Powered by good governance and great leadership, India was able to take great strides in 2022 despite strong headwinds

Sunjoy Hans

It is well near impossible to project strength convincingly, effectively and sustainably to the outside world if the world within is not strong enough in reality.

Soon after the conclusion of the 2022 G-20 Bali Summit in mid-November, the media – both national and international – was filled with stories suggesting the rise of India as a veritable Asian superpower.

Many political and economic analysts noted that the 1,186-page joint declaration issued by global leaders attending the summit in Indonesia’s Hindu-majority island had the stamp of New Delhi’s broad-based and assertive diplomacy.

Making particular reference to a statement in the declaration that read, “Today’s era must not be of war”, they pointed out how strongly reminiscent it was of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words, “Now is not an era for war”, which were conveyed to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their September meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

India has maintained a strictly neutral and logic-based position on the Russia-Ukraine war in spite of facing immense pressure from the United States and its allies to take their side. Instead of supporting United Nations resolutions against Russia and placing sanctions on the country, India has gone ahead and purchased more oil than ever from its long-time ally and key defence supplier, while providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine and staying at the forefront of calls for a peaceful resolution to the conflict through dialogue.

Prime Minister Modi’s takeover of the G20 presidency at the Bali Summit was symbolic and representative of the times, and India consolidated its position on the international stage as a dependable force that can serve not only as a practically indispensable bridge between the West and Moscow but also as a leading voice of developing countries.

However, none of this would probably have been possible had India not emerged as an economic powerhouse with proven and ever-improving resilience to global headwinds, as a politically stable nation with strong and exemplary leadership, and as an increasingly self-reliant global manufacturing hub in multiple sectors – from health and defence to energy, electronics and automobiles.

The mettle and character of any individual, group or nation is really tested only in times of adversity. There was no dearth of challenges in 2022.

While the year started with the world still hobbling back to normalcy after the shocks of a two-year-long coronavirus pandemic, the breakout of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in February put the brakes on fixing of disrupted global supply chains and reducing shortages of food and other goods. As rising prices hit people worldwide, increased interest rates to bring down inflation triggered recession concerns. Many low-income countries were thrown into a debt crisis of varying magnitudes as a result.

With piling foreign debt since 2010 and its earnings from tourism and remittances reduced to a trickle during the Covid-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka became a burning example of that – quite literally so, as violent mass protests in the wake of daily blackouts and persistently acute scarcity of fuel and other essential commodities led to the toppling of the long-time Rajapaksa family regime.

While China – which had been the island country’s biggest bilateral investor – turned a blind eye, it was India that came to the rescue with US$4 billion in rapid assistance between January and July through many financial arrangements, credit lines and deferred import payments. It also sent a warship carrying essential drugs when the Sri Lankans ran out of medical supplies.

India managed to help its southern neighbour amid weakened global growth prospects, when it was itself dealing with considerable volatility in financial and commodity markets brought upon by geopolitical and weather-related disruptions. Strong economic fundamentals and good governance played no small part in ensuring that the nation’s overall outlook remained positive with steady urban demand, rising rural demand, strong credit expansion, and a rebound in the manufacturing and services sector.

In stark contrast to Sri Lanka, India became the first country to have received more than US$100 billion in annual remittance in 2022. As per a World Bank report released on November 30, this is a function of the vast Indian diaspora being increasingly engaged in high-skill jobs in high-income countries such as the West and Singapore, instead of low-skilled employment in Middle Eastern countries.

That trend was well in sync with the giant leaps that India made on the science and technology front during this period.

On November 18, India sent its first privately-built rocket – Vikram-S – into space from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launchpad in Sriharikota. This event marked the entry of private stakeholders in the nation’s space sector that was previously the preserve of ISRO. The success of Skyroot Aerospace, a Hyderabad-based start-up, was complete as its 6-metre-tall rocket reached an altitude of 89.5 kilometres before splashing down into the Bay of Bengal five minutes after its launch. This paved the way for other space-tech firms in the country to launch their own rockets and satellites that will serve sectors as diverse as health and defence.

More recently, India’s Bharat Biotech (maker of Covaxin, India’s first indigenously developed anti-Covid vaccine) developed the world’s first intra-nasal vaccine against the dreaded virus. To be administered as simply as nasal drops, the vaccine is also cost-effective enough to ensure easy distribution in low- and middle-income countries.

In other notable breakthroughs, researchers at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru developed a way to find out whether tuberculosis treatment is working for patients within the first two weeks instead of the hitherto usual two months. This will go a long way in ensuring better treatment of TB patients worldwide and considerably reduce their risks of suffering lung damage. Indian researchers also invented a process or system to imitate photosynthesis and capture solar energy for power generation.

India made impressive progress in the digital domain as well, by launching 5G services and the digital rupee and by putting in place appropriate and well-thought-out digital regulations as evidenced in the Telecom Bill for the carrier, the Digital Personal Data Protection (DPDP) Bill for safeguarding citizens’ privacy rights and the Digital India Bill for everything else in the digital world that needs to be regulated.

India also became the world’s fifth-largest economy in September, overtaking the United Kingdom. Only a decade ago India was the 11th largest economy, six places below its former colonial ruler that made much of its riches by exploiting the resources of the subcontinent. The year 2022 saw Britain and its political leadership reeling from the side effects of Brexit, the aftermath of the pandemic and the fallout of Russia-Ukraine war. In a span of two months the island nation saw three Prime Ministers, the third and present one being Rishi Sunak, a practising Hindu of Indian descent and son-in-law of tech giant Infosys founder N.R. Narayana Murthy.

While UK-born Sunak made history by moving to No 10 Downing Street in London, and his meteoric ascent was rightfully celebrated by the Indian diaspora, it is no secret that his shaky position at the top of British politics is a far cry from the rock-steady place that Prime Minister Modi occupies in India’s political landscape.

This was perhaps most gloriously reflected in the success of the ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign. The whole nation celebrated 75 years of Independence just the way that their Prime Minister had advised them to.

The sway that Modi enjoys over the nation’s collective consciousness has been more than well-deserved. During the pandemic it was proven beyond a shred of a doubt that his ever-rising popularity and electoral invincibility was far more a consequence of good governance and strong leadership rather than Hindu majoritarian sentiments.

A few days ago, as India made a world record by crossing the 220-crore Covid vaccination mark, the threat of the virus was almost over with daily cases down at lower triple digits and public life more or less back to pre-Covid normalcy.

Although people in India were repeatedly asked to strictly follow pandemic protocols, which were enforced in a humane way by the government whenever and wherever necessary over the past two and a half years, they never suffered the draconian rules that China imposed on its own to execute its ill-conceived zero-Covid policy. Therefore, there was hardly any public unrest in India over Covid regulations. All this was polar opposite of the case spikes and the rebellions that Beijing and Chinese president Xi Jinping have had to deal with until as recently as a few days ago.

US President Joe Biden’s popularity ratings plumbed new depths in 2022 (touching 36 percent in May-June and at 39 percent in December, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll), with the world’s richest and most powerful nation still troubled by thousands of daily Covid cases and an inflation-hit economy, not to mention loss of face from a disillusioning Afghan exit and unsurprising Russian defiance. However, Prime Minister Modi stood tall as the world’s most popular leader with an approval rating of 77 percent (in November, according to the Global Leader Approval Ratings released by leading American consulting firm Morning Consult).

That popularity was also well reflected in the historic victory that the Bharatiya Janata Party enjoyed a few weeks ago with a record-breaking 156 seats in the Gujarat assembly elections. Although the BJP lost power to Congress in 68-Seat Himachal Pradesh, a state that has a decades-long history of throwing out its incumbent government, the thumping win in its ultimate bastion and Prime Minister Modi’s home state more than made up for the loss.

Although the Congress found a new president in old warhorse Mallikarjun Kharge and is looking for public support through former party president Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, it seems unable to gather enough momentum to turn around its freefalling political fortunes and giving the BJP a run for its money. No matter how much media coverage the Gandhi scion’s nationwide march on foot gets, or how many headline-hogging statements he makes, the leadership crisis and organisational weakness within the party remains glaringly evident.

However, the message that the BJP sent by naming Odisha tribal leader and former Jharkhand governor Draupadi Murmu as its Presidential candidate, before it drummed up all the support that was needed for her to assume the nation’s top constitutional post, was not lost on the public. Because the message was clear: individual merit and performance, not social and family background, shall be the prime consideration for plum leadership posts in the world’s largest democracy. With the exemplary life that she had led as a public leader despite the immense personal tragedies that she had suffered along the way, President Murmu was more than deserving of a stint at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. With Prime Minister Modi himself being a shining example of this meritocratic value system, the BJP retains the moral high ground over dynasty-obsessed Congress.

Under current circumstances, many election analysts are of the view that the Aam Aadmi Party will replace the grand old party as the BJP’s top challenger in future elections. The probability of that happening significantly rose after the AAP, which was only ruling in Delhi until this year, won the Punjab elections in February and won enough seats in Gujarat to officially claim its status as a national party. However, there is widespread agreement among political pundits that using India-China LAC clashes – whether it be in Ladakh, or more recently in Arunachal Pradesh – as a stick to beat the ruling party with, not to mention making insensitive remarks about Indian Army, will only further damage the Congress party’s credibility.

There is no denying that India will continue to face many challenging circumstances, both internally and externally, as it looks ahead to 2023. Some will stem from global problems, such as the Russia-Ukraine war or even the Covid-19 pandemic, while others will be internal or from a hostile neighbourhood, as seen in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh.

Many political observers have noted that China’s aggression along the LAC is a manifestation of its insecurities about India’s rising capabilities and credibility as a global player on multiple fronts, be it economy, information technology, climate change or conflict resolution. They say it is a ruse to divert attention away from the serious troubles it faces within. The same is said about Pakistan and its Kashmir obsession.

However, India’s response to these challenges so far under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi has shown that it is better placed than most countries across the world to navigate through rough waters, whether it be the ones close by, such as China, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, or the developed ones in the West.

That is precisely why there was so much anticipation around India’s G-20 leadership. The world has realised rather well by now that New Delhi’s elevated position on the international stage in 2022 has come from a place of real strength – and that Prime Minister Modi has had a lot to do with it.

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