What will happen to India?


Having spent a week in India, I have personally observed the euphoria that greets the new prime minister, Narendra Modi. It seems that Modi has secured the public’s trust. Speaking to many people, it seems to me that the economy inspires the strongest trust in Modi. Most Indians believe that Modi will initiate a positive trend in terms of economic development.

It is this positive expectation that is seen as an early indicator of a long Modi era in India. “We can live with Modi for many years,” says Nandan Unnikrishnan, a senior analyst working for the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (ORF). That does not surprise. If Modi succeeds in leading the Indian economy in the right direction, millions are likely to see him as a symbol of stability and development.

So far, Modi has been very successful at projecting the image of a market-friendly leader. Indian newspapers are full of quotes from leading international market actors who praise Modi’s “brave approaches.” According to these market elites, Modi’s policies may turn the Indian market into a paradise for foreign investment.

In fact, Modi has no serious rival. India is a more than a country. It is a sub-continent with many problems that no political leader has resolved satisfactorily. Modi’s strategy is likely to be a kind of neo-liberal approach. One factor in his favor is a big domestic market with hundreds of millions of consumers. This may put Modi in a position where he has significant bargaining power with global powers.

However, there is a question: If Modi becomes the symbol of economic development and stability, how will he use this credit in the long term? Many people in India speculate thus about Modi’s long-term strategy of social engineering. Some even argue that Modi is likely to become somehow authoritarian in the long term. Many leaders around the globe who started out with positive economic records then became new autocrats. Will this repeat itself in India? It is wrong to judge Modi now. However, such concerns should not be undervalued.

Why? In India, like in many other states, ordinary people’s main demand is economic prosperity. Therefore, people are ready to tolerate authoritarian policies as long as they perform well in the economy. Certain things — such as academic freedom — are no longer a major issue for ordinary people. In short, authoritarian leaders whose economic agendas are successful can easily buy their societies for many years. This theory may in due course fit India, too. However, it is still too early to impugn Prime Minister Modi on this basis. Time, and his actual endgames, will show us whether this theory proves itself in the Indian context.

Modi is always quite reformist in foreign policy. He has given the impression of having the courage to deal with the difficult problems of Indian foreign policy, such as the border issue with China and the usual problems with Pakistan. Though it is very unrealistic to expect a solution for such long-standing problems, Modi’s willingness in this vein may help him globally. His stout positions on various important foreign-policy problems give him global credit. Moreover, his activism on this level generates serious support at home. Many Indians are happy to see Prime Minister Modi dealing directly and courageously with Pakistan.

Modi today holds all the domestic and international advantages. He can really put his imprint on the political history of India. Given his potential to be a charismatic leader, the main notional threat to his rule is himself. If Modi keeps his moderate stance in the upcoming years, and if he pays serious attention to dialogue in domestic politics, the history books may refer to him as another great leader of India.