Time to aim for more forward-looking substance in Indo-Mauritian ties Mr Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, will be the guest of honour during the national day celebrations on 12 March. He is reputed to be a business-friendly, no-nonsense man. He came to power in May last year on the promise that better days – ‘acche din’ — now await India. His party, the BJP, holds the majority in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. In principle this obviates the need to dilute policies, which is the bane of coalition politics.
Many believe that his more pragmatic approach to developing the Indian economy should fundamentally change for the better the country’s pace of economic and social transformation. To such observers, he looks like a quiet achiever. The task before Mr Modi is herculean, given the complex and intricate bureaucratic stranglehold and tumultuous democracy which have combined to hold down the country’s progress over a long number of years. It is obvious that India has been operating below its potential and the scope for its massive improvement exists.
In Mauritius, the new political alliance headed by SAJ, Alliance Lepep, won a sweeping victory on 10th December 2014 on the promise that it would avert the perceived threat of dictatorship which the Labour-MMM alliance was proposing by way of what it called the ‘Second Republic’. The Mauritian alliance in power has given itself as principal mission to launch what it calls a ‘second economic miracle’, some sort of a nostalgic reference to the economic turnaround that the 1983 MSM-LP-PMSD government headed by SAJ achieved in the space of a few years. This included expanding industry and the provision of services, including international financial services, at such a pace that full employment was achieved by 1987. At this stage, today, Mauritius badly needs to clinch real life issues, and we are as yet awaiting to know how it is being proposed to do so.
Mr Modi’s government has just enunciated its long-anticipated second budget on 28th February. Opinions are divided in India. Some observers believe that the budget’s approach to get to economic development by employing the states of the Indian federation as agents for economic and social transformation in India as a whole will pay off and break bottlenecks which have been holding down the subcontinent’s integrated upcoming since long. Others believe that policies are not targeted specifically enough to trigger the vast infrastructural change India is in need of to really move upscale. Time will tell whether we are in the presence of a quiet achiever who will put all the pieces together to give India the international clout that has been eluding it for too long.
The world in which we live has globalised in past decades at a pace not known before. It is a trend that should continue. The more a country embraces this pervasive global integration set in motion in past decades, with a meaningful economic and foreign policy for the uplift and security of its people, the higher its place will be in the concert of nations. India and Mauritius both need such an uplift at this stage.
Britain and some European countries demonstrated the benefits to them of seeking an outreach during the colonial phase of history; they left their cosy little places and built up a colonial empire extending from one end of the planet to the other. This expansion resulted in a number of casualties but it also lifted the world to a higher and irreversible level of international trade and exchange. Given the shape international geopolitics has assumed nowadays, a highly successful democracy such as America is faced with a choice between staying indoors and shrinking consequently, or moving out of its economic and political shells to match a giant-in-the-making like China. By going out to meet the brave new world, China has become the world’s economy number two and a superpower to reckon with. Staying indoors is no longer an option for a country which wants to assert itself at the international level.
While both India and Mauritius have embraced this global trend, very much more remains to be done by both of them if they have to emancipate themselves from the narrow outlook that inbound puritanical visions of development, constrained by a web of domestic bureaucratic rules, impose on nations. Investments have to go out and pour in from a diversity of sources into numerous areas of activity for sustained future development to take place. Members of the population who have skills have to sharpen them further through increased outside contacts. Enterprises have to break new grounds and catch up with companies operating at the edge of technology elsewhere. Dormant potential needs to be aroused into action. It is this kind of breakout that has helped both India and Mauritius to move a number of their peoples from out of the trap of poverty.
The challenge before both of them is to break newer grounds for mutual benefit. Do they have such an opportunity? Yes, the vast seas that link us together offer opportunities for both nations to harvest the ocean and to secure themselves against others. Moreover, expanding interaction with many countries on the African continent should also extend the mutual economic scope of both countries beyond what the seas can give. If Mauritius and India, acting together, don’t do all of this, others will fill the vacuum at their cost. Mutual adversarial positions do not contribute to extend scope; instead they frustrate, until all momentum gained so far is lost. Countries wanting to advance find forward-looking solutions to problems instead of dragging on with futile mutual recriminations on their existing relations.
There have been eloquent phases of mutually supportive growth and development between the two countries, particularly since the early 1990s. As both India and Mauritius open up further to the outside world, they stand to gain in scope. We are on the threshold of such an opportunity. May the current visit of the Indian Prime Minister herald the start of a new era, full of hope for what can be constructively achieved when sights are set high enough not to have to look back once again.
* Published in print edition on 13 March 2015