No, the Prime Minister has not become a biological grandfather. But he has adopted all of India’s poor – all 400 million of them – around 80 million families- by the extant definition of those needing support in these times of stress.
Vibing with the poor
To be fair, this fascination with helping the poor is not new. As Chief Minister he used to spend all his holidays and festivals with the poor in remote areas of Gujarat because they are his “family”. From ruling Gujarat (population 65 million) in 2002 to ruling India (population 1330 million) in 2014 is not just a big step but also a big change. Why? Because it changes who your friends need to be.
Namo – the odd one out
Narendra Modi – the man is an enigma wrapped in mystery and mystique. The story is compelling. A nobody who pulled himself up through India’s serried political hierarchy and upper class, upper caste bias to reach the top…all this with no family connections except those available within the “family” of the RSS. But even for the RSS he is an unusual choice – a great organizer but essentially a loner, very unlike the RSS/BJP “greats” of yesteryear.
The man is short on time and intends to make the most of it. Not being a dynast does shorten one’s temporal vision. After all, it all ends with him. That is why he is perpetually in a rush to do all the things we wanted to do – to push, pull, claw India up to the top of “all of the” international league tables.
Changing with the times
Note that the micromanaging CM of Gujarat has, within six years of being Prime Minister, cut himself adrift from the daily grind of governance. In his rush to know and learn he is now focused almost exclusively on the world beyond our borders. Why? Because he has seen it all within the country and there is nothing left to learn.
The Ho Hum of domestic politics
Prime Minister Modi is bored by the slog to fulfill domestic aspirations. Modi 3.0 is all about moving closer to the world through relationships and strategic choices. He has worked hard to gather friends and influence people. In just six years he is just a phone call away from international movers and shakers – a personable, warm hearted, effusive man, keen to see and be seen with the “right” people.
The world beckons
Oddly, the imperious, even coldly distant Modi vanishes on foreign turf to be replaced by a much more personable and likable person – very much like the average Indian tourist who learns to smile foolishly and wish strangers on a foreign street whilst reverting to the permanent scowl which Indians greet each other with whilst walking on streets back home.
The lucky General
Narendra Modi is a lucky general. The COVID crisis far from denting his already enormous popularity – by any account at least one third of the voting public is solidly behind him- is likely to build up the mystique of the giant killer.
Also, as the UK and Europe struggle under the economic loss from the epidemic, resilient India is likely to revert faster to high growth levels. Why? Because the social contract between the government and the working class is very weak unlike in Europe. There is no history or deep expectation of anything beyond some temporary emergency relief to those who lose employment. We can gouge the poor to restart the economic engine at a lower cost than in Europe.
The death of fat business and secure jobs
Labor will take a hit as will deeply indebted large industries. Large retail has deep pockets and will flourish. Small business and small retail are very resilient. Family bonds will pull them through. Government servants and politicians of course never lose.
Agriculture primed for a lift
Agriculture may benefit if it can be persuaded to cast-off the golden handcuff of the Administrative Pricing Mechanism for government procurement and the monopoly of the Mandis over agricultural trade.
Once the economy is on the recovery path and some time after the next general election in 2024 – it will be time for Narendra Modi to make his next big move – initiating discussion on the creation of a Global Stakeholders Collective (GSC) – an inclusive, mega political version of Davos- the rich man’s club – which would substitute and surpass the international political weight of the United Nations over time.
Ask and answer the sticky questions
GSC would mediate the tricky questions which the UN system has shied away from. Equitable trade plus migration; sharing the climate burden; security breaches; disciplining outliers and punishing the errant.
Inclusive dialogue to the fore
Why would it work better than the UN? Because it would operate through agreements between global functional groups rather than sovereigns. Cross country swathes of collective interests – business, labor, government, and civil society would negotiate to set the generic global rules for tax, trade, civil and sovereign rights, and duties.
This new architecture for international negotiations could make the trade-offs between cross country and cross functional groups explicit and thereby reduce the opacity of cozy, backroom, “low hanging fruit” deals.
Showcasing the future world
Why is it necessary? Because the world will look and act very differently in 2040. Market power by real GDP would be about equally divided between three clusters –
North America and the EU (34%), China and its satellites in developing East Asia (26%), High Income East Asia, South Asia, Sub Saharan Africa, the Arab World, East Europe and central Asia (28%) with the residual 12% being swing states, including Latin America and the Caribbean.
An Asian initiative to revive the Bandung spirit
India, potentially, the fastest growing large economy by 2035, China, the largest economy but an aging one and other fellow travelers from Bandung, would collectively command more than one half of the world economy and four fifths of the global population.
Bandung.2 could reinvent the collaborative spirit of 1955 when the marginalized but emerging countries, met to shape the future of the post-Colonial world between April 18-24 in Indonesia, eighty years ago.
And what does this have to do with Narendra Modi? A journey which began in Gujarat when he became Chief Minister in 2001, which gained momentum when he became Prime Minister in 2014 and again in 2019, could be rounded off in 2035, when Grandpa Modi at 80, bequeaths GSC to the world.