Focus on the home front
Prime Minister Narendra Modi did well externally. Now, he must get back to Kashmir, the economyUpdated: Sep 29, 2019, 20:08 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has returned after a remarkably successful visit to the United States. He spoke at the United Nations General Assembly and conveyed the image of an India that is focused on development, and on the task of fulfilling basic necessities of its citizens. Leveraging the power of the Indian-American community, he spoke at Houston, in the presence of US President Donald Trump, and transformed the optics of the bilateral relationship. Mr Modi made the case for investment in India; and he showcased India’s commitment to battling climate change. And he — along with other senior officials — put forth an effective case on the changes in Kashmir, and neutralised Pakistan’s attempts mobilise international opinion on the issue. There were, indeed, gaps. The trade deal between New Delhi and Washington is still elusive, and Mr Trump’s temperament doesn’t lend itself to consistency.
While India has to keep an eye on the external front, it is the home front that requires urgent attention. Two issues, in particular, require the PM’s intervention. The first is the situation in the Valley. It has been close to two months since restrictions were imposed on communication and mobility and a security offensive was initiated. To be sure, some restrictions have eased and violence has been at a minimal. But it is time to open up the Valley, release mainstream political leaders, open up channels of communication with all segments of society, and begin a political process — while keeping a strong security vigil. This will help reverse the sense of sullen anger that many in the Valley feel, not as much because of the nullification of Article 370 but due to the subsequent clampdown. An improvement in the ground situation will strengthen India’s case internationally too.
The second area of focus has to be the economy. To its credit, the government responded to the dip in the GDP growth figure, low corporate sentiment, and slump in consumption with corrective measures. The corporate tax cut, in particular, has boosted sentiment. But it is not clear if the move, which will pay dividends in the long term, is enough to offset the current challenge — a slowdown in demand. The PM must review the broad macroeconomic situation, assess what else can be done to boost consumption in the economy, and consider slashing personal income tax. The slowdown has had an impact on all sectors. It is time to revive the Indian economic story.