You could argue achche din are here—at least for a few oppressed beings willing to trade their faith for cash benefits. After all the `5 lakh offered for re-conversion, or ‘Ghar Wapsi’ if you please, is five times the average per capita income. Indeed, faith portability has rendered a new connotation to the concept of cash benefit transfers.
The sad news is that revisionist politics has appropriated the attention of the government—in and outside Parliament. Waves often wash flotsam to the surface. Within the Sangh Parivar, many seem to believe that it is they who won the polls, not Narendra Modi. Many within the BJP mistake an electoral majority for licenced authority. Utterances often appear crafted for favourable appraisal of personal ambitions. The Opposition, typically, has seized the moment—for verbigeration.
This summer, India—at any rate those who voted for the BJP—unsubscribed from cynicism. The voters invested in the idea of the Modi Model, in the hope for change. Tragically, that Modi Model is being derailed, precious parliamentary time and perishable political capital are being squandered in the contest of revision versus reforms.
And the world is moving on. Growth in China may be slowing, but at 7-plus per cent it is growing faster than India. It is restructuring its economy at home and expanding abroad. Through a proxy enterprise led by 41-year-old Wang Jing, China is building a giant canal right across Nicaragua—wider, deeper and longer than the Panama Canal. Estimated to cost $50 billion, it aims to link the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
In the US, funding in energy and new technologies in manufacturing have renewed hopes of repatriating manufacturing processes back home. This has elevated hopes of revival. The debate in the American political economy is about faith but of a different kind—in the internet of things, in creating room for research on unmanned aerial vehicles, and in non-invasive medicine.
In Africa, small nations are seizing the moment—the biggest reformer in 2014 is Rwanda which has risen in the ranking on ease of doing business. Countries are investing in agricultural productivity and engineering cooperation for creating markets. In Tanzania and Malawi, the governments are instituting partnerships with the World Food Programme, farmers’ organisations, companies and enablers to establish a value chain to deliver incomes to small farmers and affordability to consumers. Sounds familiar?
In stark contrast, India is stranded between politics and potential. The spectre of pendency is an inescapable fact—the opening of insurance is pending since 2005, the idea of a Goods and Services Tax is pending since 2002, the need to revive manufacturing was first articulated in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime, the opening up of education is stalled, thanks to the political e-barons… and there are new additions. Power projects of 25,000 MW generating capacity await fuel linkage since January 2012. State electricity boards are penurious for the second time in 10 years, over `18 lakh crore worth projects are stalled for land and environmental clearances.
Yes, this government is barely six months old. Yes, some steps have been taken—opening up FDI in defence and processes in filing labour reports—and some have been promised. The “Make in India” is a good initiative, but branding must be backed by catalytic policies. The Tata Group rolled out a JLR plant in China. India needs investments in the country’s energy sector to fuel growth—GAIL is investing in America, ONGC in Mozambique, BPCL in Brazil, OVL in Siberia, the Adani Group is investing in Australia and Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries in Mexico. The short point is: timing is critical and policy environment determines timing. Investors—Indian or foreign—and investments are governed by economic, not political and electoral, cycles.
India is poised at the gates of a serendipitous opportunity. Crude oil prices are down by over $48 to a barrel—and could slide further—afford an opportunity to build strategic reserves. Commodity prices are forecast to slide and could be leveraged for cheaper costing of infrastructure and capital equipment for new plants. Global food prices are sliding—offering stability in inflation. Economists in rating agencies are forecasting a better outlook for India than for its peers. Global investors are riveted by the idea of change, the promise of the Modi Model.
The world though is not going to wait interminably for India to get its act together. India’s “wasted decade” is all about missed opportunities. The UPA inherited a low-cost, high-growth economy and could have leveraged investor interest—first in 2004 and again in 2007 when India was the fastest-growing, free market democracy. The UPA could have addressed the politics of economics and spurred investment and sustainability. It chose to address the business of politics and reduced India into a high-cost, low-growth economy.
India is being detained. Every election has delivered one message: voters aspire for solutions, for progress, for prosperity. Every issue that triggers outrage across homes has one common dimension—poverty. The politics that survives on the arithmetic of faith must give way to politics that thrives on faith in the geometric impact of economic growth.