Modi should focus on India's development by learning from the best - China and Hong Kong

Percy Fernandez says the Indian PM should learn from China and HK to deliver on development pledges

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 June, 2015, 5:18pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 June, 2015, 5:18pm

While India's financial capital, Mumbai, was coming to terms with a "hooch tragedy" that killed almost 100 people who consumed illicit alcohol, in New Delhi, the capital, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was leading a jamboree to snatch the media's attention about the importance of yoga to his countrymen and others around the world.

Modi has been in love with himself since he began his campaign as the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) prime ministerial candidate.

During an election rally in 2014, he said his 56-inch chest was a prerequisite for a politics of transformation. During US President Barack Obama's visit in January, he wore a navy blue pinstriped suit with his name stitched in gold hundreds of times. Last month, his office raved about the number of hits his selfie with Premier Li Keqiang had got.

After he assumed office, Modi's decision to appoint non-entities as cabinet ministers exposed his first weak point - he was happy having a puppet cabinet.

Modi has also come under heavy fire for micromanaging day-to-day affairs. Even those who were handpicked to run important offices were apparently kept under a tight leash, an art Modi has mastered from his days as chief minister of Gujarat.

Meanwhile, India's relations with its immediate neighbours - Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh - have remained where they were. Except for courtesy visits to these countries, Modi has shown no signs of envisioning a new foreign policy architecture with regards to them.

Modi launched his "Make in India" and "Clean India" campaigns. But his government has yet to improve basic health amenities and public sanitation. New Delhi continues to be the one of the most polluted cities in the world.

Some of Modi's promises seem daunting when India is struggling to achieve a gross domestic product growth rate of 8 per cent. Housing for all, offering 100 million manufacturing jobs, increasing tourist arrivals to 11 million, training a 500 million workforce, 24/7 power for residents, building 30km of roads every day, 100 million toilets and 100 smart cities; the list goes on. Modi has spelled out the targets but is finding it difficult to accomplish them.

As an evangelist of corporate-style management, he knows he doesn't have to reinvent the wheel. Instead, he should look east and perhaps find answers in mainland China and Hong Kong.

During his China visit, Modi said Asia's voice would be stronger if India and China spoke as one. To be on the same page, Modi might want to take a leaf out of China's book on commitment to building infrastructure with a vigour never seen in the history of any country. China realised very early on that a first-rate economy runs on the back of first-rate infrastructure - reliable roads, rail network, electricity and high-speed transport, plus seamless and efficient communication.

Further, just as China has turned its attention towards developing Xinjiang and Tibet in minimising domestic strife, Modi should reach out to Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, torn by violence between the state and the Maoists, and offer them much-needed trust and assurance.

Next, it's worth noting China has been focusing on far-flung cities - such as Urumqi and Kunming , the capital cities of Xinjiang and Yunnan respectively - to drive its next stage of modernisation. Located nearly 2,000 metres above sea level, Kunming is home to one of the busiest airports in China and is a textbook example of high-altitude urban planning. Modi should put his money and ideas into bolstering second-rung metros across India.

This year, the Chinese government approved infrastructure projects worth over US$1 trillion, and the investments will be made across seven industries, including health and clean energy. The funding for these projects will come from a mix of central and local government funds, loans and private-sector investment. Similarly, Modi should use his experience to convince private players to invest in infrastructure. If Modi wants India to be the best, he has to learn from the best. The Hong Kong International Airport, for one, can be a good case study for the Indian ministers of tourism and civil aviation. The Hong Kong airport is, after all, widely acknowledged to be one of the best in the world. In April alone, there were nearly 4.8 million tourist arrivals.

Exit the airport and enter Hong Kong's MTR. Covering 87 stations and nine lines, the secret to the MTR's clockwork efficiency is its commitment to service; its trains arrive on time 99.9 per cent of the time.

Hong Kong's world-class infrastructure - the city holds the top position for infrastructure quality in the Global Competitiveness Index - has contributed to making it the second-largest recipient of foreign direct investment in Asia, after mainland China. With inflows amounting to US$77 billion in 2014, Hong Kong ranked fourth globally, after the US, mainland China and Russia.

How did Hong Kong achieve this? The city's exceptional commitment to economic freedom, an efficient regulatory framework, and low and simple taxation provide the necessary fillip. It offers a stable environment for investments protected by fairness, transparency and the rule of law, something that Modi and his government should live by.

Importantly, Hong Kong believes in its people. In his policy address this year, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying underscored the importance of people's potential and unveiled measures to harness them. It is the commitment to delivering timely, quality services that makes Hong Kong truly world-class.

Comparisons between Hong Kong and India may sound odious. But if Modi is keen on delivering on his promises, he can learn from the surfeit of successful stories Hong Kong and mainland China have to offer.

Once India becomes world-class, Modi will have the world's attention. The love for his country should be uppermost in his mind, not his pinstriped suits and selfies.

Percy Fernandez is a writer and journalist, and former staffer with The Times of India