Modi's India: good days for all?

Sunday 18 October, 10.00 until 11.30, Garden Room, Barbican International Battles

Narendra Modi is the first Indian prime minister to have been born in an independent India, and many see his premiership as representing a new chapter in the country’s history. He took office in May last year following the election victory of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is usually described as ‘Hindu nationalist’. Indeed, some saw the BJP’s defeat of the once-dominant Congress party as a decisive break from the ‘secular idea of India’ that had prevailed since independence. Nevertheless, enthusiasm about Modi seemed to have as much to do with the prospect of more development, and less corruption, than any surge in Hindu communal feeling. Modi’s promise of acche din (good days) stuck a chord with Indians who had tired of the Congress party’s ‘povertarian’ low horizons.

Indeed, if Modi’s government is ‘right wing’, it is arguably in the sense of being pro-business, rather than chauvinistic. While some BJP state governments have banned beef, and Hindu nationalists have been agitating to ‘reconvert’ Muslims and Christians to Hinduism, Modi himself has kept his focus on development. To the consternation of some on the traditionalist Hindu right, Modi cultivated foreign investment as chief minister of Gujarat, and seeks to do the same at the national level. There have even been U-turns on policies the BJP was against in opposition, such as allowing foreign direct investment in retail. But if anything, the public mood is one of frustration with the slow pace of change. An India Today poll on the anniversary of Modi’s election victory found his reforms were not keeping up with public expectations, but that Indians at least felt things are moving in the right direction.

The goal is a return to the high rate of growth India experienced in the 2000s, and that has been elusive ever since. Some argue the problem is the persistence of a legendary bureaucracy, which goes back to the days of the ‘Licence Raj’ before India’s economy was liberalised in the 1990s, and provides a fertile environment for corruption. Modi’s promise of ‘Minimum government, maximum governance’ captures the aspiration to transcend all that and get India moving. But how successful has his government been so far, and what is the outlook for the years to come? Will a return to growth benefit the masses, or simply create profits for foreign investors? Will minorities suffer under BJP rule, or can Indians unite behind a shared vision for the future?

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P Balaji
director - regulatory, external affairs and CSR, Vodafone India

Sumantra Bose
professor of international and comparative politics, London School of Economics

Nitin Jayakrishnan
tech entrepreneur (Co-Founder of iTrucks PLC and LO/RE); student, Warwick Manufacturing Group, University of Warwick; alumnus, Debating Matters India

Dr Sadhvi Sharma
researcher and writer on politics in India, development, and NGO campaigns

Dolan Cummings
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story (forthcoming from Zero Books)

Produced by
Dolan Cummings associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story (forthcoming from Zero Books)
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