Saturday, 5 April 2014

India-centric approach on cards (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat
Friday, April 04, 2014 - Although this columnist first met Narendra Damodardas Modi sixteen years ago in a dingy room at the residence of a BJP functionary, he does not claim to be a friend of the BJP’s Prime Minister nominee or even to know him well. Unlike other politicians, who very quickly seek to build a personal rapport with those who they regard as influential to their careers, the Chief Minister of Gujarat is a very private individual, and businesslike in his interactions. Although there is more than a whiff of humour in his words, small talk is almost totally absent. What came across in the few interactions this columnist had with Narendrabhai (as he is known) was a photographic memory, that refused to let go of any and every scrap of information about a subject, a gift that has stood Modi well in the quest for the country’s top job.

The man who is on course to become PM remembers previous interactions, and watches intently for any signs of a change in view or a resiling from previously-held positions, for Narendra Modi likes consistency and the will to hold on to a view, even if the same be unpopular. For those who seek to use their careers towards self-development, Modi would be a difficult boss to handle. He wants around him individuals who focus on their work, not on themselves, and that too for periods of time each day that no doctor or spouse would recommend.

When this correspondent first told Modi years ago at his modest residence in Gandhinagar that he would in a future election cycle emerge as the Prime Minister of India, the response was a modest smile, followed by a softly-spoken reiteration that he was only interested in serving his voters in Gujarat, and that he had no further ambition than that. This may indeed have been the case, for even in 2001,when Modi was made Chief Minister, it was not because he had lobbied for the post but because then PM Vajpayee saw him as the best man to retrieve the state from a crisis.

Today, it is the swelling tide of voters who desire a “Modi Sarkar” rather than his party leadership that has made it inevitable that he be the BJP’s PM nominee. Five years after the forecast was made, it was clear by 2011 that the 2014 election would (a) be held on time and (b) become a contest between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. Held on time rather than pre-poned (as several commentators predicted) because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wanted to serve out his full term, and Congress President Sonia Gandhi would not cut short the tenure of the second United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government so long as the PM wanted it to go on.

The view of this columnist, expressed in print and on television, was that by 2010,Manmohan Singh and his team had outlived the welcome of the people of India. The Prime Minister’s cautious, bureaucratic style of functioning melded with Sonia Gandhi’s reckless squandering of taxpayer revenue to ensure that the economy began to sputter by 2007. The fact that the UPA’s response to the 2008 global financial crisis was misdirected and inadequate brought down the rate of growth of the economy to less than half what it had been in the past. High taxation, high regulation, high interest rates (favoured by PM-picked Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governors who in effect killed domestic industry by constantly raising interest rates despite a faltering economy) and low levels of administrative efficiency ensured that by 2007,few were willing to bet on the India story.

There was a flight of capital out of the country. Combined with the play of a small group of speculators based out of Mumbai, Chennai, Singapore and Dubai who seemed to know exactly what the RBI and the Union Ministry of Finance would do (or, more accurately, not do) to strengthen the rupee ensured that the currency began a plunge that has brought it to a level less than half of what fundamentals would dictate, were there to be an effective government with an India First policy framework Sonia Gandhi, through her choice of Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister of India, and continuing him in office for a fresh 5-year term despite the obvious failures of his adiministration, clearly indicated that policy should follow the “Foreigner First” track that has been its motif in this country for centuries. While foreign companues were enabled to enter the domestic market, donestic companies were hobbled and handicapped, so as to prevent them from offering competition both domestically as well as externally.

As a consequence, many have partnered with foreign companies and allowed the latter to access the potential within India, serving as their assistants rather than as their masters or even equals. Such a “Foreigner First” policy has dragged down growth to low levels, in a country where a 15% rate of growth can be sustained for a generation, given its location and human resources. But for this to happen, an “India First” policy needs to get formulated and implemented. It is because voters in India are distressed about Manmohan Singh’s “Foreigner First” policy, and seek its replacement with an “India First” policy, that Narendra Modi may be only weeks away from fulfilling the prophecy made by this correspondent, that in a coming election cycle, he would emerge as the Prime Minister.

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