x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

India completes vote, but can it reform itself?

As India finishes voting, the question is whether the incoming government will have the robust majority and political will needed to tackle the country's problems.

With voting concluded in the weeks-long Indian election, it is hoped the result will provide the incoming government with a large enough electoral majority to allow it to undertake the reforms the country so desperately needs.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is predicting it will get an absolute majority in the poll, as voters demonstrate their disaffection with the Congress-led coalition’s inability to improve the lives of ordinary Indians. If that prediction proves accurate, it will hand Narendra Modi, who is expected to emerge victorious, a level of freedom that the incumbent, Manmohan Singh, never achieved.

Dr Singh is a renowned economist and a former finance minister, making him the best-qualified prime minister in India’s history to modernise the economy. During his first term in 2007, the country’s GDP grew at nine per cent – its highest rate ever – after he introduced a raft of significant reforms.

But since then, growth has dropped to less than five per cent, the value of the rupee has plummeted and several large-scale infrastructure projects have been blighted by mismanagement.

Dr Singh’s capacity to fix this has been hampered by a series of resignations of ministers implicated in corruption scandals and by the tenuous nature of the governing coalition, the United Progressive Alliance, through which Congress had its parliamentary majority. His efforts to modernise the economy, in areas such as foreign investment, were stymied by parties pursuing their own interests and those of their benefactors, rather than those of India as a whole.

Reform is desperately needed to allow India’s economy to flourish. If the BJP wins an outright majority, it will give Mr Modi the ability to modernise the economy and tackle the rampant corruption that enriches a few while inhibiting the prospects of prosperity for most Indians.

The bigger question is whether he will do so, or whether his rule will feature the divisiveness and sectarian conflicts that critics say marked his time as Gujurat’s chief minister.