India is now a hot topic in Pakistan. Former prime minister Imran Khan is playing a big role in it.
Every failure of Pakistan — from foreign policy to food inflation — is compared with the Indian ‘success’ story.
For Khan, it is a clever ploy to instigate common Pakistanis against the establishment. As prime minister, he unilaterally banned bilateral trade in 2019, robbing Pakistan of the opportunity for low-cost import of essentials and checking price rise.
However, there is little doubt that the young and educated in Pakistan are convinced that the Narendra Modi rule has improved India’s global standing.
From India’s export of military hardware and iPhones, to the launch of semi-highspeed trains or the G20 presidency, everything is tracked with a degree of appreciation.
This is the legacy that Prime Minister Modi has created — making the world believe that India can. No mean achievement for a country that had always given the excuse of democracy for its failures to deliver vis-a-vis China.
A Cultural Shift
Like the proverbial two sides of the coin, the achievements came at the cost of the unmaking of a large section of Indian intelligentsia — including celebrity journalists, economists, historians, etc — who left no stone unturned to disprove Modi.
They were supposed to be objective in their criticism but ended up shortchanging intellectual equity for petty politics. Their decline had hurt the opposition politics, the most.
The opposition camp is looking rudderless. They might win a few elections by offering extra freebies and/or fuelling anti-Modi sentiments in some interest groups, but that will not take them very far.
The legacy of Modi will also haunt BJP. No other leader in the party can match him in all departments. Some are good taskmasters but lack popular calling. Some others are promising but have to go miles to prove their mettle.
The strong leadership of Modi is, therefore, potent to create a political void in the days to come. That is, however, a generic problem that all tall leaders leave behind. China didn’t get a replacement for Deng Xiaoping yet.
But the gains far outstrip such concerns. Before Modi assumed office, too many in the government took the gap between promises and delivery as normal. Better performances were considered aberrations.
Take the case of rapid power capacity expansion during the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) rule vis-a-vis slow growth in coal production, creating serious economic concerns.
Senior coal officials later confided that they didn’t take power capacity addition targets seriously. Because, till then India never reached even halfway through such targets.
The story changed dramatically during Modi's rule, as deadlines became sacrosanct. The best example of this transition is visible in Northeast India, where project delays were once more common than anywhere else in the country.
A few exceptions (like ONGC Tripura Power) apart, almost every iconic project in the region was delayed for decades. All those bridges, airports, hydro-power, and rail connectivity projects saw quick progress after Modi came to power in 2014.
Not that the Modi government doesn’t miss deadlines. The bullet train project is running three years behind the schedule. However, not many expected it to take off, even in their dreams.
The sceptics had their reasons. Most of the tall promises suffered in the past. The Dedicated (rail) Freight Corridor (DFC) was announced in 2005. As in 2014, it was a bad dream.
Today, trial runs are taking place on DFC. It will be up and running in 2023. Bullet trains will run from 2026. And, those who laughed at the very idea, are now questioning the delay. That’s a major cultural shift.
Digital, Financial Inclusion — India’s Pride
The video of Congress stalwart and UPA’s finance minister P Chidambaram rubbishing the digital payment dream of the country on the floor of Parliament in 2017, is available on the Internet.
“Go to a village fair, buy potatoes and tomatoes and, pay Rs 7.50 by credit card. What will the poor lady do? Does she have a POS machine there? Is it connected to an electricity source? Is the internet working there? What kind of a false picture you are presenting?” he said.
Sadly, for him, India is today driving the global digital economy. The real-time transactions in the country are three times more than the nearest challenger China. The gap is wider with the developed world.
Chidambaram may today visit as non-descript locations such as Golaghat in Assam or Pachore in Madhya Pradesh and pay Rs 5 for a cup of tea to the roadside vendor, using the mobile phone-based Unified Payments Interface (UPI).
Every such transaction integrates the smallest of small traders with the banking system and increases his potential to access low-cost finance, replacing the private money lenders.
On the supply side, digital-financial inclusion is paving way for the growth of Fintech, Edutech and e-commerce. If the Indian economy recovered from the pandemic impacts too fast; part of the credit should go to the digital revolution.
The government worked with clockwork precision and got the results. Jan Dhan Yojana (2014) forced banks to open zero-balance accounts for the unbanked. Bank transfer of social security benefits kept the accounts operational.
National Payments Corporation of India (NCPI) first ended the monopoly of foreign gateways and reduced the cost of card transactions. The disruptive UPI technology took digital payments to the masses.
Yes, there are some niggling issues like compensation to banks and payment aggregators for UPI transactions. But a wider marketplace will bring more sustainable solutions than imposing stiff fees that restricted the growth of digital payments, in the past.
The achievements are gaining global attention. It is also India’s best pitch to the G20. Rest assured, the UPI story has just begun and it will be more exciting in the days to come.
Democracy Is The Biggest Gainer
Opposite to the ‘democracy in danger' cry of the anti-Modi intelligentsia, who take the forefront in signature campaigns to foreign bodies, global democracy is the biggest gainer of Modi rule.
In 2014, The Economist came out with a cover story, titled “What’s gone wrong with democracy?” It cites two primary reasons: The economic decline of the debt-ridden democratic West, particularly Europe, and the ability of China to deliver economic goods.
The magazine cited that the 2013 Pew Survey of Global Attitudes showed that 85 per cent of Chinese were “very satisfied” with their country’s direction, compared with 31 per cent of Americans.
If the 2008 meltdown exposed the weaknesses of the West; the Covid-19 pandemic made it even more apparent. The economic trouble that the world is in at this juncture, originated from the democratic West.
The world of democracy, therefore, needed a new anchor that delivers vis-a-vis China. And, 2022 created that opportunity as Beijing lost its growth-engine tag to India, exactly a year after Modi told the UN General Assembly that “democracy must deliver”.
Back in India, the changed outlook carries a different significance. For 75 years, every political speech in the country started and ended with poor.
Even the liberalisation in 1991 failed to make our politicians strive to make India rich again. Modi was an exception.
Every speech of the Prime Minister comes with stiff deadlines for definite achievements. On the occasion of the 75th Independence Day, he had set another ambitious goal of making India a developed nation by 2047.
He taught India to break stereotypes and dream big. That’s his legacy.
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