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From a porcupine to a tiger – Advent of Modi sarkar

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If a single image catches India’s strategic style in the past, it was that of a porcupine – vegetarian, slow-footed and prickly. The famous defensiveness of the porcupine became the hallmark of India’s approach to the world. India used to put up its sharp quills to ward off the threats. The quills symbolised the principles of fairness, justice and equality as defence against what India saw an unacceptable demand from the international system. India, it was widely believed at home and abroad, would not seek opportunities or be opportunistic in pursuit of its national interests (Srivastava, 2006). An unstable domestic government can seldom be decisive let alone shape up its foreign policy. However, the May of 2014 ushered in an new era in Indian politics as well as in International affairs, as Mr. Narendra Modi took the centre-seat of Prime Minister.

A significant first step had been the presence of SAARC leaders at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Indian government, which pervaded a sense of the Modi diplomacy. Within a month of assuming the PM’s office, Modi government had faced its very first obstacle, that of the extraction of overseas Indians in Iraq the consequence of the ISIS invasion[1], followed by the Libyan civil war[2] that saw hundreds being rescued back to India, and the extraction of persons of other nationalities from Yemen under Operation Raahat[3], heaped global praise toward the Modi government. The Modi regime since has established a brand India that is approachable over social media, re. the Former External Affairs Minister Late Ms. Sushma Swaraj’s swift response to overseas Indian citizens in distress that sometimes rivalled the time it took to deliver a pizza. The consistent improvement in ease of doing business rankings added to this image, the U.N.’s recognition of International Day of Yoga and additionally India’s initiation of the International Solar Alliance instituted soft diplomacy while India’s firmness to stand by its neighbour, Bhutan (which was also PM Modi’s first foreign trip since swearing-in) in response to the Chinese incursion at Doklam pass, exhibited a rather firm and resolute chair of power in New Delhi. To its neighbourhood in South Asia the government suggested they had a new partner in New Delhi, a partner they could rely and count on. This was furthered when Sri Lanka reeling from the ballooning debt of Chinese development loans had to lease off its Hambantota Port on a 99-year lease, in a bid to check the Chinese influence, Indian government secured the lease to the Hambantota Airport through buying off Sri Lanka’s debt to China.

The Operation Maitri carried out in Nepal in response to the devastating earthquake within a record response of 15 minutes[4], attempted to establish India’s prowess in managing natural disasters and its capability and willingness to shoulder regional responsibilities. The Modi diplomacy has shaped up from having noteworthy gestures like photo-ops and engagement of Twitter diplomacy as was evident post his big win in 2014. Mr. Modi has for long been an active proponent of using social media having had his presence as far back as 2007. He has made his presence felt even on Chinese social media microblogging website Weibo, the Twitter equivalent and amassed thousands of followers the same day.

The PM is perhaps among the few Heads of State who have permeated the language barriers on social media choosing to communicate in Heads of State’s local language, for instance choosing Hebrew while interacting with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. His sense of making effective meaningful relationships has ever so often been, striking a personal chord with the leaders he’d visit; side-lining the protocols, extending a personal welcome to the visiting Heads of State that more often than not resulted in a positive fruitful public relations exercise. In a day and age of real-time news these gestures haven’t gone unnoticed. Derek Willis of New York Times mentions, during PM Modi’s 2014 visit to the United States, the turnout at the Madison Square Garden was a testament to his appeal online and off; his visit to the States that included a private dinner with Former President Obama had its own hashtag: #ModiInAmerica (Willis, 2014).

Much like revival in foreign affairs, reformation of economy was backed up by the hard-nosed stance toward economic rejuvenation. The passage of the Goods and Services Tax[1], initially implemented rather hastily with confusions cropping out from businesses both small and big, was followed by introduction of Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 that essentially put big company promoters to account in an event of defaulting on payments and put the company to financially sound owners in order to restructure its debts. The improvement in welfare delivery mechanisms, the direct benefit transfers that for long became victim of pilferage was helped by the NDA government’s resolve enabled by the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana scheme that allowed 50 crore people to open bank accounts injecting Rs.3 trillion crore worth of deposits[2], the beneficiaries of which are also entitled to an accident insurance cover and life insurance.

The controversial move of demonetisation that many well-known economic pundits had revolted on and heavily criticized was in fact a sleeper hit. According to a speech by Former Finance Minister Late Mr. Arun Jaitley to the Parliament, the data presented to the house reflected numerous large volume deposits exceeding Rs.80 lakhs that were made into 1.48 lakh accounts, with an average deposit of Rs.3.31 crore accounting to around Rs.5 trillion (Jagdish Bhagwati, 2017). According to a November 2018 report[1] by investment firm, Omidyar Network and the Boston Consulting Group, “India has leapfrogged 2.5 years ahead on the digital payment curve post-demonetisation in 2016”. The report in increase of tax-payers according to Income Tax department reflected an increase of 37%. According to S.P. Singh, partner Deloitte India, the rise in number of taxpayers since 2014 can be attributed to demonetisation, the data with tax authorities and the move toward digital assessment[1]. Several cases emerged in 2020 wherein businessman have disclosed a lower income to IT but deposited crores of cash during demonetisation period.

 

The Modi government has established a brand India, enveloping components of economy, diplomacy, revival of foreign affairs and a clean-up of corrupt-ridden governance of the past; dispensed from an establishment with little obligation to coalition partners that enjoys mandate and confidence of the citizenry of India. The active engagement of PMO in thwarting challenges posed by natural disasters or providing relief to its South Asian neighbours has catapulted India as a big brother that the smaller nations can look up to. Amid the COVID-19 crisis India immediately launched Operation Sanjeevani that delivered 6.2 tonnes of essential commodities like medicines and hospital consumables. During this ongoing crisis the government took the lead on supplying the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine among other essential drugs (like paracetamol) to 55 countries[1], among which figures countries like the U.S., Israel, the UAE and Brazil, making India the global reliable supplier of medicines during this humanitarian crisis.

The Modi cabinet has shone a new light on the brand India, that is no more a slow-footed porcupine but rather a fierce adroit tiger.


[1] Exports approved to South Asian nations- Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar; African nations – Zimbabwe, Kenya, Niger, Mali, Republic of Congo; European nations – France, the Netherlands and the UK; other nations – Kazakhstan, Armenia, Ecuador, Jamaica, Ukraine, Oman, Colombia and the Bahamas.

 

[1] Remya Nair, “Number of crorepati taxpayers surges 68% in 3 years: CBDT”, https://www.livemint.com/Politics/wP9wtYdOiFHRlSJfUVTs1I/Number-of-crorepatis-has-risen-by-60-in-India-CBDT.html 

[1] Ibid

[1] Goods and Services Tax (GST) is an indirect tax that has subsumed all indirect taxes into one bracket.

[2] Rajeev Mantri , “Modi deserves a second term based on record”, https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/modi-deserves-a-second-term-based-on-his-economic-record/story-ZGrnjngNUdZuG6hVYZ9CXL.html

[1] Daniel P George, “46 Kerala nurses trapped in Iraq crossfire”, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/46-Kerala-nurses-trapped-in-Iraq-crossfire/articleshow/36734251.cms

[2] 200 more Indian evacuated from Libya, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/200-more-Indians-evacuated-from-Libya/articleshow/39848755.cms

[3] Operation Raahat – On April 6th 2015, 23 countries requested Indian assistance in evacuating their citizens from Yemen; https://twitter.com/MEAIndia/status/585045912294043648

[4] Operation Maitri, https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/operation-maitriindias-earthquake-relief-and-rescue-mission-in-nepal-250702-2015-04-29

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