Internal challenges of governance in a country as large and diverse as India is would be formidable for any government of the day -particularly if the legacies of mismanagement, policy distortion and corruption of the earlier regimes added to them. Modi government has tried to meet these with a range of long term and immediate socio-economic measures in the belief that these ‘popular not populist’ steps would make up for lost time in certain areas like the farm sector and health which had received inadequate attention earlier. In today’s world a country will be able to improve its domestic economy better if its image before the international community inspires confidence and respect amongst those who were inclined to do business with it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has achieved noteworthy success in projecting India as a safe and economically sound destination for investment and bilateral trade. He has in fact done more than that and got the democratic world to acknowledge India as a regional power with an affective say in the global issues of peace and development.
Modi’s foreign policy has made a favourable impact on India’s domestic scene by facilitating infrastructure development and foreign investment and creating affective mechanisms for Intelligence sharing with friendly powers, particularly the US on issues of national security. Peace and harmony presage development and it was therefore necessary that threats like Terrorism, Maoism and Money Laundering, which were directed from across our border and which caused internal destabilisation here, were handled through an affective and affirmative foreign policy. It goes to the credit of Modi government that while searching for economic cooperation with the world community it put the national security policy at the top and achieved remarkable convergence with major global players such as US, Japan, Australia, Israel, and ASEAN on both development and security. This is a welcome contrast to the ambiguity of approach noticed in the earlier dispensation.
It is the quiet and sustained effort made by India’s NSA and Foreign Policy establishment that resulted in the first meeting of Prime Minister Modi with President Donald Trump at Washington in June 2017 becoming a new milestone in the Indo-US strategic partnership. For the first time a US President denounced the Pak-sponsored cross border terrorism against India by naming LeT, JeM and D Company, declaring HuM Chief Syed Salahuddin as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and pledging full cooperation in rooting out these outfits besides the radicals of Al Qaeda and ISIS and their affiliates. President Trump finally addressed India’s concerns about the distinction that had been made by the West between ‘good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’ in the context of cross border terrorism facing India. Going beyond the usual American position, President Trump pulled up Pakistan for harbouring terrorists that attacked India and echoed India's concerns in regard to the CPEC. The Indo-US joint statement called upon Pakistan to bring to justice perpetrators of 26/11, Pathankot and other cross border terror attacks on India. The National Security Strategy document released by President Trump a few days ago maintains the spirit of the new strategic partnership between US and India.
Nearer home, the extraordinary sight of the ten heads of state of ASEAN attending the grand Republic Day parade as chief guests this year made a favourable geo-political impact for India and so did the fact that they had all come over to Delhi for attending the silver jubilee of the India- ASEAN Dialogue Partnership. Prime Minister Modi’s perceptive idea of elevating ‘Look East’ policy to ‘Act East’ call has taken India to a new level of understanding with our East Asian neighbours and facilitated re-designation of Asia-Pacific region as Indo-Pacific zone, much to the chagrin of China. The Heads of ASEAN countries attending the Delhi Summit appreciated the keynote address delivered by Modi at Davos and also the stand of India on South China Sea and the issue of violation of international law and rules governing the maritime domain in our part of the globe. There is little doubt that Prime Minister Modi has taken India up by several notches towards becoming an affective world power through a seamless rise in the south and southeast Asian regions.
Prime Minister Modi has successfully improved the quality of governance at home by cutting down red tape and pushing the nation up in the scale of ease of doing business for improving the prospect of foreign direct investment. Hopefully job creation in the formal sector will pick up in the months ahead even as unemployment in the informal segment that ran on cash, not necessarily on black money, will come down only slowly.
This year’s budget has shown a conscious attempt of the government to reach out to the distressed farm sector, the poor and the M&SEs- something that should in fact have happened earlier. A big commitment of government on health insurance for the farmers and the poor is a new feature that will give a lot of comfort to the latter.
The problem of farmers is related to crop failure due to lack of rain and therefore the guarantee of good MSP had to be backed by a genuine timely compensation to the affected farmers identified before the harvest season with the help of the district administration. Posthumous aid cannot reduce the number of farmer's suicides. On a whole, however, Modi government has stepped into the rural sector in a major way and belatedly tried to gain an electoral outreach to this predominant section of the population.
The opposition has no ammunition against the Modi regime as far as the success of foreign policy- both in economic sphere as well as in the domain of national security- was concerned but it is the governance at home that would determine the political dividends for the party in power. Prime Minister Modi's strength is in his image as a leader of personal honesty and strong decision-making and this remains intact in the face of a campaign being built up by his detractors on the nebulous issues of so -called ‘intolerance’, ‘majoritarianism’ and ‘pro- big business policies’. Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat showed the electoral pull of Modi as the prime minister and this will stay in the next general election as well. The call for unity of all opponents of Modi around the strategy of focusing on the Minorities may yield only limited electoral gains. Indian masses have not liked the silence of opposition on Pakistan's determined attempts to infiltrate armed terrorists across LOC to destabilise Kashmir valley and its refusal to praise the Armed forces for their successful counter- terror operations- all for reasons of vote bank politics. The opposition must remember that India has a history of even its poor appreciating a strong show of hand to the world by the leaders in power on matters of national security and national pride.
(The writer is former director of Intelligence Bureau)