'Enormous task ahead' on reforms, Modi admits

Defending his performance so far, Indian PM says economy depends on state govts too

NEW DELHI • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defended his record of reforming the country's stuttering economy after two years in power, but conceded that his right-wing government faced "an enormous task ahead".

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal published yesterday, his second anniversary in office, Mr Modi said he had set a path for faster growth, including opening up the economy to foreign investment and curbing corruption.

But he also said he needed India's 29 states to take up the challenge of reforming land purchasing and rigid labour laws, which businesses have long complained hamper manufacturing and development.

"I have actually undertaken the maximum reforms," Mr Modi said. But, he added, "I have an enormous task ahead for myself".

The Hindu nationalist Prime Minister swept into power in elections in May 2014 with the biggest mandate in 30 years, promising to reform and revive India's struggling economy.

Growth has since risen to 7.6 per cent in the year ended March, sky-high inflation has dropped, the Budget deficit has narrowed and foreign direct investment has soared.

But some investors are disappointed with a lack of "big bang" fundamental reforms to overhaul the economy that would further help pull tens of millions of Indians out of poverty.

Investors were left deflated after Mr Modi's government failed to push a Bill through India's gridlocked Parliament to make it easier to buy land for infrastructure and other development.

"When I came to the government, I used to sit down with all the experts and ask them to define for me what is the 'big bang' for them," Mr Modi said. "Nobody could tell me."

Mr Modi, who has formed a close relationship with United States President Barack Obama, is set to address a joint meeting of the US Congress next month during a trip to Washington.

Mr Modi said the invitation "is a matter of pride for me", adding that it would be an "opportunity for me to address the American people".

The United States sees its relationship with India as critical, partly to counterbalance China's rising power. Mr Obama has called it "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century".

Although ties between New Delhi and Washington have strengthened, Mr Modi played down any friction with Beijing, pointing to increasing trade and diplomatic exchanges between China and India.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2016, with the headline ''Enormous task ahead' on reforms, Modi admits'. Print Edition | Subscribe