Rajkamal Rao

Achhe Din began in 1991

Rajkamal Rao | Updated on April 11, 2019

Modi must build on his predecessors’ work

It is election season and everyone is allowed some latitude to twist the odd truth.

BJP supporters have been aggressively pushing a message on social media: Modi deserves re-election because it takes longer than one term to achieve progress. When the other side had multiple chances for 60 years (and miserably failed), why not give Modi a second chance?

This pitch is brilliant because it’s so simple. It is also deviously clever because it exploits an inherent human weakness: Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.

From 1947 to 1989, India indeed bungled numerous development opportunities. A single dynasty was in power for 37 of the 42 years, so it deserves blame for how the country was run. In 1991, India was in abject poverty, and forex reserves were so precarious that we were at imminent risk of loan default, saved only by an IMF loan.

Something remarkable happened then. Under PV Narasimha Rao aided by Manmohan Singh, a distinguished apolitical academic, India unleashed economic reforms the scale of which we had never seen before. Under BJP’s AB Vajpayee, these reforms continued but with a stress on security as India became a full-fledged nuclear state even as it fought a tense conflict in Kargil.

Numbers don’t lie. In 1991, India’s GDP was just $266 billion. In 2014, this had grown to $2 trillion, an increase of nearly 700 per cent. So rapid was this growth that in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms, India’s GDP was ranked No. 3 by the IMF in 2014, just behind the US and China. In 2003, India became a founding member of the G-20, a prospect unthinkable in 1991. In 1994, private airlines were allowed to operate. In 2008, Tata Motors bought the venerable Jaguar and Landrover and soon, India became the world’s fifth-largest maker of automobiles, ahead of South Korea. By 2014, India was the world’s second-largest motorcycle producer and Mahindra the world’s largest tractor manufacturer. The Indian software industry, unknown in 1991, had become a global powerhouse just two decades later. Mangalyaan was successfully launched in 2013.

Our conservative real estate lending policies spared us a generation of misery while most western nations reeled during the 2008 global financial crisis — in debt, and demanding concessions and handouts. India has the lowest cellular data costs in the world. Bollywood is a cultural icon in dozens of countries.

All of these post-1991 accomplishments were achieved before Modi arrived in New Delhi, so it is dishonest to push a narrative that India has been a disaster since independence. All three major initiatives implemented by Modi — GST, Bankruptcy tribunals and Aadhaar — were conceived during prior administrations. It’s not entirely clear if the one major policy initiative which had Modi’s stamp all over it — demonetisation — helped the country.

To be sure, there are many real problems to be solved (population growth, gender inequity, urban sprawl, poverty, child welfare, women’s health, and security). The opposition is clueless and fragmented. The Congress’ manifesto is full of holes. The NYAY programme will never work. Modi may win a bigger majority if he humbly acknowledges that he is continuing the great work of three outstanding leaders — PV Narasimha Rao, AB Vajpayee, and Manmohan Singh — rather than encourage his supporters to make him stand tall alone.

The humility of the chai seller is what the country warmed to in 2014.

The writer is Managing Director, Rao Advisors LLC, US

Published on April 11, 2019

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