Narendra Modi’s Madison Square Garden address to overseas Indians was more a rockstar concert than a prime minister’s lecture. He had delirious fans cheering, clapping, and chanting “Modi, Modi, Modi!” He plucked their heartstrings, praising them lavishly for raising India’s global image, and promised that India would become a stunning success that would make them proud.
This was not an occasion for policy announcements, but for celebrations with fans that had backed him in his darkest days. It was a rally of the faithful, an outpouring of mutual admiration. And yet, halfway through his US visit, the question remains whether his golden dreams will become real. Modi loves alliterations, and said India had the advantage of three Ds — democracy, the demographic dividend, and demand (one of the biggest markets in the world). These, he declared, would make India a superpower.
But India had these three Ds even under Manmohan Singh, yet went downhill three years running. Translating potential into performance is tough. Modi said the secret lay in making development a national movement, just as Mahatma Gandhi made Independence a national movement. People’s participation was all-important.
Nice words, but Rahul Gandhi said the same thing. Congress talked non-stop of the aam aadmi, inclusive growth, rights of women and minorities, of rights-based development. It promised financial inclusion and sanitation, just like Modi. Yet Congress was thrashed at the polls. Modi’s future will rest on his skills as a doer, not as an orator.
He said the Mars Mission cost just Rs 7/km, whereas an auto-rickshaw ride in Ahmedabad costs Rs 10/km. The audience roared its appreciation. But why is India more successful in outer space than at home? Why can India slash the cost of space missions but not of food at home, resulting in the highest, most persistent inflation in any major nation?
Modi stressed on skills and manpower. He said 65% of the population was under 35, and this young workforce could conquer the world, something achieved by the IT industry. India could send nurses, teachers, and others to every corner of the globe.
Many reasons for worry too
Yes, but the latest ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) report shows the proportion of class 5 students who can read a class 2 text has declined 15 percentage points since 2005, and the proportion of class 8 students who can do division has fallen 23 percentage points.
Does this indicate a country with surplus teaching manpower that can be exported to the world? Will the millions of children that cannot read or do elementary math become future teachers? India is indeed exporting many doctors, nurses and teachers, but that’s worsening the huge shortage of essential skills at home.
Enthusing NRIs and harnessing their financial and lobbying power is an important foreign policy exercise. Modi has done this brilliantly. Let’s hope he can show similar brilliance at home.