ST Global Forum: High hopes from new India government but reality takes time to change, says editor T N Ninan

Expectations are running ahead of reality in India, with high hopes from the new Narendra Modi government, but reality takes times to change, said one of India's most respected financial editors T N Ninan.

He was offering his perspectives on India at The Straits Times Global Outlook forum on Friday. 

There were widespread expectations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came to power after his party won a landslide election in April, would launch big-bang reforms which would launch the country into a high-growth trajectory.

Leaders who have a large mandate often choose to carry out the difficult reforms in the early part of their tenure, when their popularity is still high.

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But Mr Modi is not a reformer in that mould, said Mr Ninan, who is the chairman of the Business Standard, one of India's leading financial newspapers.  

 He is a "manager-reformer", not a reformer in the classical market-oriented frame, who has chosen what he calls the "third way" of  introducing politically-acceptable reforms.

Mr Modi's style of opportunistic reforms, however,  runs the risk of stumbling if there are "political accidents" to which India is prone.

The other effect of his leadership style is that his government is very PM-centric. While that may mean it is decisive and driven by vision, it also results in slower implementation as other officials wait for cues from Mr Modi.  

Mr Ninan also noted another new trend in India - that of the various states becoming active in launching initiatives to raise their growth rates. States like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which have been part of the slow-growing Indian hinterland for decades, have launched land and labour reforms and begun actively campaigning for foreign direct investment, including making trips to Singapore in recent months.

They want to emulate Mr Modi, who was the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat before he became Prime Minister, said Mr Ninan. 

The Indian stock markets have risen by around 60 per cent over last year with expectations that Mr Modi's arrival signalled the end of the inertia associated with second-half of the previous Manmohan Singh government. 

But the consumer mood, dampened by years of high inflation, will take time to recover, said Mr Ninan. India would return to around 6 per cent rate of growth in the medium term, he said.

bhagya@sph.com.sg