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May 23rd 2015

‘Achhe din aane waale hain’. This slogan, which translates into ‘good days are coming’, is what made Narendra Modi win the Indian elections exactly one year ago. His political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won by a landslide.

I was glad to be in Delhi last week to witness all the festivities. At some 40 degrees C, the heat was nothing to be trifled with, but it was the first anniversary of their popular prime minister that really warmed up the Indian people. Newspapers dubbed May 16th, the happy anniversary occasion, as ‘modiversary’ and they were filled to the brim with praising prose. Social commentator Shiv Visvanathan wrote about the ‘Making of the Great Indian Hologram’ in the Sunday Times of India. He described Modi as the ultimate culmination of all Indian people: ‘Modi is a projection of all of us.’

With his ‘Make in India’ slogan (purposely set in the present tense), Modi opened the Hannover Messe last month. In the past week alone, he managed to close some 25 deals during his visit to China, representing a total order value of $ 22bn for Indian businesses. A sorely needed achievement, considering the Indian gross domestic product (GDP) of just $ 2.500bn squares off against an overwhelming Chinese GDP of $11.000bn.

Authoritarian China and democratic India are fundamentally different, but that doesn’t get in the way of collaboration. One symbolic illustration of this is the selfie Modi took with the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang; dubbed ‘the world’s mightiest selfie’ by Forbes. Modi was only able to broadcast the selfie through the direct communications channel with the main office in New Delhi, given how Twitter is still banned in China.

The global social ‘megaphone’ may be closed off to the Chinese, the Chinese government, however, IS dominantly present on the world stage. India, on the other hand, have kept relatively quiet for some years now.

It wasn’t always like this. As India’s UN Ambassador in 1957, V.K Krishna Menon gave the longest speech ever in front of the UN Security Council. By the time he collapsed of exhaustion some eight hours into his speech, his best friend and Prime Minister Nehru had obtained full control over the subject of the speech, Kashmir.

Apart from being a prolific orator, Menon, who was dismissed by Time Magazine as a snake charmer, was the driving force behind the Non-Aligned Movement, incepted in 1961. The movement had its roots in the peaceful transition from colonialism to independence and it united those countries that refused to commit to either of the two large blocs that faced off during the Cold War. The gathering still exists to this day, often appoints leaders repulsed by the West (like the current Iranian president Hassan Rouhani) and it meets at ditto places (in Caracas, Venezuela, this year).

Long after Menon’s passing, India finally found its way back to the international political stage by having Modi as its charismatic, visionary and vigorous frontman.

When it comes to domestic affairs, however, India still has some ground to cover. In his piece, Shiv Visvanathan denounces Modi’s inability when it comes to social affairs. ‘His vision collapses when he touches upon health care, education, environmental issues and agriculture’, the ‘pundit’ writes. According to the 2013 report of the UN Millennium Development Goals, 32.9% of the world’s poorest still reside in India, child mortality is still excee- dingly high and the poorest areas of the country are akin to one large open sewer pit.

Governing the second most populous nation in the world is far from easy, no matter the amount of charisma you might have. Victor Mallet, a correspondent for the Financial Times, calls Modi ‘hypnotising’, but remains ever surprised about what he refers to as ‘promulgating governance’:

the belief that commanding something to get done equals making sure it actually gets done. Government agencies command a halt to polluting the Yamuna river on a nearly daily basis, but the water remains as gross as it has always been.

The younger Narendra helped his father to sell tea on the train station of the remote village of Vadnagar. Boys become men. Boasting an economic growth of 8% annually, the currently poor India stands ready to overtake big brother China on the economic front. These are growth figures that Europe can only dream about.

In the meantime, here in the Netherlands, we dream of India. From June 4 to 6, Mark Rutte will lead a trade mission to Modi’s nation, in the hope that the latter’s ‘good days’ will rub off on us. 

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