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In a historic election, Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India last week. The right-wing Hindu nationalist won in a landslide, ending more than half a century of political domination of the Nehru-Gandhi family dynasty and the Congress party. The U.S. will have to work to repair relations with the new leader, who was denied a visa to the States in 2005. We explore what new leadership means for India and its foreign policy.
- Joanna Jolly South Asia Editor, BBC
- Sanjay Puri Chairman, U.S. Indian Political Action Committee (USINPAC)
- Sadanand Dhume Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute; Columnist, Wall Street Journal
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. He has been described as India's Obama, Narendra Modi, a Hindu Nationalist from a humble background, skillfully deployed social media and won voters with a message of hope and economic opportunity. Just over a week ago, he was sworn in as the Prime Minister of the world's largest democracy, elevating his BJP party to a solid majority in parliament.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe historic election breaking more than a half century hold on power by the Congress party and the Nehru-Gandhi family dynasty. But the U.S. will have some work to do if it's to win over India's new leader thanks to a chilly history over a denied visa. Joining us to discuss what this election means for India and U.S. relations is Sadanand -- I'm sorry, Sadanand Dhume. He is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He's also a columnist with the Wall Street Journal. Sadanand, thank you for joining us.
MR. SADANAND DHUMEGreat to be here.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Sanjay Puri. He is the chairman of the U.S. India Political Action Committee which represents 3.2 million Indian-Americans. Sanjay Puri, thank you for joining us.
MR. SANJAY PURIThanks, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from studios at the BBC is Joanna Jolly. Joanna Jolly, thank you for joining us.
MS. JOANNA JOLLYThank you.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation, give us a call, 800-433-8850. What do you think of India's historic election? Sadanand, who is Narendra Modi and why was this such a historic election for India?
DHUMEWell, Narendra Modi is the, of course the new Prime Minister of India. It was historic for several reasons. For the first time, a non-Congress party has claimed a majority on its own. For the first time since 1984, a single party has claimed a majority, rather than the usual coalition elect politics. And this is, I would argue, the first time that Indian politics has leaned clearly towards the right.
DHUMEModi ran on a campaign of economic opportunity. He has it, he's a pro-business candidate. His economic policies lean toward growth. And so all this, sort of, adds up for -- toward a tectonic shift in Indian politics.
NNAMDISanjay, what to you, was significant about this election?
PURIWhat is significant is -- its award by the youth, if you look at the demographics of India. It's a country really dominated by young people. We had a 100 million new voters this time, 22 million voters between the age of 18 and 19. So it was really an aspirational vote and he kind of picked on the pulse of the young voters. So I think this is really a world of people wanting to move forward, not backwards.
NNAMDIJo, can you talk a little bit about the current economic situation in government? Why were people, in India, apparently so ready for change?
JOLLYWell, I think, although India has seen economic growth over the last decade between 2000 and 2010, GDP was around nine percent. In the last few years, unfortunately, GDP has fallen to around five percent. And I think many Indians wanted to see a change. And they looked at Modi's record as Chief Minister at the State of Gujarat in Western India. And they saw that he'd done well there and encouraged business there.
JOLLYAnd they hoped that he would take over the leadership of India and encourage business there. I mean, I think, they were sick of Congress' image as being a corrupt party. Whether Congress had -- has had a lot of support historically in India, recently it's been marred by a number of scandals. And Modi stood, not only for economic development but also on an anti-corruption ticket.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're discussing India's election in general and its new Prime Minister, in particular with Joanna Jolly. She is the BBC, South Asia Editor. Sadanand Dhume, he's a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He's also a columnist with The Wall Street Journal. And Sanjay Puri is chairman of the U.S. India Political Action Committee which represents 3.2 million Indian-Americans. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can share your thoughts of this historic election with us. Sanjay, India's new leader has been compared to President Obama for a number of reasons. Can you talk about some of the parallels in this election?
PURIWell, this was a election where they really took technology to its complete extent, like President Obama did. They used holographic technology, 3D technology. He did tremendous voter outreach through telephones. They have gotten good statistics of people who had voted, who had not voted by the afternoon. And so it was really analyzing what people wanted, what they didn't want and using technology, social media. He's tremendous on Twitter, he's got four million followers.
PURISo he used technology just like the Obama campaign did. And maybe even gone beyond, given that it's a country of 800 million voters, potential voters. So I think those are some of the comparisons.
DHUMEYeah, I would -- I certainly think that part of it was just campaign tactics, at the fact that Modi ran a social media savvy campaign. But I think the comparison, in some ways, goes beyond that. Modi is the ultimate outsider, just the way Obama was the ultimate outsider. This is a person, who as a young man, sold tea on a railway platform. And in a socially stratified society like India, someone who was not born to privilege, was not born to a rich father or a famous parent and really made his way up through dent of his own hard work and effort.
DHUMEIn many ways, that dramatic story, that brings to mind Obama or Lula in Brazil. Is a kind of classic tale of a politician rising from very humble beginnings to the very pinnacle of power.
NNAMDIIndeed, Sanjay, this election was also unusual in that people turned out to vote for the man rather than the party. Can you talk a little bit about why that was a departure, in a way, for India?
PURIWell, people are calling it a presidential election in some ways because, you know, India has a parliamentary system and this was really -- people said they were voting for Modi not for the BJP. And, I think that, in many cases, was true because he has won in places where the BJP has really not been very, very strong, historically.
PURIAnd I think his message, and as Sadanand said, you know, coming as a rank outside of a person of real -- really humble beginnings has struck a chord but also look at what the Congress had left behind. It give a real opportunity, President Obama, when he came and he talked about hope. He talked about aspiration when we were in the midst of Iraq war. We had the real estate financial crisis. So same situation in India, corruption, lack of hope, low growth. So I think it was a unique circumstances which, you know, Mr. Modi really capitalized on.
NNAMDISadanand, and some have raised concerns about campaign finance in India and transparency. Modi spent enormous sums on a high tech and media focused campaign. But no one knows exactly how much. Can you talk a little bit about some of the issues?
DHUMEI mean, I think, that's generally true of Indian politics, it's quite -- campaign finance is quite murky. The official spending limits are ridiculously low and in reality, everybody knows that all politicians flout them. This was certainly the case with the Modi campaign. It was also the case of the Congress campaign. It's just the way it is. You don't have the kind of transparency that you would like in a democracy, like India. And it should be a priority of the new government, hopefully, to begin to start cleaning up that system.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones, we go to Eric in Baltimore, Md. Eric, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
ERICYes, good afternoon, thank you for taking my call. I'm curious to know if the panelists think that this new leader might do something with the strength in Indian military, either take a more active geopolitical stance or shore up boarders that were in contention. Thank you.
NNAMDIStarting with you, Sanjay.
PURIWell, you know, during his inauguration he had historically invited the neighbors, the SAARC countries. All the heads of the SAARC countries were there. So I think he made a clear signal that he wants to have very good relationship with his neighbors. Now, obviously, when you look at the history of the BJP, people always say that they are more, as Sadanand said, a little bit to the right. They might have a more muscular foreign policy. But right now, I think, he's won on the campaign of economy.
PURIEconomy -- economy in jobs. So I think that'll be the focus, you know, there are some challenges with the military that he has to pay attention to. But economy is going to be his key focus right now.
NNAMDIAnd Jo Jolly, same question to you.
JOLLYWell I would agree with your last speaker, yes. Economy is the focus and I think it was a very conciliatory of Narendra Modi to invite all the SAARC leaders and in particular, Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration and show that he wanted to -- I think it gave a message that he wanted to be a strong regional leader whose doors were open for negotiation. Although I did go to some of his campaign rallies myself and he did speak, his rhetoric about Pakistan was a lot stronger than his position is now.
JOLLYBut I think he was playing a little bit to the public there, saying, I think, Indians for a long time, have felt that they haven't been properly represented in the world. That they have been a little bit downtrodden, let's say by other countries. And Modi often spoke in rallies about how India would rise up and be strong again and wouldn't bow down to anyone else. But it has been rather, sort of, comforting to see, that in his first week in power, it's about negotiation and reconciliation, it seems to be the way forward in his foreign policy.
DHUMEI would argue that, yes of course, economics has been central to his campaign and it would be his main priority. But that does not mean -- that does not -- that does not mean that military modernization is not important. In fact, India is expected to embark on an aggressive military modernization project, under Prime Minister Modi. Spending on the military has languished under the Congress, it's been below two percent of GDP. He has pledged to raise this. He's probably going to allow foreign investment.
DHUMESo to answer your -- the callers question, I mean, if you're thinking of this in geopolitical terms, the best comparison would be with someone like Shinzo Abe of Japan. Here's a guy elected to revive the economy and make the country strong again. Part of that is military modernization and we're certain to see that.
NNAMDIJo, Modi campaigned, in part, on operating or creating a government for the poor, youth and women but also on economic opportunity. What might Modi's election mean for India's extensive social welfare programs and its most vulnerable people?
JOLLYWell, Modi promised economic development for everyone. And I think everyone is now watching to see what Modi will do. And this week we've had a test of how cruel Indian society can be with the gang rape and hanging of two cousins in Uttar Pradesh, in the Northern Indian state. And the poor police response to that, the family alleged that the police refused to answer their calls of help for over 12 hours.
JOLLYModi has a lot of social issues to contend with and the marginalization of certain parts of Indian society, the poor, low cast, women, other ethnic groups and religious groups is something that he's gonna have to get a grip with, very quickly. And just to talk about women, the laws on sexual violence were amended last year and they're much stronger now. This follows the brutal gang-rape and murder of a student in Delhi which really galvanized the nation into protesting against violence against women.
JOLLYSo the laws are pretty good now but what India is failing to do is to implement the laws and to reform its institutions at a grassroot level so that people who, for a very long time, being treated badly or haven't had access to government facilities and to good treatment, will begin to have a better experience at the hand of the government. And so that's what Modi has to do and I think he has to do it quite soon. Today we've seen riots in the state where the girls were gang-raped, demanding better action. So there's quite a lot of public opinion behind this at the moment.
NNAMDISadanand, what has been the reaction from the Indian elite, that dominated politics for the last 50 years or more, to Modi's election and the -- I mean, how big his victory was?
DHUMEYou know, Modi is overwhelmingly popular at this time. The PEW had done a survey a few months ago which showed that he had a favorability rating of 78 percent which was something like, more than 25 percent ahead of his nearest rival. So he's very popular. He's popular among almost all sections of society. So it doesn't really breakdown, even though he comes from an underprivileged background, he is popular with the elite too.
DHUMEIt's true that there's an element of the elite, the traditional Nehruvian elite around the ruling first family of the congress body who are shell shocked. Because they would never have imagined that this person would come in and sweep them away from power.
NNAMDIAnd Sanjay, what's been the reaction from the Indian American community here to Modi's election?
PURIWell, the Indian American community was, I would say, overwhelmingly in support of Mr. Modi for a variety of reasons because his message of economic growth, transparency really caught the attention of people. Because Indian Americans got tired of answering about scandals that people would see in the newspapers and ask them what's going on in your country, a woman who got raped in Delhi or things like that.
PURIAnd so they want to feel proud of the country where they come from. And I think they see in him somebody who's really going to stand up -- you know, clean up the country from a corruption standpoint to bring law and order to the place. So -- and also he comes from a state which has the largest number of people in this country from Gujarat. So he's very, very popular among the Indian American community.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break. When we come back we'll be continuing this conversation on the election in India and the Indian prime minister, taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think there are concerns about a Hindu Nationalist leading a secular country with a significant Muslim population, 800-433-8850? Or you can send email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or ask a question, make your comment at our website kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Sadanand Dhume. He is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a columnist at the Wall Street Journal. Sanjay Puri is the chairman of the U.S. India Political Action Committee which represents 3.2 million Indian Americans. And Joanna Jolly is the BBC South Asia editor. You can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Jo, tell us a little bit more about Narendra Modi and his record in the Gujarat state where he was chief minister before this.
JOLLYWell, it's a very controversial record because there on the one hand he brought a lot of economic prosperity to Gujarat and is recognized for that in his three terms as chief minister there. He also was chief minister in 2002 when there was rioting between Hindus and Muslims in which over a thousand Muslims were killed. And many people believe that because he was chief minister at the time and because the responsibility inevitably ended with him, he didn't do enough to stop the rioting that went on for days. And so therefore he was complicit in the violence
JOLLYNow India Supreme Court has investigated the matter. They set up a special committee to do this. And they've cleared him of these charges. But even so the belief is still very strong, so much so, that you mentioned right at the beginning of this program, Modi was denied a visa to go to the U.S. in 2005 because of his alleged role in the violence.
NNAMDISadanand, India has a long tradition as a secular state. This new prime minister is often described as a right wing Hindu Nationalist. And some have raised flags about this election. What are some of the concerns?
DHUMEWell, I mean, first of all I'd like to quickly, you know, correct Joanna on one thing. About a thousand people died in the Gujarat riots, about three-quarters of them were Muslim and one-fourth of them were Hindu. A horrific event nonetheless, but I just wanted to get the sort of numbers straight on that.
DHUMEThe concern really is that Modi represents a debaucher from India's tradition of pluralism. I don't share that concern. I think that Indian society is robustly pluralistic. And I think that Modi himself has reinvented himself as a politicians by focusing on the economy and reaching out to all sections of society. However, that is the concern and it's a valid concern for the people who hold it.
PURIYou know, one needs to look at the history of India. India's had a woman prime minister. United States hasn't. We've had a Sikh prime minister, which the population is 2 percent. The country just shrugs its shoulders. The leader of the country for a long period of time was an Italian-born Catholic. And people shrugged their shoulders.
PURIMr. Modi, yes, what happened as Sadanand said, was really, really unfortunate. But in a country where there's such diversity, 118 million Muslim and many other minorities, you can't run a country unless you're going to be pragmatic and practical and bring everybody together. In the United States we have primaries where Democrats tend to run to the left, Republicans tend to run to the right. But when it comes to running the country, they have to come back the center and bring the whole country together in many ways. And I think that's what you're going to see of Mr. Modi.
JOLLYI mean, I can tell you a story, a sort of anecdotal story. I was in India in October and I went to this town called Muzaffarnagar which is in the Pradesh state I mentioned before in northern India. And that had been an instant of communal violence between Hindus and Muslims. And it was the worst instance since the 2002 riots. So I spoke to the Muslims there, many of whom were living in camps for displaced people.
JOLLYAnd they seemed to be very anti-Modi and they said they worried very much for their safety if Modi were to come to power. But having said that, if you look at the figures of how Muslim's voted during the poll, they seem to sort of -- in the same numbers they did for the last election in 2009 they seemed to vote at a similar level for the BJP, Modi's party, if not a little bit more. I think the figure is around 7 percent. And their vote for the congress party, the opposition party, which it now is, also pretty much stayed the same.
JOLLYSo while there's some Muslims who seem to be worried about Modi coming to power, I think also you can say that many Muslims also support the BJP and are voting for him for the same reason that a lot of people are, which is because he promises economic change, he promises prosperity and he promises development for all.
NNAMDISadanand, what kind of concerns are there among India's non-Hindu minorities including its populations of 175 million Muslims?
DHUMEI don't think anyone should pretend that Modi is extremely popular with Muslims. He's not. About 8 percent of the Indian Muslims voted for him. But however, that's not the same as the last election. I have to correct Joanna. That's about twice as many who voted for him in 2009. So it's still very low, twice as good. So it's more or less, I would argue, that it's sort of similar to, you know, the African Americans and the Republican Party. No one says that Modi is an actual choice for India's Muslims, but it's not a completely marginal number who voted for him.
NNAMDIWell, we move on to matters of his style. Here is Abhi in Rockville, Md. Abhi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ABHIThank you, Kojo. I really appreciate the conversation that's been going on about Modi's style and how it would impact India's pluralistic fabric. Now one of the concerns that's been raised about Modi's style of government is that he can be rather autocratic and not someone who is very tolerant of people who differ from him or have varying opinions.
ABHIAnd given that he and his party have received an absolute majority and knowing how politics tend to unfold in India, having lived in India for most of my life, and given his rather monochromatic monocultural outlook, I would love to hear your panelists to comment on actual evidence of how they see him being able to reach across the aisle and create a more collaborative atmosphere that he's not necessarily known for.
NNAMDII'll start with you Sanjay Puri.
PURIWell, let's go back into history when we had so-to-speak not monochromatic in the past. The foreign policy was hijacked by regional parties. The economic policy, whether it was in FDI or anything else, was hijacked by small parties who had five MPs and others. I think the people of India have said, we want clear decisive results. And that's the people of India have spoken and they've given him a majority.
PURIAs far as him being authoritarian, well, he's a great delegator from everything that we have seen. And he's got some very competent people right now that he has appointed in his cabinet. He's going to expand. But he's going to have to take the country with him. And every indication since the time he's been elected has been that he intends to do that.
JOLLYModi has asked all his ministers to come up with a plan for the next 100 days, which I think echoes Sanjay's point about him being, you know, a good delegator and being someone who does very much rely on his team around him, not really working as an individual. I think Modi will have to rely on his team and he will have to be conciliatory . Otherwise he won't get -- he won't be able to make his policies work.
JOLLYSo, I mean, we've seen him be conciliatory towards the regions, towards his neighboring countries so let's see how he operates in the next couple of months.
DHUMEWell, you know, this is -- the reason for this question, it's been a -- you know, live part of the debater on Modi in India has been that when he was chief minister of Gujarat he was really numero uno. He ran the state in a very centralized way with himself at the core. Now the question is, can you run India in that way? And the answer is obviously no.
DHUMESo my sense of this is that he's not going to try and run India the way he tried to run one state. It's like being the -- you know, being the captain of a merchant vessel versus being the captain of a super tanker. And what we've seen in the first week is that he is delegating. He has strong ministers. And you're going to see a governing style that is different from what you saw when he was running Gujarat.
NNAMDISadanand Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a columnist at the Wall Street Journal. He joins us in studio along with Sanjay Puri, chairman of the U.S. India Political Action Committee which represents 3.2 million Indian Americans. Joining us from studios at the BBC is Joanna Jolly, the BBC South Asia editor. You can join the conversation if you have questions or comments for us, 800-433-8850. What do you think of India's historic election? How important do you think India is or should be in U.S. foreign policy, 800-433-8850?
NNAMDIJo, women's safety seems to be an issue everywhere including in the U.S. where rape on campus and a shooting just over a week ago in the news. But it was also an issue in India's election. You mentioned the gang rape on a bus in December of 2012 that made headlines around the world. Just last week there was another horrific gang rape and hanging in India. The new prime minister campaign on the safety of women in Gujarat, what kinds of personal safety concerns do women have in India? And how has he addressed that in Gujarat?
JOLLYWomen have many personal safety concerns in India, both in rural areas and also in developed urban areas. Talking to women who -- I mean, I think some of this goes back to the fact that women's roles in India are changing. Women are more likely to be going out to work and they're less likely to be home. Of course women in rural areas have always gone out to work and worked in the fields and worked very hard. But in the city you have women who have a different sort of life than perhaps their mothers would've had. And then they're not so tied to the home.
JOLLYNow that they're out and about and they're more visible in society, a lot of women, especially in urban India say that they feel very vulnerable coming home at night using public transport, being on their own. And rape statistics are very hard to gather. And I almost don't really want to mention them here because I think they're very hard to say whether they're accurate or not. But India does seem to have a high incident of rape.
JOLLYBut what it definitely has is a low incident of prosecuting rape and many people don't report violence against them because they're worried of the treatment they will have both by the police, in hospitals where there's some pretty nasty and archaic tests for women who've gone through any sort of sexual assault. And then also in the courts. Even there, as I mentioned before, the laws have been amended.
JOLLYNow in Gujarat people have the perception that it was safer for women to travel around late at night on the streets. And I expect the people in India who went from Gujarat who said, you know, one reason we're voting for Modi is because we believe things are safer there. And so -- and we want that to be born out throughout India.
JOLLYIn order to make this happen throughout India, what Modi has to do now is to make sure that the new laws are properly implemented at a grassroots level by the police, by local officials, in the hospitals, and that women feel safer to be able to play a part in public life. And also will have more faith that if a crime is committed against them then something will be done about it.
NNAMDICan you talk about those new laws in your documentary following up on the issue of violence against women? What's changed? What hasn't?
JOLLYWell, there's a stiffer penalty now for aggravated rape, so rape with violence but not for the death penalty. And that's one of the amendments to the new laws. And these laws came about -- these amendments came about because after the Delhi gang rape in December, 2012 the Indian government asked for people to submit their ideas on how they should change the law. And a commission looked at these submissions -- there were thousands of submissions both from India and abroad -- and they amended the current laws to make them stricter really, to widen the definition of sexual assault.
JOLLYAnd also to bring about this idea that fast track courts could be implemented. Indian court system's very slow and it's very overburdened. And it wasn't unusual in the past for a rape case to take years if not a decade to be resolved. And now with the promise of fast track courts you could resolve a rape case in eight to ten months. We have seen some high profile cases be resolved in this way.
JOLLYAnd the rape that you mentioned that happened this week, it looks like a fast track court will be set up to deal with that. So those were the amendments that were introduced. And when I made this documentary, which was back in October last year, the amendments had only been in place for around six months. There have been some changes. There's certainly changes in Delhi and certainly changes in the way policing was taking place in Delhi because there was a very strongly-led women's police cell there.
JOLLYBut out of the capital in rural areas we found that the laws weren't still being -- were still not being implemented. Police were still not registering cases of sexual violence as much as the victims would've liked them to, and that archaic medical practices were still in place and that cases were taking a long time to come to court as well.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Adida who writes, "I do hope women's issues will be taken seriously by the new prime minister. Given last week's rape and hanging, it's clear the violence against women has not been addressed despite a lot of discussion." Sanjay, Indian Americans are concerned about these issues and the situation for women back in India. Can you talk about that and how you feel it affects India's international image?
PURIWell, you know, it's -- India runs an aggressive tourism campaign called Incredible India. And, you know, all the money that they spend on that I would recommend that they put their energy into making it more safe India. So because all the money you spend with a story like this kind of goes into a problem. And a lot of times even at social gatherings you're asked whether -- I'm going to be traveling to India -- is it safe or is it not?
PURIAnd as Joanna said, there are a lot of issues which this new government has to take on. And it's not just the laws. There is a whole sanitation issue that happens because a lot of these women, especially in the villages, etcetera, there are no toilets in all these homes. They have to go outside. And that creates an opportunity for people to create violence on them. So there is -- you know, Mr. Modi has talked about creating sanitation opportunities, so there's a whole variety of things.
PURINow obviously we have to keep in mind that he's been in office for about a week. And just like with President Obama, there are a lot of very high, sometimes unrealistic expectations. So -- but, you know, this is a very serious subject and it's something that is confronting him right now.
NNAMDIWhen you talk about sanitation opportunities and infrastructure I think Merriam in Arlington, Va. has something to say or ask about that. Merriam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MERRIAMThank you very much for taking my call. This is a wonderful discussion. Yes, I do. Having visited India recently, mainly the northern part of India, I couldn't help but to observe the lack of infrastructure both water, electricity, and this was not just in t he rural areas, people not having access to sanitation facilities within large cities. So it's not, you know, just a matter of the rural areas.
MERRIAMAlso I was in rural areas where I was in classrooms that just -- it was very reminiscent of Haiti. And also hearing that Mr. Modi is very interested in promoting business and building the military, and I'm wondering how he plans to meet the infrastructure and educational needs and the health needs. I understand there's privatized health for those who have. But as we all know, India is largely -- consists of those who do not have.
NNAMDIThat's a challenge, Sadanand.
DHUMEIt is a challenge. And it's a particularly big challenge because in many ways people have elected a prime minister to solve their local problems. But the prime minister has very limited say. So for example, on the law and order question, law and order is entirely a state issue. The prime minister in Delhi does not control the police force in all these states. At the same time, though, he has gone to the people and the people have voted for him, saying, well, it looks like the women in Gujarat are pretty safe to be walking around at 11:00 p.m. We want that, too.
DHUMEThe challenge for him is going to be, with very limited levers in New Delhi, how is he going to influence or change some of these things in a large country of 1.2 billion people?
PURIWell, in terms of what needs to happen, as Sadanand said, that he -- you know, there are laws that can be done sitting in Delhi. And I think some of those things have been done. Courts need to be moving faster. Those things are very, very important. But I think it also comes down to -- and this is where Mr. Modi can play a big role -- is it is the respect for women. It is -- really comes down to how men view women in a country like India. When a lot of the goddesses in India and the Hindu religion are women, how come this -- something like this happens. And I think that's where the education ministry, the Ministry of Women Empowerment, will play a big role.
DHUMEI just want to jump in and say that, you know, one, you know, you talked about these -- how some of these crimes have hurt India's image. I think that's entirely true. But there is a silver lining in all of this. I mean, this is -- this is not just a case of things getting worse. In fact, I don't believe things have gotten worse. But this is a case of a society no longer willing to bury some of these crimes and hush them over. So there's more visibility. There are more women who are gaining -- there are more women who are in new roles. And these are sort of -- this is part of what's come with the change.
DHUMEAnd I think, over time, it's entirely good that people in India are discussing these things and are outraged by them. That's much better than silence.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to call, the number is 800-433-8850. Do you see parallels around the world on the issue of violence against women? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing India's election and it's new prime minister with Joanna Jolly. She is the BBC South Asia editor. Sadanand Dhume is a resident fellow with the American Enterprise Institute and a columnist with the Wall Street Journal. Sanjay Puri is the chairman of the U.S. Indian Political Action Committee, which represents 3.2 million Indian-Americans. And we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Sadanand, switching gears to foreign policy, Modi has made some bold moves and despite being in office only a week, on his second day in office, he invited Pakistan's prime minister for a meeting. Can you talk about that and why it was significant?
DHUMEWell, on the campaign trail, I think as Joanna rightly pointed out, Modi had some pretty tough rhetoric towards Pakistan. And it goes into this whole idea of him as a strong leader, who's going to get India -- who's going to make India strong again, that he's taken a hard line.
DHUMEBut we found that as soon as he took office, in fact he invited the leader of Pakistan as well as the leader of all the other South -- leaders of all the other South Asian countries to his inauguration and had a one-on-one meeting with Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, the very next day. So it seems like he has started on a pragmatic, conciliatory note, which is entirely in keeping with his focus, which is going to be on the Indian economy.
NNAMDIOn economic development, Sanjay, it's been described as a new day in U.S.-India relationships. But the relationship between Modi and the U.S. has been strained since 2005, when Modi, then the chief minister of Gujarat State, was denied a visit to the U.S. We talked about that earlier. But how important is that now?
PURIWell, like I said, and I think it's been said again and again, that his focus is going to be on the economy. The U.S. is India's largest trading partner. That's just a fact. And I think he is very pragmatic and he understands. His priorities are infrastructure, energy -- at least to build some of the infrastructure one of your callers talked about. Well, the United States can definitely help him.
PURIIn terms of energy, India would like to get natural gas from the United States. India would also like to see investments from private equity and other places coming in. So I think he's pragmatic, he's going to look to move forward. But he's also looking at Asia quite aggressively. He's built some strong relationships in Japan and South Korea and others.
NNAMDIAny likely, continued hard feelings about that visa issue, nine years ago?
PURII don't think so. Like I said, he's looking to move forward.
NNAMDIOn to Sriram in Chevy Chase, Md. Shriram, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SRIRAMHello, Kojo. Thank you very much. And interesting discussion. I hope Modi does well for India because, in terms of the Indian economy, there's no way to go but up. The last three years, India has been rudderless under Mr. Manmohan Singh. And lots of bills have been shelved or postponed. But the expectations are very high and one has to be realistic about how much can be done, because the center is only part of the game. The states are also -- also have to play a part.
SRIRAMSecond, I wanted to say that people talk about India as if India is only North India. India is not a homogenous country. South India is very, very different -- to my mind, culturally more advanced -- much more advanced than Yupi and Rajasthan and so on in many respects, and much more tolerant and inclusive. In fact, in Tamil Nadu, one of the states, there were more female eligible voters in this election than males, because they don't have the kind of infanticide of females in the way that North Indian states, Hariana, Yupi, Rajasthan, all these states -- and Punjab has.
SRIRAMSo this is, you know, so India's a mélange, a mix of different cultures, different approaches. And I hope Modi can serve all the country together, being, as somebody said on panel, prime minister of a state is different from being prime minister of all of India. As for the toilets, I think it's a mindset. Half of all Indians have no public toilets, have no flush toilets, have no running water -- neither running water nor public toilets. So the BBC website, which showed a man defecating, I think...
NNAMDII've seen that.
SRIRAM...into a river, kids swimming in that same river. They might even be on a cell phone, meanwhile, while they're doing their business and still do that. So there's a whole mindset change needed in terms of public hygiene.
NNAMDIWell, you seem to be suggesting that what Mr. Modi had on his -- has on his hands is not just foreign policy and economic policy and domestic policy, but a whole cultural change that somehow or the other, because of the historic nature of his victory, that too seems to be on his shoulders, Sanjay Puri.
PURIWell, if you notice, one of the threads that he talked about was take pride in your country. He called this India first, India first. So there is a subtext that runs in his conversations, in his speeches, that be proud about your country. Don't throw trash around. Don't disregard your country. So I think he's going to make that a real push in there. And he's talked about getting people engaged in social service and things of that nature. So I think that is going to be a big focus on that, Kojo.
NNAMDIJoanna Jolly, care to comment on that.
JOLLYThat's a lot to expect of one man, isn't it?
JOLLYThat not only he has to turn the economy around, but he has to change very entrenched attitudes that have been held for a long time. But, yes, I think India is looking for somebody to be that sort of inspirational and aspirational, as someone mentioned before, leader. And I think, you know, this idea of changing a mindset is very true. I think your caller was very correct to say that, you know, just on the public toilet issue. I mean, Delhi has long had a terrible reputation of being a place where men would urinate in public. And it didn't really matter whether there was a toilet there or not.
JOLLYThat men felt that urinating in public seemed -- was an okay thing to do. And so that would be a mindset change, rather than facilities, which actually were quite often provided. So, yes, I think -- I mean, you do see campaigns at the moment, I think it's quite interesting, in the Indian media. For instance, Bollywood actors will come out about treating women better. And there's some very nice campaigns that came out after the December 12th gang rape, where actors spoke about the way they felt about women and asked people to respect women better.
JOLLYAnd they had -- they were very popular at the time. There were lots of campaigns. I think there -- I think Modi, in terms of changing some mindsets, Modi wouldn't have to push very hard. He wouldn't have to necessarily come from him. I think the mindsets are already changing.
NNAMDII'm glad you brought up Bollywood, because Kadane or Kadani, in Washington, D.C., wants to address that. Kadane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KADANEThank you, Kojo, for accepting my call. Yeah, as a person watching Indian movie in the early '70s, you know, these actors, they were really great ambassadors for India, you know. The movie, not only in terms of dividends for India, but they were -- they did really a great job in polishing India. But they seemed to get away right now. There's a lot of violence, you know. I just want to ask your panelists what they think about that. Thank you.
NNAMDIWhether the Indian movie industry is making a contribution or is not making as great a contribution as it used to towards the image of India around the world. Before I get back to foreign policy, Sanjay, you want to talk about that?
PURIWell, you know, Bollywood is actually -- you talk about soft power. I think Bollywood has done more to enhance the soft power around the world. I mean, you know, you can go to any reaches of -- you can go to Alaska and you'll find somebody who has seen a Bollywood movie and can relate. Now, that might be the wrong interpretation of India people. And average Indian, I presume, Sadanand, doesn't run around trees and sing songs...
DHUMEDon't bet on it.
PURI...maybe he does. But, you know, it's been a tremendous outreach. It's kept the next generation of Indian-Americans or people in the Diaspora connected to India. There is violence, but I would say there is violence in American movies, in Chinese Kung Fu movies, et cetera. Hopefully people know that that's a movie and this is real life. So I would say...
NNAMDIYeah. And Sadanand is not making movies. He's discussing politics, Sadanand, the U.S. and India have had some ups and downs in their relationship over the years. Can you remind us, some of the highs and lows in that relationship?
DHUMEYou know, for most of -- in the early years, after independence, you know, it seemed like the U.S. and India would be off to a good start. But what happened instead was that India embraced the idea of nonalignment. And the U.S., of course, was looking for allies against the Soviet Union. So for most of the Cold War, the U.S. and India had a pretty frosty relationship. We have seen a thaw, particularly since around 2000, where successive U.S. presidents have been to India, starting with Bill Clinton, followed by George W. Bush, and now with Obama.
DHUMEAnd the U.S. has really reached out to India as this democratic force in a region that we worry may end up being dominated overly by China. And so there's this thaw that's been going on, the degree to which, the fact that there were personal problems with Modi because of the visa issue, is going to kind of create a roadblock, is something that I think remains to be seen.
NNAMDIOn now to Christopher in Winchester, Va. Christopher, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTOPHERYeah. Thank you for taking my call, Kojo. My question is the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms. Jayalalitha, she refused to go in for the swearing in of President Modi because he had invited the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has oppressed the Tamils in Sri Lanka. So they have a lot of hope for their Tamils, along with Jayalalitha and Tamil Nadu, how they can influence Modi to help -- come to a, you know, come to a credible resolution for the Tamils in oppressed in Sri Lanka.
CHRISTOPHERI was wondering, your panelists, if they can advise how President Modi is going to appease Jayalalitha -- at the same time also come to the resolution in Sri Lanka, where the Tamils are oppressed.
DHUMEWell, you know, it's always -- for any Indian government, there's always a bit of a balancing act, right? On the one hand, you have Tamil Nadu, which is a large state of India, where many people feel a sense of affinity with their fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka. On the other hand, Sri Lanka is an important country for India. And India needs to maintain good ties with Sri Lanka, regardless of who is in power there. Now, because Mr. Modi has a stable majority of his own, because he does not need the support of Jayalalitha or any other of the Tamil parties, I think he's going to have much more wiggle room to kind of balance these two things.
DHUMEHe has spoken, however, about the importance of the Sri Lankan government treating its Tamil minority well. And so this is always going to be a foreign policy issue for India. It doesn't go away. But I think it's going to be somewhat less -- it's going to be somewhat more insulated from the pulls and pressures of Tamil Nadu politics because of the nature of Mr. Modi's majority.
NNAMDISanjay Puri, Modi has promised to roll out the red carpet, not the red tape, for businesses. That's ambitious in a country with a huge bureaucracy. What are some of the challenges he will face trying to do that at the national level?
PURIWell, you know, they have taxation issues that they need to sort out. They have reforms that they need to do regarding retroactive taxation. They have to figure out how much foreign direct investment they will allow in certain sectors. They started out by saying that they will have the ability to -- foreign companies would have the ability to invest up to 100 percent in defense-related industries if they do technology transfer. So that was a very good sign. But investors seek specific action and certain level of security.
PURIThe past government, with their retroactive taxation with (word?) and with the flip-flops, because of their coalition partners on the foreign direct investment into retail, have really stayed back and nothing has happened. So many projects have been put on hold. So clear, concise direction, which he did in Gujarat. He had really the red carpet, not red tape.
NNAMDIJo, which countries has India turned to most as economic partners?
JOLLYI don't know if I'm entirely qualified to talk about the Indian economy.
NNAMDIEspecially when you only have 30 seconds.
JOLLYI think Sadanand is the...
DHUMEWell, I think what you're going to see that on that front, probably the most important country for Modi is going to be Japan, because he has a particularly close relationship with Shinzo Abe. And infrastructure is at the heart of his economic program. And Japan can play a big role there.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. We've talked about Sri Lanka. We've talked about Pakistan. We've talked about India. And we haven't mentioned the most important word in all three of those countries, Cricket. That's for another discussion. Sanjay Puri is the chairman of the U.S. Indian Political Action Committee, which represents 3.2 million Indian-Americans. Sanjay, thank you for joining us.
PURIThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDISadanand Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He's also a columnist with the Wall Street Journal. Sadanand, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Joanna Jolly is the BBC's South Asia editor. Jo, thank you for joining us.
JOLLYThank you very much.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Coming up tomorrow on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," health, technology and transformation. From massive data bases to personal trackers, digital information is revolutionizing health care. A special broadcast from the fifth annual Health Data Palooza explores the future of hospital care, doctors' offices and patient involvement. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," Noon till 2:00 tomorrow on WAMU 88.5 and streaming at kojoshow.org.
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