By P.K.Balachandran

Colombo, December 22

In his interview to the Financial Times of London published on Thursday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi skirted the charge that his regime is persecuting Muslims and talked of how well the Parsees are being treated in India.

When interviewers Roula Khalaf, John Reed, and Benjamin Parkin asked him what future the Muslim minority has in India, Modi pointed instead to the economic success of India’s Parsees, who he describes as a “religious micro-minority residing in India”.

“Despite facing persecution elsewhere in the world, they have found a safe haven in India, living happily and prospering,” Modi said in his response without making any direct reference to the country’s roughly 200 million Muslims.

“That shows that the Indian society itself has no feeling of discrimination towards any religious minority,” he added.

A question about the Modi government’s alleged crackdown on his critics elicited a long and hearty laugh, the FT said.

“There is a whole ecosystem that is using the freedom available in our country to hurl these allegations at us every day through editorials, TV channels, social media, videos, tweets, etc. They have the right to do so. But others have an equal right to respond with facts,” Modi said.

He insisted that he is “very confident of victory” thanks to a record “of solid change in the common man’s life”.

“Today, the people of India have very different aspirations from the ones they had 10 years back,” he pointed out.

“Our critics are entitled to their opinions and the freedom to express them. However, there is a fundamental issue with such allegations, which often appear as criticisms. These claims not only insult the intelligence of the Indian people but also underestimate their deep commitment to values like diversity and democracy,” Modi said and brushed aside charges that he is planning to change the constitution to make India a Hindu country.

“Any talk of amending the constitution is meaningless,” he declared.

According to him he has taken “transformative steps” without amending the constitution. He listed the “Clean India” nationwide toilet-building campaign to bringing nearly 1 billion people online through a path-breaking digital public infrastructure push, as the transformative steps.

“These have been realised without amending the constitution but through public participation,” he added.

Foreign Policy

On India’s foreign policy Modi said: “The world is interconnected as well as interdependent. Our foremost guiding principle in foreign affairs is our national interest. This stance allows us to engage with various nations in a manner that respects mutual interests and acknowledges the complexities of contemporary geopolitics.”

When pressed on whether India’s closer relations with the US might be described as an alliance, Modi said that the relations are on an “upward trajectory” despite allegations made by federal prosecutors last month that an Indian government official directed a plot to assassinate a prominent American Sikh separatist leader on US soil.

“Today, the India-US relationship is broader in engagement, deeper in understanding, warmer in friendship than ever before,” he claimed.

Modi brushed aside a question about a recent relaxation of US-China tensions, saying they are “best addressed by the people and government of America and China.”

Israel-Hamas Conflict

On the Israel-Hamas conflict, where his government has mostly refrained from criticising Benjamin Netanyahu’s government — a key partner with which it shares technology and a right-wing nationalist world view — Modi noted that India has supported the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, while reiterating its support for a two-state solution. India, long a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, has grown closer to Israel under Modi, the first Indian prime minister to visit the country.

“I remain in touch with the leaders in the region,” he says. “If there is anything India can do to take forward efforts towards peace, we will certainly do so,” he said.

Is India an alternative to China?

In his independence day speech in August, the Indian leader vowed to make India a developed country by 2047, when it celebrates its 100th anniversary, although some economists have pointed out it will need to grow faster than its current 6-7 per cent annual rate to achieve that. While some Indians are excited about this notion, others fear a false dawn in a country that they say has often fallen short of its promise.

In the interview to FT, Modi pointed out that India has progressed from being one of the “Fragile Five” (identified by a Morgan Stanley researcher in 2013, the year before he took power, describing economies overly reliant on foreign investment to finance their current account deficits) to the world’s fifth-largest economy.

Infrastructure building has taken off during his premiership, and Modi’s office rattles off the numbers: a doubling of airports to 149 from 74 less than a decade ago; 905km of metro lines, from 248km a decade ago; 706 medical colleges, from 387 before he took office.

Multinational companies, including Apple and its supplier Foxconn, are building capacity in India as part of a “China plus one” diversification drive away from the world’s largest manufacturing centre. Some have gone so far as to predict that it might replicate China’s take-off decades ago, with a confluence of fast economic growth, technological advances and job creation in manufacturing, construction and other sectors that transformed the country and the lives of its people.

Modi prides himself on being a capable administrator, someone who can cut through the country’s vast bureaucracy and get things done — from large economic reform to improving welfare delivery for the hundreds of millions of Indians who depend on services such as cash transfers and free food.

But despite a major infrastructure push and its status as the world’s fastest-growing big economy, India is not creating enough jobs, presenting a vulnerable point for the BJP as it enters a national campaign.

Although many economists say India’s data on unemployment is inadequate, according to one widely cited measure reported by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, the rate is running at about 9 per cent. Modi’s opponents led by Congress hammered the BJP on the issue in recent state polls, and have also attacked the ruling party on the issue of inequality.

But the Indian leader instead cited unemployment data gathered by the Periodic Labour Force Survey, which he says pointed to “a consistent decline in unemployment rates”.

“When evaluating different performance parameters like productivity and infrastructure expansion, it becomes evident that employment generation in India, a vast and youthful nation, has indeed accelerated,” Modi claimed.

Corruption, administrative hurdles, and the skills gap among youth are other obstacles to business about which companies, Indian and foreign, complain — and which some believe could prevent the country from replicating China’s manufacturing-led economic take-off.

To this his response was: “You have done a comparison with China, but it might be more apt to compare India with other democracies,” Modi said when asked about this.

“It’s important to recognise that India wouldn’t have achieved the status of the world’s fastest-growing economy if the issues you’ve highlighted were as pervasive as suggested,” he says. “Often, these concerns stem from perceptions, and altering perceptions sometimes takes time.”

Modi also pointed to the presence of Indian-origin CEOs at top companies such as Google and Microsoft as counter-evidence of a skills gap — although some analysts have pointed to the fact that so many skilled Indians go abroad as evidence that there are too few opportunities back home.

 “It’s not a matter of needing to bring them back,” Modi said, when asked whether India should not be trying to lure them to return to the country of their birth. “Rather, our goal is to create such an environment in India that it naturally gets people to have a stake in India.”

“We aspire to create conditions where everyone sees value in being in India to invest and expand their operations here.”

“We envision a system where anyone from around the world feels at home in India, where our processes and standards are familiar and welcoming,” he says. “That is the kind of inclusive, global-standard system we aspire to build.”

Don’t Underestimate India

Modi pointed to the long history of outsiders underestimating India and said they have been proved wrong.  

“In 1947, when India became independent, the British who left made a lot of very dire predictions about India’s future. But we have seen that those predictions and preconceptions have all been proven false.”

Those who today similarly doubt his government, Modi added, “will also be proven wrong.”


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