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New govt's first priority should be revitalisation of economy

The overwhelming victory gives Narendra Modi both the authority and freedom to re-craft policies relating to domestic governance and the economy and in respect of foreign and security policy, writes Hardeep S Puri.

ht view Updated: May 22, 2014 00:58 IST

The excitement and hope in the air is palpable. The crushing defeat of the Congress and the historic single-party majority for the BJP was foreshadowed by the prescient Chanakya, the only pollster which rightly predicted both the extent of the decimation of the Congress and the BJP’s scale of victory.

Narendra Modi was being gracious when he attributed the BJP’s landslide victory to its hundreds of thousands of party workers. Their contribution and indeed that of the RSS must be acknowledged. Having said that, this was, however, from the start to the finish a Modi show. He rejuvenated the party, instilled a sense of purpose and outlined a dream, which voters across the length and breadth of the country found attractive. In the process, the BJP emerged as the only pan-Indian party.

The overwhelming victory gives him both the authority and freedom to re-craft policies relating to domestic governance and the economy and in respect of foreign and security policy.

The Modi victory is about being bold, decisive, sagacious, and about exuding confidence. In Gujarat, he has already demonstrated that he can deliver good governance and development free of corruption based on sound institutions.

Arriving on the national scene, he now has the opportunity to build and project India’s USP and claim regional and global leadership as the world’s largest multi-religious, multilingual and multi-ethnic democracy that just celebrated the Maha Parva of Janatantra with an overwhelming mandate to govern and serve its 1.25 billion people across the entire spectrum of its diversity.

Clearly, the new government’s first priority has to be the revitalisation of the economy through structural rectification in the manufacturing sector to create the millions of jobs that India’s young population expect as their rightful due.

Nothing can be more disingenuous than the suggestion that there is absolute underlying continuity in a country’s foreign policy. If at all, this is true only up to a point.

This proposition is almost as asinine as saying that developing countries will always be corrupt and poor. Six-and-a-half decades of our existence as an independent country have demonstrated numerous instances of far-sighted and visionary leaders introducing changes that have transformed India’s political and economic landscape.

It is equally absurd to draw artificial lines of demarcation between the domestic and external dimensions of India’s existence. Nearly 45% of our GDP is accounted for by international trade.

The priority, therefore, must be to rejuvenate the economy and then to leverage the growing economy to conquer poverty equally rapidly and create the biggest middle class, labour and consumer market in the world.

This endeavour will necessarily require India’s emergence as a global technology and knowledge power that uses its resources for solving some of the biggest problems as a micro and macrocosm of that, sustainable development, issues of water, sanitation, energy, urbanisation, health, education and universal access to essential services.

In short, we will need to become a manufacturing, agricultural and services hub that generates the jobs, income and purchasing power that the people and the economy need. This will require harnessing the talent of India’s enormous pool of human resources in empowering and enabling people, especially youth and women. This, in turn, will strategically lay the basis for addressing the global challenges of the environment and climate change. The Ganga project could serve as a talisman.

Integration with the global economy invariably invites gratuitous advice.

This also accentuates the meek and submissive side of the human persona. Left unchecked, it breeds a desire which then becomes habitual, to readily acquiesce. This stems essentially from weakness in the mind. Nowhere was this more evident than in the 10 years of mismanagement that characterised the UPA’s foreign policy.

The last 10 years were characterised by hesitation, indecision bordering on neglect and lack of vision, which together looked like strategic confusion. This was most conspicuous in our immediate neighbourhood where our bilateral relationships, each more important than the other, are without exception crying out for urgent attention and repair.

As the larger country in South Asia, we need to provide our immediate neighbours with a sense of reassurance that we have a vital stake in sub-regional and regional peace and in their security and well-being. Enlightened cooperation can facilitate a co-prosperity sphere, which we should underwrite through instruments of trade policy.

To say that we have lost influence in the neighbourhood would be an understatement. Other important relationships, particularly those with the P5 and other members of the G4, also require a healthy dose of encouragement.

Inevitably, the stench of corruption and preoccupation with domestic crises explains to some extent the neglect of detail to attention. Political instability and insecurity tarnished our image and undermined the projection of our power and influence.

A new Modi administration, it is widely expected, will adequately appreciate the close links between good governance, national economic development, internal security and importance of trade, investment, foreign and security policy.

Modi symbolises and promises a more inclusive India — his rise from humble beginnings — social and economic, his move from grassroots political and social mobilisation to provincial to national stage and his pledge to make every Indian part of a glorious and progressive India is a promise. He has spoken up against elitism.

This is a sign, an affirmation and clarion call to his countrymen and women that India belongs to each one of us and everyone should unite behind a Mahan Bharat. The 21st Century belongs to India. Our foreign policy will be robust, strategic and proactive, not inert and defensive. That would be intelligent.

Hardeep S Puri is a retired diplomat. He recently joined the BJP. The views expressed by the author are personal.