IndiaToday5Prominent Indian investors, business leaders, academics, and MPs gathered in New York, ahead of Prime Minister Modi’s appearance there, to discuss India’s economic situation and the prospects for improvement under the new Prime Minister.

In one of the sessions — Dial India for Investment, the panelists seemed united in their view that India needs fundamental change (after 60 years of socialist policies, corruption, and decision making paralysis) and Modi is the man who can “take the decisions that need to be made.” Although one investor said: “Everything in India is half-assed…India disappoints. I’m not very optimistic.”

Jayant Sinha, Member of the Parliament, BJP believes that with the right policies, India’s $2 trillion economy can grow to $5 trillion in 10 years. He said that China’s low cost manufacturing model is not the way for India, but rather the best hope to create jobs is through “new industries”, driven by tech and engineering solutions, including: medical devices (and tourism), solar, and automotive. Mercedes Benz plans to make India its manufacturing hub for Asia. The Modi government has a goal of creating 300 million jobs in 15 years.

When asked by Aroon Purie, the moderator, “what can go wrong for Prime Minister Modi?” Dr. Rajiv Modi, Chairman CII Pharma, said: “We are very religious people, we pray to the almighty…There is a spirit that is blessing India…Nothing will go wrong…Looking at all the data points nothing can go wrong.”

A recent survey gave India a world rating of 134/189 for ease of doing business. Mr. Sinha believes India can self-correct with a “Dream Team prime minister, finance minister and central banker.” Someone on the panel responded that “India has had dream teams before, and look what happened.” Another investor suggested “taking America and the Western World into India to make it grow.”

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Analysis: If India seeks to be guided by American ‘democracy’ wisdom let it be from the America described by Thomas Jefferson (third President of the United States) in his first inaugural address (March 4, 1801), rather than the “we roll” imperial America of today.

In his remarks Mr. Jefferson talked about being “enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed and practiced in various forms, yet all of them including honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter; with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow citizens—a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.”

Jefferson goes on to present “the essential principles of our government, and consequently those which ought to shape our administration. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations—entangling alliances with none; the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies; the preservation of the general government in its whole  constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad…absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority—the vital principle of republics, from which there is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism…the supremacy of the civil over military authority; economy in the public expense, that labor may be lightly burdened; the honest payment of our debts and sacred preservation of the public faith; encouragement of agriculture, and of commerce as its handmaid; the diffusion of information and the arraignment of all abuses at the bar of public reason; freedom of religion; freedom of the press; freedom of person under habeas corpus; and trials by juries impartially selected—these principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us, and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment.”

Jefferson might find it not a little bit ironic that he, who decried the (American) Indian’s “bigoted veneration for the supposed superlative wisdom of their fathers”, should now be invoked as a corrective for the barbaric ways of his contemporary countrymen and a guide to emerging democracies, such as India. His call for a government that is “wise and frugal” and that “restrains men from injuring one another” has obviously not been heeded by his countrymen. Hopefully India can learn from the mistakes of the U.S. rather than race to repeat them.

Photographs: Stephen Wise

Bottom Photo: Diwali at Times Square 9/20/14