Covid-19: Modi’s global stature will help India| Analysis
India is at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, others are in the middle of it, and no one, not even China, has reached the end. The only certainty is the uncertainty of the impact of the virus. But there will be a time, after the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is finally over, that will be marked by upheavals and chaos, and the world over, it will be a time of new beginnings. For instance, due to the lockdown, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rightly extended till May 3, many people, whose work permits it, have been working from home. This can become the norm for at least a segment of the professional workforce, since it saves on office spaces and transportation.
This period will shape other aspects of society as well. It has been tough on those at the bottom of the pyramid — from household help to migrant workers. They may now get organised, ask for higher wages, and better treatment. The most severely affected have been the migrant workers, who will need to be protected. This is the responsibility of state governments. A new environment created from this pandemic will demand the introduction of several schemes to address such concerns across the country.
But the crisis will also alter international politics. The global spread of the disease will test the leadership of world leaders. Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi appears ready and willing to take on a global leadership role in dealing with this unprecedented crisis. In this difficult time, one has to recognise that he is a national asset, with a massive global currency. Even his critics grudgingly admit that he enjoys credibility on the world stage.
PM Modi has already had conversations, individually, with all top global leaders. He took the initiative in having the first G-20 summit on the issue, virtually. Closer home, even before many countries had recognised the severity of the crisis, he proposed a meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation nations to draw up a strategy to fight Covid-19 and committed financial resources to it. Modi’s credibility comes from his domestic strength, his statesman-like approach on this global issues, his wise counsel and calls for collaboration, and his actions, where he has gone out of his way to help countries in distress, without compromising India’s needs.
In the last six years, Modi stepped up India’s global engagement in unprecedented ways. While his critics focused on counting his air miles, he made new friends and strengthened old relationships. He aimed to turn foes into friends. He pulled off what in geopolitical circles is considered a rare feat, of developing a close bond with United States President Donald Trump, while winning the respect of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
All of this is now paying dividends. When the dust settles over the coronavirus crisis, and countries pick up the pieces of their battered economies, they will look at inspiring leadership. Modi will not be found wanting.
However, India’s biggest challenge will be how to get the domestic economy back on track. And this international goodwill can be leveraged for that objective. Global players may come to realise that India’s bureaucratic bottlenecks are a lesser evil than the trust deficit that they have with China. They might think of shifting their production units from China to India, if India makes it attractive enough for them. India must focus on attracting foreign investment, through a set of innovative policy measures, once the rebuilding process starts.
Domestically, there is likely to be a follow-up economic stimulus after the ~1.7 lakh crore package was rolled out to give immediate relief to the poor. The infrastructure and manufacturing sectors, coupled with the services industry, need the immediate attention of the government. Non-banking financial assets, and small and medium enterprises, need a helping hand too.
India has a domestic market which, to a large extent, kept the country going during the 2008 recession. We must make efforts to generate demand and enhance production, alongside our efforts in giving a strong push to exports.
The Covid-19 outbreak presents one of the biggest challenges for Modi. He has emphasised the importance of lives (jaan) and the world (jahan). His global stature will help preserving both.