Modi lays out some big ideas, frames the urbanisation opportunity. But his economic blueprint is incomplete.
In his speech at the BJP’s national council meet on Sunday, Gujarat chief minister and the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi targeted and taunted his political rival. Less predictably, he packed in some big ideas and messages, perhaps in a bid to make up for their absence in the party’s economic resolution on Saturday. For instance, at a time when many states, ruled by BJP as well as non-BJP parties, are chafing at what they perceive to be the Centre’s hauteur and unwillingness to adopt a more accommodative and consultative approach, Modi spoke of how the story of rising regional aspirations must not be told as one of a Centre under siege. The assertions in the states, he said, are not a threat, but an opportunity for a more balanced development through partnership in governance.
Given that the political class across the ideological divides continues to be evasive in, if not embarrassed by, addressing the legitimate needs of a fast growing urban India, it is also significant that Modi urged a similar recasting of the urbanisation challenge as an opportunity. He talked of the need to create 100 “smart” cities and satellite cities, and to explore the concept of twin cities. While his idea of a bullet train network, like the Golden Quadrilateral that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee began work on during the tenure of the NDA government, in time for the diamond jubilee celebrations of India’s Independence, may not seem doable, Modi is right in demanding that India’s political class should start thinking big about its cities. There is no time to lose. As has been pointed out by a McKinsey report, if India is to move 250-300 million more people into urban spaces over the next two decades, it needs to build 700-900 million square metres of commercial and residential space each year — that’s more than two Mumbais each year.
The BJP’s prime ministerial hopeful did not dwell on other areas where his party clearly needs to shed some of its baggage, as on FDI in retail. It is obvious India cannot be built by foreign capital alone, but a party that wants to control where it goes betrays a closed mind. Modi is right in wanting real-time data on crop sowing and production so that imports can be planned, for instance, but when he says this will be helpful in deciding if certain crops are to be exported, it recalls an old and obsolete Swadeshi Jagran Manch version of the BJP.