According to Solheim, India is expected to compete with the US to be the world’s second largest economy in 2050…writes Vishal Gulati
The West also has a lot to learn from economic policies and green commitment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who systematically uses the state as an economic tool, much like South Korea did with thundering success a few decades ago, writes former UN Environment Programme executive director Erik Solheim.
Modi launches government programmes called “missions” for green hydrogen, production of solar panels, electric batteries, or green transport. The missions select some Indian companies that receive special support, while everyone is encouraged to invest green, wrote Solheim in a full-page op-ed, titled ‘Why India is the nation to follow in 2023’, published recently in Dagens Naeringsliv, a Norwegian newspaper specialising in business news.
In the write-up, Solheim explains why Modi is the most popular politician in his own country. And how western media is failing by giving a negative view of India and Modi.
Solheim, who from 2007 to 2012 held the combined portfolio of Norway’s Minister of the Environment and International Development and from 2005 to 2007 served as Minister of International Development, believes Modi’s popularity is due to the fact that he both creates and shares.
“A digital economy where the poor for the first time have real bank access through their cell phones makes it possible to do direct cash transfers. The amounts are not big, but if you are very poor, a few hundred or thousand rupees mean a lot. All hands went up when I visited Bhargawan village in Madhya Pradesh and asked if the tribal villagers had benefitted from the prime minister’s direct cash transfer scheme.
“Direct cash transfer changes power relations. The poor do not have to stand in queues and beg from the richer or powerful. Middlemen cannot enrich themselves. The number of Indians receiving direct payments from the government has increased from 108 to 763 million under Modi.
“The International Monetary Fund says that India, like China, may be moving away from extreme poverty. People have responded by giving Modi major electoral victories, most recently in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.”
Solheim, an experienced peace negotiator having acted as the main facilitator of the peace process in Sri Lanka from 1998 to 2005, said Modi also launches practical programmes that help the very poorest.
“100 million rural toilets and numerous village houses have been built. The money is given directly to the villagers who either build themselves or employ the village carpenter or bricklayer. You get the last payment when you can document through GPS coordinates that the facility exists. The programme appeals particularly to women because safe toilets reduce sexual violence.
“Through my many visits in recent years, I have experienced a growing self-awareness and pride in India. I often meet young people who say they want to do great things for their country, it’s been a while since I heard similar national pride among youth in Europe. Foreign Minister Jaishankar wins the hearts of many when, in his low-key way, he points out that it is the end of the era when Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, while the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems.”
He said European political leaders can learn a lot from how Modi composes an appealing national story that workers, farmers, all those who do not feel they have received enough respect from the elite, feel at home.
Explaining why India is the country to follow in 2023, the former Norwegian diplomat and politician who played a crucial role in convincing India to phase out single-use plastics, Solheim said the progress is impressive!
“When India became independent from the British rule, life expectancy was around 30. Now it is almost 70, and no one can be completely sure that India will not follow China, which just passed the US in life expectancy.”
“At the head of this India is Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While our own Norwegian prime minister and most western leaders were in the 30s in an international poll about the popularity of leaders in their own country, 78 per cent of Indians believed that Modi is doing a good or very good job. He is in a league of his own as the world’s most popular leader in his own country.
“Of course, being popular is no guarantee that you always did the right thing. But in area after area, Modi is bringing India forward. If people feel that today is better than yesterday, they tend to support the political leadership.”
Solheim said Modi and his ruling BJP party were once a right-wing high-caste party for the urban middle class. They now pursue a left-wing economic policy and win massive majority among scheduled, low and middle castes in North India. “The BJP totally dominates Indian politics and has replaced the Congress party as the core party of India.”
According to Solheim, India is expected to compete with the US to be the world’s second largest economy in 2050.
“We would do well to look to India in the years ahead,” he added.