India and Narendra Modi: Freedom's New Trumpet?

Monday’s inauguration of Narendara Modi, India’s new prime minister, at Delhi’s iconic red sandstone palace built for the British Viceroy more than a century ago was filled with the pomp and flourishes more reminiscent of the days of the British Raj than India’s more recent history as an independent state.

In addition to being more lavish, the Modi swearing-in was also more public, more declarative, and much larger than previous inaugurations. India, its new leader told the world, was prepared to assume its place as a regional and world force for good.

Not that such intentions could ever be acknowledged by a world and Indian elite media that have vested so much effort over so much time trying to characterize the charismatic 63-year-old conservative Hindu leader as divisive, dangerous, and retrograde in both his thinking and his politics.

Strongman,” declared the cover of last week’s The Economist. Decamped over an otherwise flattering picture of India’s new leader, the headline’s implied pejorative made by the prestigious British magazine belied even its own editors’ more deliberative analysis of the challenges faced by the world’s largest democracy and the extraordinary opportunities that the unprecedented popularity of India’s talented new leader present.

What is hard even for Modi critics to deny is that his tremendous win gives him more power to fix India’s endemic problems than any other leader since the country gained its independence from Britain in 1947. For the first time ever, India has a strong, stable majority government committed, not to expanding government and limiting the freedom of individuals, but to expanding freedom, growing the economy, and shrinking the state.

As it became apparent that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was poised to win a massive national landslide, the West, taking cues from India’s established media, began fretting that such a victory would increase tensions with India’s neighbors, most ominously Pakistan. When Modi’s first act as Prime Minister-elect was to personally invite Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to attend this inauguration, the narrative shifted to debate as to whether or not Sharif appreciated the full extent to which he was being cynically manipulated to exploit India’s Muslim fears.

What so many seem loath to accept is that India's voters have dealt a massive, perhaps even final blow to a near 100-year failed investment in socialist economics. Modi’s BJP and Modi himself are both emphatically pro-free market and were decisively elected in large measure due to their promise to free up India’s economy.

Modi’s free market credentials were hard for even his harshest critics to gainsay. As three-term Chief Minister, or governor, of India’s most prosperous state Gujarat, Modi showed India and the world that indeed it was possible to replace the sclerosis of India’s hidebound bureaucratic morass with a thriving growth and prosperity.

India’s markets roared their approval of Modi with a monumental rally. India’s main stock market responded by rocketing to all-time highs. India’s currency, the Rupee, did likewise. Foreign investors roared their own approval by all but lining up to announce their wish to surge huge new capital flows India’s way.

Even The Economist was forced to note that “Government is at the heart of India’s failures.” The governments in India’s past that were strong, it points out, were strong for the wrong reasons. India’s strong governments were governments of India’s now minority Congress Party, elected in their own measure to on promises to give aid and subsidies to the poor and economic redistribution.

Finally, India has a strong government elected for the right reasons: to expand prosperity and offer the possibility of opportunity for all Indians--irrespective of caste, class, or region. The success of this message was driven home by the impressive success Modi made with India’s urban poor and educated young, both of whom voted overwhelmingly for the BJP.

The last time India had a government whose ruling party was big enough to lead the country without the need for coalition partners in Parliament--in 1984--the per capita GDPs of India and China were roughly equal. Today, India’s per capita GDP is only about 1/4 of China’s. Delivering prosperity is the primary goal of India’s new government and the singular opportunity of its new leader.

While India prepares to roar ahead, the West and its establishment media clings, now almost desperately, to its decade-old story line: the story line that Modi presents far more risks than he does opportunities as Indian Prime Minister. The scope of his decisive victory is seen by many on the left, and apparently some senior editors at The Economist, as the victory of a dangerous proto-fascist all but responsible for the 2,000 Muslims killed in sectarian riots back in 2001.

No matter how hard anyone tries, however, no one has been able to produce any evidence whatsoever that Modi was in any way involved in the 2001 riots back then, nor now that he is embarking upon any kind of religious crusade. What is beyond dispute is that Gujarat today is almost unrecognizably better off than it was when Modi assumed control in 2001. As Modi is fond of saying, he rolled back the red tape of India’s bureaucrats in order to roll out the red tape for Indian investors and job creators.

The results poured in. While the rest of India languished with low growth, Gujarat’s 60 million people experienced 10% to 14% annual economic-growth rates. Market-friendly economics by Modi saw both domestic and foreign investment pour in. Well capitalized, high-tech and high-paying manufacturers, like India’s own Tata Motors and multinationals like Ford, rushed to invest in Gujarat. The massive expansion and increasing affordability of reliable electricity generation did wonders not just for Gujarat’s manufacturing but also for its agriculture.

While it is of course impossible to know for certain what it is that sits at the heart of elite Western angst about Narendra Modi, his unabashed opposition to the global and regional Islamist insurgency and strong support for the United States and Israel certainly must play a part.

As a proud Hindu Indian nationalist, Modi makes no apology for his country or his religion. If he were seriously intent upon actually persecuting India’s 150 million Muslims, Modi would surely have provided some hints of such proclivities as Gujarat’s governor. Yet that state’s more than five million Muslims benefited from Gujarat’s remarkable development as much as anyone else.

As Europe appears to stagger toward some level of continental devolution and the United States all but openly declares itself in pursuit of global and domestic decline, could the election of Narendra Modi herald the arrival of a new global force for freedom and growth?


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