Defining India the Modi way
As Prime Minister Modi’s first term is drawing to a close, it is time to reflect on the six principles that he had highlighted as definitive of modern India.
What makes India different from other countries? Is it the people, places, politics or the policies? Perhaps, a bit of all. But, in 2018, what is that one factor that distinguishes India from a hypothetical clone country with the same external features? I would argue that it is India's philosophy. It is this philosophy that does and should impact our position in the world order. Thus, if we were to analyse India's true growth as a country, one critical way is to adjudge how India has grown based on the principles that define it. While there are many uniquely Indian principles enshrined in our ancient texts and our Constitution, it would be interesting to evaluate Prime Minister Narendra Modi's performance on the uniquely Indian principles that he embraced before coming to power. In a January 2014 public rally, PM Candidate Modi outlined a set of Indian principles as his 'Idea of India'. In this piece, I pick six of them and analyse how they have translated into government action and contributed towards shaping India's overall growth story.
Principle 1: 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam'
Translation: 'The whole world is one single family'. On the humanitarian front, India's support to Nepal in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake through Operation Maitri, and Operation Raahat in which around 960 foreign nationals of 41 countries were evacuated from Yemen's warzone, provide unprecedented evidence that India went beyond its mandate to apply this principle. Add to that the 7000 Indian military personnel who are engaged as peacekeepers in making India the third highest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions in conflict-ridden zones. On the economic front, India has opened its doors to the world. A liberal Foreign Direct Investment policy has allowed foreign countries to invest in diverse sectors such as retail, broadcasting services, civil aviation, pharmaceuticals and power exchanges. And, the world has indeed come to India. In the last three years, FDI in India increased from USD 36 billion in 2014-15 to USD 60 billion in 2016-17. The doors have been opened for Indian companies as well to not just focus on India but also expand abroad. Overseas Direct Investment increased from USD 6.8 billion in 2014-15 to USD 14.8 billion in 2016-17.
Principle 2: 'Aano bhadrah kratavo yantu vishvatah'
Translation: 'Let good thoughts come from everywhere – from all over the world'. When the Prime Minister himself invites international experts such as Bill Gates, Michael Porter and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, to lecture the government on improving its functioning, it corroborates an openness to assimilate thoughts from across the world. Another feature that builds on the government's work on this principle is the composition of the GST Council. Rarely have we seen such an important council constituting ideologically dissimilar representatives from every Indian state taking all decisions unanimously. This premium on democratic decision making has transformed the dream of making India a common market into reality. Further, at least seven days before monthly editions of Mann Ki Baat, the Prime Minister's office makes it a point to reach out to everyone to share their ideas, making it a practice to hear from every person who wants to directly engage with the government. Other government platforms to get ideas from Indians, be it MyGov or Smart India Hackathons, only add credibility to the government's openness to feedback and opinions.
Principle 3: 'Ekam sat vipra bahuda vadanti'
Translation: 'There is only one truth but the ways to know it can be different'. The essence of this principle, in my view, is that if the goal is India's progress, the policies to achieve it don't have to be ideologically aligned. Right or left, capitalist or socialist, liberal or conservative – whichever policy is in India's best interest should be implemented. Here are some relevant examples. Many observers may argue that the end of central planning by abolishing the Planning Commission was a clear-cut policy inclined towards the right. On the other hand, the government's presence in business activities such as banking and telecom may appear as a left-oriented approach. Some may believe that opening the defence sector manufacturing to private players is a textbook capitalist move, others may feel that the government's increase in customs duty in the recent budget was the hallmark of a populist style of governance. It is this flexibility in policymaking to achieve the desired outcome, irrespective of the ideology, that distinguishes India from others. And, this government has done well to embrace pragmatic policymaking with the single-minded focus on India's prosperity.
Principle 4: 'Paudhon mein Parmatma Deekhna'
Translation: 'God is seen even in plants'. The government's ratification of the Paris Climate Change agreement in 2015 and its unwavering support to fight carbon emissions has overwhelmed India's commitment to this principle. India has set an ambitious target of installing 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022. Not just the target, as of today, India ranks 4th and 6th in the world in terms of wind and solar power capacities, respectively. Renewable energy tariffs are at an all-time low and the government's LED lighting program (Ujala scheme) has sold nearly 30 crore LED bulbs without any subsidy, curbing nearly 300,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year. The demand for LED bulbs has gone up 50 times since 2014. Beyond domestic work on environment-friendly policies, the formation of the International Solar Alliance has uniquely positioned India as a leader in planet protection in contrast to its earlier image of dragging its feet on climate matters.
Principle 5: 'Yatra Naryastu Pujyante, Ramante Tatra Devata'
Translation: 'Where women are honoured, there, divinity blossoms'. The current government's two flagship programs, Ujala Scheme and Swachh Bharat Mission have made a significant impact in enhancing the dignity of women and empowering them. 3.3 crore gas connections have been given to women who suffered from the smoke of burning firewood and rural sanitation cover has increased from 39 per cent in 2014 to 76 per cent in 2018. 54 per cent man-days generated under MNREGA were by women. 75 per cent MUDRA scheme beneficiaries are women. But, all is not well. As a country, India is far away from upholding this principle. Women's participation in the workforce is still limited and women's safety remains a looming concern. Umpteen number of rapes still go unreported, judgements on rape cases take too long and our police is in dire need of reforms.
Principle 6: 'Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah, Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah'
Translation: 'May all be prosperous and happy; may all be free from illness'. This broad-based principle has seen action on multiple fronts. Ayushman Bharat is a historic healthcare reform that addresses both primary and secondary healthcare. 1.5 lakh wellness centres and a significant insurance cover, to nearly 50 crore Indians by 2022, is perhaps the biggest government intervention in health the world has ever seen. Add to this the massive infrastructure creation that is underway and will be the key to India's prosperity. Highway construction rate has increased from 11 km/day in 2014 to 27 km/day in 2017. Every village will have access to electricity by April 2018. Further, the social security provided to common citizens in the form of Life Insurance and Accidental Death Insurance cover at premiums of Rs one per day and Rs one per month respectively, go on to prove that India is transforming into a true welfare state.
This brief analysis suggests that India is indeed progressing on the principles that define it as a nation. All is not perfect, but the direction and speed are commendable. Candidate Modi's promises and Prime Minister Modi's policies are in sync with one another. But, there is still work to be done, problems to be solved, challenges to be addressed and dreams to be fulfilled. And it won't be possible unless PM Modi's government continues to follow its 'rajdharma'.
(The author is Young Professional with the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM), New Delhi. Views expressed are strictly personal)