M.K. Narayanan | Former national security adviser and former governor of West Bengal
Now that the Modi government has returned to power with the prime minister securing “one of the most decisive mandates ever”, Narayanan writes it must redirect its focus on some key issues with a strong focus on “prioritisation”. He suggests the government should give “greater attention” to domestic politics this term, than to foreign affairs, He, however, acknowledges that India’s foreign policy will need to be “more nuanced”. On domestic matters, the government must prioritise “strengthening the economy” and ensuring jobs for the unemployed and those entering the job market. On Kashmir, he says, the situation won’t improve unless the government infuses fresh thinking in its strategy for the region. He adds that threats from Pakistan and terrorism are likely to continue. He also calls for the government to ensure security in the North-East and counter “danger” from “Left Wing Extremism” and the Naxalite ideology. In short, he argues, each demand will have to be met through “individual treatment”.
Brishti Guha | Associate professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University
The Times of India
On International Yoga Day, Guha traces the historical origins of Yoga. She says that the discovery of seals from the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC), for instance, the Mohenjo-Daro seals, depicting figures seated in yogic postures, are evidence of the fact that Yoga existed back then. The writer notes that since many of those inscriptions show people absorbed completely in meditation not perturbed by surrounding noise or disturbance means that they weren’t beginners or trying to experiment with Yoga, it can be said that Yoga existed even before the IVC days making it as ancient as “at least” 5,000 years old. Guha goes on to narrate how Yoga “survived” and was thereafter “codified” by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutra and cites other examples of how people practising Yoga has been documented over the centuries. Guha writes that Yoga not only “thrived” but also “spread to other countries”.
Shiv Visvanathan | Academic associated with the Compost Heap
Visvanathan expands on the role of a reader as a citizen and the power of newspapers in the context of a democracy —in India. He argues that news is a “public landscape”, that a reader maintains and becomes the “symbolic guardian” of the former. The reader, who is the “trustee of news”, “enacts a fascinating ritual of citizenship”, says Visvanathan. He asks whether the “time for the reader to play a more creative role has not arrived”. He thinks that in present times when democracy has been “threatened by majoritarianism”, the reader can then “play a more pluralistic role”, sustain “norms when institutions fail”.
Christophe Jaffrelot | Senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris
Shreyya Rajagopal | Student of International Development and Political Science specialising in South Asia and Latin America
The Indian Express
The writers highlight that the fact that BJP, by depending on Narendra Modi, swept the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, does not bode well for the country’s institutions. They say that the transformation of BJP from a party that once boasted of having “collegial and democratic-making process” in place is now proving to be “damaging” at the state-level where opponents have decimated it in assembly and municipal body levels — examples include the BJP’s loss in 2018 state assembly elections of Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, this year’s examples Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. They believe that Modi canvassing for state assembly candidates in the forthcoming elections in some states is “problematic”. Jaffrelot and Rajagopal insist that if this “trend” continues, it could “further erode federalism”. They fear that its repercussions will also fall on states that might lose autonomy in this process while the Modi government tries to consolidate more power at the Centre.
Rajiv Kumar | Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog
Rajiv Kumar discusses the importance of FDI inflows in accelerating India’s growth. He mentions that in 2018-19, gross inflows of FDI increased to 64.37 billion$ from the 60 billion$ of the previous two years. The net inflows also increased to 45.28 billion$ from 39.43 billion$ in 2017-18. He notes that India is now the 10th largest recipient of FDI flows.
Highlighting the importance of FDI, he mentions that China’s economic growth since 1982 has been greatly “driven by a relentless pursuit of FDI”. Contrasting India’s approach towards FDI with China’s, he notes that China’s per capita income in 2018 was 85 percent of global average while India’s was just 18 percent. In 1991, however, numbers in both countries were at almost similar levels.
He suggests that India needs to accord special treatment to FDI inflows over that extended to domestic investors. There should be greater policy certainty and predictability towards FDI, he recommends.
Sudipto Mundle | Distinguished fellow at the National Council of Applied Economic Research
In his piece, Mundle highlights some of the measures the Modi government can take to improve the distressed economic situation. The most important focus areas, he notes, are investments and exports. To revive the former, he suggests that the cost of money be lowered. This should include a lowering of not just the repo rate but also of the “high administered rates on government securities and the National Small Savings schemes”. Further, these measures should be combined with a sustained push to improve the condition of banks and NBFCs. On the export front, he argues that “the discretionary tampering with tariff rates” needs to stop, and an active exchange rate policy needs to be adopted.
Alongside, measures such as increased public investment in employment intensive rural infrastructure and income support programmes are important. All these measures, however, should not involve giving up on fiscal prudence. For that, he suggests, the government can cut back on non-merit subsidies and reduce tax concessions and exemptions.
TV Mohandas Pai | Chairman at Aarin Capital Partners
Nisha Holla | Entrepreneur and independent researcher
Pai and Holla argue that while Indian economy has been growing at an impressive pace for some time now, that growth has largely been uneven across states. The authors cite RBI data to underscore this variance in states’ relative growth rates. The data indicates that in FY18, “the population-weighted average of per-capita GSDP for the south was Rs 1.93 lakh, 2.5 times that of the north at Rs 0.77 lakh”. The writers further mention that based on their projected estimates, this disparity is likely to further increase in future. In 10 years, the per-capita GSDP of southern states “could be well-over Rs 5.6 lakh — 2.75 times that of the north’s average at Rs 2.06 lakh”. The southern states also have lower fertility rates and better Gross Enrollment Ratio in higher education.
To overcome these regional disparities, the authors suggest improvements in educational infrastructure at all levels. Simultaneously, they advocate for labour intensive industries with skill training in the populous states.
Sujan R. Chinoy | Director general, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA)
Chinoy discusses the difficulties India faces in managing its relationship with the US. He cautions that despite significant achievements, the relationship “runs the risk of plateauing”. Multiple issues, ranging from India’s S-400 deal with Russia to pending progress on Industrial Security Agreement (ISA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), plague the relationship. However, he mentions that US “increasingly regards India as a potential ally in dealing with the emerging challenges in the Indo-Pacific”. He attributes this to India’s importance as a large market for arms supplies. Chinoy notes that India will have to carefully weigh in the benefits of some of the remaining agreements with US which are important for high-technology transfer against the consequences of abandoning traditional Russian supplies. “Jettisoning of the S-400 deal would impact adversely on ties with Russia across the board,” he warns.