PM Narendra Modi
File photo of PM Narendra Modi | Photo: Praveen Jain | ThePrint
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The Economist, long considered the arbiter of liberal opinion in the English-reading world, upset supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with its ‘Intolerant India‘ cover of 23 January. But soon after the 2014 Lok Sabha election that first brought Modi to national power, the same magazine’s cover had featured a triumphant Modi with the caption ‘Narendra Modi – India’s Strongman’, arguing that his “amazing victory gives India its best chance ever of prosperity”.

The news magazine is not the only one that was once upbeat about the prospects of India under its current leadership and has now turned pessimistic. 2019 has been bad for India’s global image and Indians must seriously examine what has changed in the last twelve or thirteen months. India’s current leaders seem to have disappointed both western liberals and conservatives simultaneously.

Just last year, in January-February 2019, India seemed poised to launch itself on the world stage as China’s potential rival. PM Modi and his ministers were then talking about punishing and isolating Pakistan for its unabated support for insurgency and terrorism across the border. Even the spectre of nuclear conflict, raised from Islamabad, failed to deter most countries from standing with India or acquiescing to its regional pre-eminence.

On the economic front, a Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) – FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry) 9 January 2019 report suggested that Indian businesses were upbeat about future prospects, excepting “over 7 per cent growth in GDP in the next 12 months”. The World Bank forecast acceleration in growth in 2019 to 7.3 per cent for India and predicted robust consumption and investment growth.

A year later, India’s ability to inflict isolation on Pakistan seems to have ebbed as Indian diplomats are increasingly forced to explain and defend domestic policies abroad. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has lowered India’s growth forecast to 4.8 per cent for FY 2019-20, adding that India’s slower growth is also holding back global economic growth.


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US’ historical view of India

India has, of course, existed for 5,000 years and has survived natural disasters, bad rulers, internecine warfare, foreign invasions, colonial rule, Partition and mass poverty. It would be understandable if some Indian leaders dismissed the current spate of bad news with a this-too-shall-pass attitude. But the Indian civilisation’s resilience should not be invoked to justify setbacks to the aspirations of the modern Indian state.

India’s ambition to be a country that matters globally, not just because of its size, is not being realised. Optimism about India’s prospects has given way to frustration over the last one year, in particular, and the duration of the Narendra Modi government, in general. The reasons are not difficult to understand for anyone willing to scrutinise them.

Let us look at the United States’ view of India as an illustration of changing perceptions of India. American interest in India began with historian Will Durant’s 1930 book ‘The Case for India,’ published as a tract explaining why India mattered and why the world should support Indian independence.

Durant praised the spirit of the Indian people, expressed admiration for Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, and argued that “there is something indecent and offensive in keeping such men and women in bondage.” In 1930, Time magazine also named Gandhi its ‘Man of the Year‘.

After Independence, successive American statesmen spoke of India being a natural ally of the US based on shared values. Given that most Americans are Christian, and India is overwhelmingly Hindu, these shared values are not based on religion, but on the concepts of secularism, pluralism, individual freedom and democracy.

India’s support among the Americans traditionally came from liberals, who criticised the conservatives during the 1950s and 1960s for building a transactional relationship with India’s regional adversary, Pakistan.

Well into the 1980s, it was conventional wisdom that liberals and Democrats favoured India as a long-term partner in the subcontinent, while conservatives and Republicans tilted towards Pakistan, based on immediate advantages in the course of the Cold War.


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Where India went wrong

However, western liberals are now disappointed with India. Prolonged detention of mainstream Kashmiri politicians, shutting down of the internet and communications, lack of access to even Indian politicians from other parts of India to travel to Kashmir, and police violence against peaceful protesters do not burnish India’s democratic credentials.

As for American conservatives, they came around to the idea of a long-term partnership with India only after the end of the Cold War and the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991. The lure of a market of more than one billion consumers and the prospect of India as a strategic military ally in future competition with China made India attractive even in a transactional sense.

But now, a lacklustre economic performance and the failure to significantly increase military spending to compete with China has made conservatives reconsider their expectations of India. The Modi government has disillusioned not only the western liberals now but also the conservatives.


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Instead of the Indian government dismissing others’ disappointment or criticism, there may be greater merit in reflecting on it. “Brazil is the country of the future — and always will be” became an expression years ago for that country’s inability to get its act together for realising its potential. India must avoid attracting a similar appellation.

Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-11. His books include ‘Pakistan Between Mosque and Military,’ ‘India v Pakistan: Why Can’t we be Friends’ and ‘Reimagining Pakistan’. Views are personal.

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15 Comments Share Your Views

15 COMMENTS

  1. Countries for which India is just a huge potential market are worried only about India’s economy. But, India itself has many concerns besides Economy, such as education, health care, building better infrastructure, not to speak of internal and external security, which is always the uppermost concern when we have a friendly neighbour like Pakistan and looming threat of China. Lack of lending by banks is due to misconduct of businesses in defaulting to repay the borrowed money. India is in the process of cleaning up its financial systems. There is good ground for being optimistic about India’s future, given its vast natural and human resources.

  2. Librandus have never liked Modi even when he was a CM. In librandus world view only they should rule and no other view point can be better than their own. All this adds to illiberal attitude but they are still called liberals. The LIBERAL label has become like a dynast in politics or an Indian Secular. For example a communal Shivasena suddenly becomes secular as soon as it share power with the secular club. Similarly most communal would become secular as soon as he/she joins a secular club. Secular and liberal are now reduced to club membership labels and nother more than that.

    • Your rant would have made sense if you acknowledged Modi’s pitfalls. He has literally done nothing except spread hate against other groups. Its because of this hate and fear that Liberals believe he should not rule. His supporters live in victim mentality. A Muslim questions him on corruption, and you guys target his religion. That is the problem!

      • Modi has done nothing? I live in Belgium and everyone here is praising Modi’s ability to make hard decisions and not take the easy way out. Modi has the approval of every country in the world.

      • Shikhar the problem is when You refuse to acknowledge any narrative except Your own. An incumbent PM, wins a larger vote share & increases his seat tally. That is ignored by people like Yourself by burying your head in sand. Some from yourfraternity start crying about EVM’s, some say Modi won because he ‘polarised’ the elections. Is this kind of behaviour better than that of an ostrich? Please watch a post election analysis by none other than Shekhar gupta in which even he was forced to admit the reach of Modi’s social security schemes.. So even though you are sriving with your eyes closed, JAN Dhan, Ayushman bharatm Saubhagya, mudra loans, clean india mission and many more schemes have made a difference in the life of the common man. Perhaps you cant understand that because the so called liberal intelligentia, as they call themselves, have been completely cut off from the ground like their leader the prince rahul. one last comment my friend – do read the comment by Mr Dev once again above! Nowhere he mentioned anything about the religion of the author! Not once. Still, without even reading his viewpoint, you accused him of targeting the authors religion. Its very sad, and reflects the disease in the liberal fanatic community of India. What we say is right – if you dont agree you are uncouths & illeterates. Very very sad.

  3. The propaganists have zeroed in on “India’s image in West” as a tool they think manipulates Indian thinking. Yes, urban english-speaking Indians yearn for Western approval. But they’re not enough to make a political difference.
    This man, a nothing and nobody, joins the list of such writers who repeatedly get space in Indian media.

  4. The author forgets to mention the Economist opined in 2014 that if it had a vote, it would vote for the Congress Party and heralded Rahul Gandhi as PM in waiting. Sadly for this arbiter of western liberal thought, wether this Govt lasts or not, Indian voters continue to quite vocal in their distaste for continuing the Gandhi Political Dynasty. The Author perfectly right to point out, India is punching well below her potential. However, this is an economic challenge to be directed with genuinely bold reforms of the inefficient socialist system of the Indian State. Kashmir is inseparable from India and Western ideas are best kept within their own borders on the subject.

  5. You dedicated 80% of the article to tell about left and democrat point of view and when it comes to republicans and conservatives you have just stated economic performance !!! I feel thats too shallow a view.

    if you have a look at historic GDP growth numbers we know every few years Indian Economy throws a spanner into the works and we eventually self correct. If BJP govt is so bad for the economy can you explain 7.7 % average growth during first 4 years ?

    • When you roll a ball on a suface and then try to stop it , it does not stop immediately it takes time.
      That’s the same with economy.

    • ONE TAKES THE GDP FIGURES PUT OUT -AFTER REPEATED UPWARD REVISIONS- BY THE GOVERNMENT WITH A PINCH OF SALT . EVEN RECENTLY FIGURES FOR 2019 (18-19) HAVE BEEN REVISED FROM 6.8% TO 6.1% . ON THIS ONE MUST PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN , THE FORMER EA TO THE MODI GOVERNMENT , HAD TO SAY . SO LONG AS MODI WAS IN THE OPPOSITION THE FIGURES RELEASED NY NSSO WERE SACROSANCT , BUT WHEN IN POWER THE SAME NSSO’S FIGURES HAVE BECOME UNRELIABLE , IF NOT UNTRUSTWORTHY . FUDGING HAS GOT ITS LIMITS , BUT COMES WITH A LOSS OF CREDIBILITY BUILT OVER HALF A CENTURY

  6. The wages of ideology. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru has long been mocked by one set of Indians. The alternative to his Idea of India is now playing out on a 70 mm screen, with Dolby sound. Decide which film is better.

  7. HH is obviously writing this article in the background of likely Trump visit later this month. However, economy is not his usual business and he should worry about his original country, Pakistan rather than India. If USA is today showing less interest in India, it is entirely due to its inability to sell India its defense equipment, stop purchase of S-400 etc, inability to sign FTA and generally lower economic growth in recent years rather than Indian democracy and Kashmir in particular. This is par for the course on both sides. If economic growth has faltered in recent years, Modi has enough capacity to overcome the issues and he is taking sure though not bold steps towards it. The way Modi has completely altered the internal political dynamics in India is unbelievable and perhaps not palatable to many outsiders, particularly liberals and sickulars. Trump is known to be transactional President. Who knows Modi will offer him a deal for Afghanistan tied with return of POK to India which Trump can’t refuse! Who knows Modi will offer original version of Art 370 to Balochistan, Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan, POK and Indian Kashmir excluding Jammu under the Chinese ‘one nation two systems’ formula? HH should real worry about these wacky ideas from Modi-Shah leading to potential vivisection of Pakistan rather health of Indian economy!

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