As Prime Minister Narendra Modi finishes his Paris visit to the COP21 conference, and prepares for his state visit to Moscow, many on social media have taken a dig at what they perceive as his 'excessive' travels. Mr. Modi has indeed traveled far more than his predecessor, travelling to more than twice as many countries and spending 50% more time overseas in the first 80 weeks of his tenure.
Opposition leaders have taken many digs at the Prime Minister for the frequency of his travels, but their aim is wildly off the mark. I would argue that Narendra Modi’s travels have been far more useful to the country than Manmohan Singh's.
Manmohan Singh travelled largely to North America and Western Europe during his tenure, spending 73% of his time overseas there and only 20% in Asia. In contrast, Narendra Modi has spent 46% of his time in Asia and only 37% in the West.
Given that India intends to become a manufacturing hub, but faces a resource crunch at home, this has been a very shrewd move. Modi’s visits to the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan have helped to improve India’s access to uranium and natural gas. His visit to Australia also helped strengthen India’s access to uranium and other natural resources, while his visits to Japan and South Korea helped create landmark agreements for trade and investment, especially in the field of power generation and infrastructure.
It has been important to secure these agreements early in the term of this government, so that the strategic resources needed to implement the Make in India program and to upgrade India’s woefully inadequate infrastructure can be secured early.
At the same time, several (though certainly not enough) domestic reforms have been implemented. FDI has been opened up in many sectors, including railways, defence and retail. Infrastructure bonds have been reinstated, coal block auctions have been opened up and states have been empowered to have more control over their finances. And if all goes well, the GST bill will be passed soon.
While more could certainly have been done (in the form of the land reform bill, and labour reforms), India has moved along impressively over the past 18 months. India’s GDP growth rate has increased, inflation has gone down, foreign investment is up and the current account deficit is down, tax revenues are up and interest rates are down, the fiscal deficit is down and the rupee is stable. This has been an impressive feat indeed for a government that inherited a slowing economy in adverse global conditions.
So perhaps the media and the opposition could stop focusing on non-issues, like whether Mr. Modi travels too much, and start focusing on the issues that matter. I am not a blind devotee of Mr. Modi, and would like to take him up on the rising communalism in India. But it would be extremely juvenile to criticise him for his travels when the country needs to make the kind of deals that he has been making in order to continue on its path to progress.