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’.

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  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
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      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
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