After His Stunning Victory Will Narendra Modi Be Able to Deliver The Reforms He Promised? India is a real mess. Even with the best of intentions and a solid parliamentary majority, it may take decades to change direction

WASHINGTON – Narendra Modi, the leader of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party, won the elections, with an overwhelming majority. The political message is clear. India wants modernity and change; and Modi promised to deliver business friendly reforms that will create employment and encourage foreign investments. All this is wonderful.

A word of caution

That said, allow me a word of caution. Even assuming (in my fantasies) no political constraints, so that Modi could have emergency powers and rule India as a benign dictator, truly interested in promoting economic growth and the general welfare, I would not be so sure about his chances of success.

Immense challenges

And the reason is simple. The challenges confronting India are just immense. This is a nation of more than 1.2 billion people, half of them very poor and illiterate. India is home of 10 of the most polluted cities on earth. India desperately needs modern institutions, pragmatic local leaders, modern infrastructure, the end of red tape and, more than everything else, the end of endemic corruption.

Political will

There is no doubt that Modi intends to tackle all this. But even if he had dictatorial powers he would have a hard time delivering.

Now he has a clear popular mandate and a safe parliamentary majority. An excellent start, no doubt. But do not underestimate the ability of the entrenched special interests to resist changes that undercut their positions of unearned privilege.

Deliver results

And Modi needs to deliver tangible results in a relatively short period of time in order to keep his massive popular support.

Right now, there is enormous euphoria. The middle class, finally seeing a man from humble origins in charge, is ecstatic. Still, excessive expectations can easily turn into disappointment.

And the expectations are indeed unrealistic. According to the WSJ, in the immediate aftermath of the vote, a supporter reportedly said: “Modi will change this country 100%. He will bring rapid development, he will bring foreign companies to India, everyone will have jobs”.

And Modi did not shy away from exaggeration. In his victory speech he declared: “I will develop this country. I will take it to new heights”.

So Modi will develop India, he will bring eager investors, and everyone will have jobs and be happy. Just like that.

Promises v. reality

If India were Sweden or Norway, modern countries with small, highly educated populations and a tradition of honesty, fair play and social cohesion, such grandiose promises might look semi-credible. But India is a real, immense mess.

I wish Mr. Modi and his new government great success. But I suspect that his ability to deliver real change is a lot less substantial than what he and his supporters want to believe.


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