMo's key transformations for India
              Reply
              1. A
                anandap
                May 29, 2015 at 8:31 pm
                Deng had a huge red army and no problems of pseudo secularist parties who are always against development and modernization!
                Reply
                1. A
                  anandap
                  May 29, 2015 at 8:08 pm
                  The author analysis is very objective and realistic in the real sense of India's global presence to be felt that it is going to be for business without blind siding of any particular country.
                  Reply
                  1. A
                    anandap
                    May 29, 2015 at 8:36 pm
                    Young potion is a plus point of India to develop next 25 years but the problem is mindset of pseudo secular socialist who want replica of poverty to be every where in India for slogan shouting exercises.
                    Reply
                    1. K
                      Kuldeep Saxena
                      May 29, 2015 at 9:35 pm
                      It is a fine article as Mr. Modi's visit to various countries around the globe had definitely brought back India. The nation needs to work on policy making to have ecofriendly environment for the development of the Nation. In addition to the various countries interest it will be good time to encourage our own productive units that can be in-house platform. The Nation needs to develop with our own entrepreneurs to join the race that will definitely facilitate our own economy as well industrial development in the times to come. it will be good and great if the nation thinks on blending in house promotion of new entrepreneurs as well the FDI that will be a far reaching impact.
                      Reply
                      1. S
                        Sunitha
                        May 29, 2015 at 6:05 am
                        In all democracies elected leaders face hurdles at the hands of opponents. Nothing new there. Because the Congress party has been humiliated at the elections, it's going to be doubly difficult. But that's not a reason for Mr Modi to throw his hands up. There are many other smaller parties in the Rajya Sabha with which he can make common cause, like the AIADMK, Mamata Banerjee's, and Sharad Pawar's parties. And as a last resort, he ought to go directly to public over the heads of opponents. We all know, politicians can change direction faster than the weather wane. Modi won the elections because he acted bold and confident. Indian public will side with him - support him all the way - if he now acts with the same grit and zpah. Teams win matches through offensive plays. By playing defensively, at best they can only hope to prevent the other side from scoring against them. You do not win pennants by staying still in your own corner. Arun K. Chhabra, Esq, Washington, DC, USA
                        Reply
                        1. R
                          Ramesh Nittoor
                          May 29, 2015 at 8:07 am
                          Lee Kuan Yew-Deng Xiaoping consensus is dangerous. Singapore is small enough to have personalized administration. China with is command authority mode leveraged its red army in a warlord mode to propel investment led growth deploying state resources and infrastructure. What India needs is a shift towards political integrity and away from political cronies maniting the political apparatus; Washington think tanks and select world cl universities in US and Europe provide proper guidance for safe and reliable development models.
                          Reply
                          1. P
                            Prem Narayan Mishra
                            May 29, 2015 at 7:59 am
                            I doubt experience of Singapore and other Asian countris can transform India. India has to invent its own model because political, social condition of India is totally different from them.
                            Reply
                            1. P
                              P V
                              May 29, 2015 at 9:51 am
                              World powers are only concerned about trade/investment concessions from India which our government is eager to offer in abundant measure. They are not concerned about poverty, unemployment, inflation and agriculture development of India. World powers get what they want and gladly reciprocate. This explains the success of PM's foreign ventures.
                              Reply
                              1. R
                                Raj
                                May 29, 2015 at 7:59 pm
                                Dude are you a member of Congress's new online marketing team? Please get rid of the dynasts in there first.
                                Reply
                                1. R
                                  Raj
                                  May 29, 2015 at 11:37 am
                                  Even the American model is a dichotomy of the Republicans and the Democrats. I think Singapore model is perfect for India.
                                  Reply
                                  1. R
                                    Raj
                                    May 29, 2015 at 4:43 am
                                    Modi's foreign policy was a little pro-active. Asian countries like Singapore want Indian and Chinese influences to compliment. Particularly countries such as Singapore, that are model for Chinese (majority) - Indian (minority) co-operation, want India and China to grow and not engage in conflicts. The West, wants to retain influence but wants alternatives to the US (the recent bank where the UK joined up suggests this), the United States wants to retain its number 1 status and needs allies to support its retention, it needs India here. China wants Indian state to remain weak and will basically do everything it can to retain the global status quo with India (it has done nothing but green light global atudes towards India though). So, India needs to keep all of this in mind and focus on growth. Once it has money, everything will follow. The UNSC seat or anything else it aspires will follow, all it really needs is a 10 trillion dollar economy (20-30 years).
                                    Reply
                                    1. R
                                      Raj
                                      May 29, 2015 at 11:36 am
                                      Not entirely. India follows the British Westminster model like Singapore. About 50 years ago, Singapore was where India is today. Not only has the country managed to remain a democracy, it has eliminated poverty to become a key state. The critical thing about Singapore and even Taiwan or South Korea is that they are all democracies still. So, I don't think adopt of the East Asian model will need that much tweaking. It is built on manufacturing (as opposed to Indian service-oriented model).
                                      Reply
                                      1. R
                                        Ramesh Grover
                                        May 29, 2015 at 8:47 am
                                        The writer has given a correct but a new definition to the term non-alignment. His elaboration of the new openings to Indias foreign policy imacting indians juxtaposition vis-a-vis other countries, its emerging status has been correctly elaborated. However, at the present juncture, all that one can say is that effective implantation has yet to commence. Only when India gains internal economic strength, a stable social order - will it yield results. His suggestion about the "church" is apt, and will help in yielding good relations with the west, and will not only impact western powers, indians internal dianamics, but also will be an excellent public relations exercise, provided it emraces not only international pivot but also other positions too internally, and find right personnel to handle them.
                                        Reply
                                        1. S
                                          sacchadesi
                                          May 29, 2015 at 1:35 am
                                          Bold move was wearing bold dresses. Quite frankly, the Barat was all pomp but where is the child from wedlock? It just created a racket of immense proportions and a headache.
                                          Reply
                                          1. X
                                            xyz
                                            May 29, 2015 at 5:21 pm
                                            And Deng did not go to any country to make China a superpower.
                                            Reply
                                            1. Load More Comments