Modi is not India’s Deng Xiaoping

By Long Xingchun Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/20 19:53:39

When Narendra Modi took office in 2014, I wrote about the possibility of him becoming India's Deng Xiaoping, a great leader behind India's economic development and modernization. I didn't say this was certain because Modi's reform would occur in a different domestic environment with restraints from local and opposition parties. Now after three years, Modi's own governance ideology also turns out to be an obstacle that prevents him from becoming a great leader like Deng. He cannot pull off the reform Deng did in China, nor can India garner as great achievements as China did in the past three decades.

Modi has done well in the past three years. The working style he brought from Gujarat to the central government has challenged the stubborn, inefficient bureaucracy, leading to a government much quicker in decision-making and policy enforcement. Modi values investment. Under his administration, India has witnessed an increase in its foreign direct investment inflows in the past three years. The biggest highlight is the success of the goods and services tax reform that several previous administrations tried but failed.

However, the "high growth" that Indians are excited about and proud of stands merely around 7 percent, whereas Japan, South Korea and China saw over 10 percent, even as high as 15 percent, during their economic booms. Modi's reform still remains on the economic and administrative levels, but major adjustments about development strategies and diplomacy are indispensable if lasting high-speed growth is to be achieved. In this sense, Modi's reform is not there yet, be it due to lack of vision or capability.

Unity is crucial for development, but Modi has been creating divisions. A prosperous India needs a stable domestic environment, so Modi should promote unity and harmony among religions and ethnic groups. It is a pity that unlike Deng, who stressed "maintaining stability is of top priority," Modi has not taken measures to build unity but encouraged and indulged Hindu nationalism to woo supporters. He has banned the sale of cattle for slaughter in several BJP-ruled states. This has not only inflicted massive losses to cattle farmers and traders, but also placed over 100 million Muslims against his administration. Next there may be exacerbated religious conflicts and domestic turmoil.

Modi invests limited resources on purchasing weapons instead of boosting economic growth. Deng believed that limited resources should be spent on economic development, so he did so at the cost of less military spending. India's conventional forces are much stronger than those of its smaller neighbors, and it holds nuclear weapons against bigger powers. Still Modi has been investing resources on arms expansion and war preparations. India has for years been the largest weapons importer in the world.

Modi's "neighborhood first" diplomacy upsets neighbors. Deng valued a stable neighborhood to guarantee economic growth. Conflicts unsolvable at the time were shelved so that economic cooperation was enhanced despite political differences. "Neighborhood first," however, includes policies to control and interfere in India's smaller neighbors. India interfered in Sri Lanka's presidential election and in the formulation of Nepal's new constitution. It has also been trying to prevent Bhutan from signing a border agreement with China though the two sides have reached consensus after 24 rounds of negotiations.

Modi views China as a threat instead of an opportunity regardless of the global trend. China is India's largest and economically strongest neighbor. Transfer of industries out of China due to high labor costs brings opportunities to India given its abundant labor. Economic cooperation with China is a blessing to the Indian economy.

Unfortunately, the Modi administration treats China as an enemy, not only worrying China would restore disputed lands by force, but also viewing China's normal ties with other South Asian countries, China's presence in the Indian Ocean and the China-proposed Belt and Road initiative as threats.

Deng was committed to upholding unity in Asia, while Modi has been dividing Asia. Deng said, "The real Asia-Pacific century or Asia century must wait for China, India and other neighboring countries to develop, then it will arrive." Now East Asia is already the third-largest economic center after Europe and North America and the Asia century is coming, bringing along strategic opportunities for India's rise. But India is moving closer to the US and Japan and even intends to create an "Asian NATO" to confront China. If India stands against China, Asia will only be beset with division.

In contrast with the brilliant achievements of Deng's reform and diplomacy, Modi's willful diplomacy is costing India strategic opportunities.

The author is a research fellow at The Charhar Institute and director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion



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