29/05/2015 9:21 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

The Great Indian Capitalist

Aditya Karkera

One year has passed under the premiership of Narendra Modi, and, to the disappointment of his prophetic opponents, India has not collapsed into a fiery orgy of violence, death, and backwardness. India has not arisen to the glorious and seemingly inevitable paradise that Modi's fervent endorsers promised either.

Narendra Damodardas Modi, the 15th Prime Minister of the Republic of India, it seems, is, like his 14 predecessors and certainly like all his successors, a man who fills proud optimism in the hearts of some, and bitter scorn in the hearts of others - neither of which is unjustified if one studies Modi's first year in power - a year filled with progress and retardations, order and chaos, great leaps forward, and great leaps back.

Narendra Modi stands to either be one of the greatest and most respected Prime Ministers in Indian history, or another loud mouthed demagogue who shall be relegated to the dustbin of history - labelled a failed experiment in Indian politics.

Regardless, Modi's first year has been anything but dull.


Where Modi succeeded

modi obama

Narendra Modi's first year has been a colourful mixture of Modi planting the seeds of great change in India, and Modi harvesting the planted crops of the former Congress government. He hasn't made an overt effort to distinguish between the two, but the seeds he has planted will yield even greater fruits for India when the time comes.

The most noticeable success of Narendra Modi's first year has been the immense progress India has made in foreign relations. The recently concluded Hanover Messe is, by far, Modi's most impressive achievement - where India, as host country, pitched itself to foreign investors as the ideal manufacturing hub for a wide variety of products - from space to textiles.

The seeds he has planted will yield even greater fruits for India when the time comes.

This is of course in tandem with Modi's Make in India campaign - an ambitious vision to transform India into a manufacturing behemoth that can rival China. Although there are several imperfections in Modi's Make in India vision - such as the point raised by Dr. Raghuram Rajan that emulating a Chinese growth model may not work the same way for India as it did China - the fact that he envisioned it was more than enough to attract valuable foreign capital.

In the realm of international politics too Modi is becoming a giant to be reckoned with, having earned the respect of Barack Obama (who personally penned Modi's profile in the TIME 100 list this year and called him India's "reformer-in-chief"). His state visits to the East Asian tiger economies has also been greatly productive and has opened several avenues for FDI to pour into India.

India has earned greater respect under Modi, and Modi himself commands a fair deal of respect as not just a regional leader, but a world leader.

Economic growth has been stable and rose by nearly three percentage points between Modi's inauguration and the next financial quarter, and Modi's strategy of channelling FDI into manufacturing has not yet failed him despite the warnings of the central bank. All of this can be credited to the fact that Modi is the first Prime Minister since Indira Gandhi to have successfully tied his cabinet to a political leash.


Where Modi failed

It is important to understand that while Narendra Modi will arguably be the greatest Prime Minister of this decade, his government will be one of the worst. While Narendra Modi's vision will lead India to new realms of prosperity, his government's backwardness and conservatism will only pull his vision down into the mud.

Why? Because Narendra Modi's government is not one built on technocratic grounds, but political ones. In other words, his cabinet is not made up of entirely qualified ministers, but merely politically strategic ones - people who will let him carry out his great reforms without interfering and, most importantly, without opposing him. This trend will only continue, as it has with Smriti Irani, an under-qualified but politically strategic member of Modi's cabinet who will never be a contrarian to Modi.

Modi's one man show control of his government this past year has been a double edged sword, because there's only so much a one man army can do before breaking down

To talk about his economic performance would require another piece at another time, but considering that both of Dr. Manmohan Singh's first years as Prime Minister were more economically progressive than Modi's first year speaks volumes. Modi's supporters believe that he cannot work magic in just a year. Well, such generous time considerations were never given to Dr. Singh.

"It seems that only Dr. Manmohan Singh is a robot for not speaking up on important issues, while Narendra Modi is wise and contemplating for his silence."

Modi failed to speak up against increasing state censorship, did not address the question of net neutrality adequately, did not speak on the security threats posed to India by the Naxals this year, failed to advance basic rural programs for food security and women's safety despite launching ambitious rural finance programs, continuously ignored the valuable advice of the RBI governor with regards to investment policy, and has been silent about institutionalising a strong Lokpal system in India despite election promises to do the same in a matter of months. It seems that only Dr. Manmohan Singh is a robot for not speaking up on important issues, while Narendra Modi is wise and contemplating for his silence.

Narendra Modi's greatest failure as Prime Minister after one year, however, is that he cannot speak up against visible injustice and growing religious tension for fear of upsetting his mostly Hindu, mostly North Indian, and mostly male supporters. From the issue of forced conversions by Hindus and Christians, to the question of the Bajrang Dal's growing violence against other faiths, Modi chose to brush it all under one brief statement that promised his government's dedication to secularism.

Nobody can blame him. Very few politicians of his experience and calibre will do something as stupid as cracking down on the Bajrang Dal's unlawful activities after seeking campaigning help from them during the elections. Modi's political acumen is thus both a booster and a handicap to him, because he's too smart to choose the right thing over the most practical thing, which is nothing to be proud of.


A flawed messiah and a great capitalist

In many ways, Narendra Modi is the great Indian capitalist - a man willing to put everything on the line to watch Indian wealth grow, but not ready to accept that there are several dangerous consequences of rapid growth - such as income inequality, religious tensions between richer religious communities and poorer religious communities and the rabid advance of corporate influence in politics.

"Narendra Modi is a secular and liberal Prime Minister carrying the expectations of religious fanatics and conservatives on his shoulders."

Like all capitalists, Narendra Modi sees the ultimate profit - in this case, prosperity for India - as being more important than the gruelling and often difficult decisions that must be taken to reach that profit. To him, the net gain from passing a draconian land acquisition law is greater than the suffering of the farmers that will lose their land to satisfy someone else's model of "development".

And just as every other capitalist does, Narendra Modi will reach a fork in the road, where he must decide if he will choose the path that benefits the economy, or the people who are dependent on the economy. Because at the end of the day, a starving farmer on the verge of killing himself cares little for reforms that will take decades to come to fruition and will mostly benefit the affluent.

Narendra Modi is a secular and liberal Prime Minister carrying the expectations of religious fanatics and conservatives on his shoulders. His is a great burden to bear, and despite his imperfections, he is India's best hope for meaningful change.

Narendra Modi is essentially a flawed messiah - he shall deliver India to great progress, but India shall stumble along the way. In my book, stumbling along is far better than not moving at all.

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