Kumar was joined in conversation by Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy, for a discussion about India’s economic development and prime minister Narendra Modi’s reform agenda.

He stated that democracy is not a luxury, but a necessity in India—it is the only form of government for such a diverse country. The 2014 elections were proof of this, bringing a peaceful change of power and reversing a trend of fragmentation and identity politics. Kumar credited the middle class, who are essential voices in India’s future development, with this smooth transition.

Kumar fears Modi’s promise of reform had raised expectations that have not been met in his first year of leadership. The Modi approach has been one of ‘pragmatic incrementalism’ with a focus on small-scale, non-controversial reform and he has not yet focused on building cross-party coalitions for more radical change.

However, the country’s gradual economic recovery is still in need of a reboot, and the population will likely soon demand to see results. Kumar suggested three areas in need of focus:

  1. Building government capacity to increase internal efficiency and work collaboratively with civil society and the private sector
  2. Improving both domestic and foreign investor confidence. The positive foreign climate will help facilitate this.
  3. Improving communication about policy successes. Otherwise, it seems as though it is still 'business as usual' to a demanding population.

In the conversation that followed, participants questioned why Western relations with India are not stronger, considering that India is the world's largest democracy and promises long-term stability. As the Legatum Institute’s ‘Democracy Works’ project outlines, there is great value in strengthening ties with, and highlighting the achievements of, developing democracies such as India, and using them as possible models for transitioning countries. All too often Western policies overlook developing democracies, whose future development will have a lasting impact on global security.

Kumar’s paper on India is the second in a series of case studies on 'Building Coalitions for Reform' organised by the Legatum Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies, and World Affairs that explores the politics of economic reform in developing democracies.

Opening remarks were provided by Alanna Putze, Senior Programme Director at the Legatum Institute.


About the Speakers

Rajiv Kumar is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, (Delhi) and Chancellor of the Gokhale Institute of Economics and Politics. He is also the Founding Director of Pahle India Foundation, a non-profit research organization that specialises in policy oriented research and analysis. His previous positions include: Secretary General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (2010-2012); Director & Chief Executive of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (2006-2010); and Chief Economist of the Confederation of India Industries (2004-2006) as well as various government roles in the 1990s. His latest book Exploding Aspirations: Unlocking India’s Future (2104) is a collection of his columns.

Carl Gershman is President of the National Endowment for Democracy, a private, congressionally supported grant-making institution with the mission to strengthen democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts. In addition to presiding over the Endowment’s grants programs, he has overseen the creation of the quarterly Journal of Democracy, the International Forum for Democratic Studies, and the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program. He also took the lead in launching in New Delhi in 1999 the World Movement for Democracy, a global network of democracy practitioners and scholars. Gershman is currently encouraging other democracies to establish their own foundations devoted to the promotion of democratic institutions in the world.

Alanna Putze is a Senior Program Director for the Legatum Institute’s Transitions Forum, which examines the challenges and opportunities of radical political and economic change. She previously served as a European Policy Advisor at the US Department of Defense and as a communications consultant, managing thought leadership campaigns for government and corporate clients.