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Modi must convert expectations into action

The whole world is watching for Narendra Modi to rise to the great expectations, to convert his promises into action, and to establish India as the global economic superpower that it deserves to be, writes Karan Bilimoria.

ht view Updated: Jun 10, 2014 22:59 IST

The historic result of the general elections demonstrated the two most important aspects of India. First, India’s democracy — not only is it the largest democracy in the world, but it is also one of the most robust.

Second, it demonstrated that the most important message of these elections is one of aspiration. The fact that Narendra Modi, who started off as a tea vendor, has become India’s first prime minister to be born after Independence is both remarkable and inspirational.

The Congress, in power for the past decade, presided over a lost opportunity in its last term of office — with corruption spiralling out of control, India’s growth story plummeting to less than 5% and an unhealthy situation where the leader of the party was in control, leaving Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a powerless position.

Furthermore, the entrenched position of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty meant that Rahul Gandhi was the prime ministerial candidate, but wasted a decade in which he was not given any ministerial or leadership experience. On the other hand, Modi had worked his way up through the ranks of the BJP and thrice re-elected as CM of Gujarat.

Of course, compared with running a state of 60 million people, governing a country of 1.35 billion people with a federal system of 29 states and seven Union Territories will be a challenge indeed.

Modi has many critics, and there are those who are apprehensive, given that he was chief minister of Gujarat in 2002 when the riots took place.

Many of his critics are also worried about Modi’s Hindutva background. I, however, am confident that with the whole world watching, he will go out of his way to govern and to be seen to govern in a secular and pluralistic manner.

Today the NDA has a thumping majority in the Lok Sabha, which will enable it to push through so many of the reforms that are desperately needed.

Over the past three decades, coalition governments of 18 or more parties have made it difficult for the party heading the alliance to get things done. The best example of this being UPA 2 when — although the Congress had 206 seats —coalition partners often blocked reforms.

Now the BJP, with 282 seats, has an outright majority and with it the power to reform India. Chief among these is the goods and service tax (GST), which would create a far more level playing field and that could add up to 2% to India’s GDP growth.

As PM if Modi shows zero tolerance towards corruption and if he is able to project confidence to the global community, foreign direct investment will flow into India. If he prioritises manufacturing, then job creation will follow and up to 15 million people a year could be brought out of poverty.

He will also have to prioritise investment in education, health and security.

Modi must also be more outward-looking and project India far more proactively on the global stage. In 2006, I remember chairing the first-ever UK-India Investment Summit with PM Singh. Since then, British prime ministers Gordon Brown and David Cameron have visited India on four occasions and I have accompanied both of them, seeing first-hand the positive impact bilateral visits can bring.

Modi and his new government have to get India’s growth rate to double digits while seeking to wipe off the fiscal deficit and bring down inflation.

The BJP’s victory means a great deal to the Indian diaspora in Britain — the country’s largest and most economically successful ethnic minority population. I know that they are looking forward to the new PM’s first visit to Britain.

The whole world is watching for him to rise to the great expectations, to convert his promises into action, and to establish India as the global economic superpower that it deserves to be.

(Karan Bilimoria is a prominent entrepreneur and sits in the House of Lords. The views expressed by the author are personal.)