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Indians Wait For Prime Minister Modi's Promises Of Better Days


It was one year ago this week that India's new prime minister came into office. Narendra Modi promised to rejuvenate the economy and transform India into a global player. Over the next few minutes, we're going to look at where India stands 12 months into Modi's government. On the line with us from New Delhi is NPR's Julie McCarthy. Good morning.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And Julie, does it feel different?

MCCARTHY: Well, Indians want to believe that the better days are here, which is what Modi's winning pitch was. That was his winning pitch. And he gets kudos for cracking down on corruption and unleashing a kind of general optimism. But a lot of Indians, Renee, according to the public opinion surveys, believe that better days are not yet quite here. Modi has inflamed farmers, this huge constituency, with a land acquisition bill. Decent education is a very elusive thing still. And his signature Make in India campaign that invited foreign investors to build factories in India the way they did in China largely remains a slogan. Now another way to see this, of course, is that change in India is glacial, even with a go-getter like Narendra Modi.

MONTAGNE: What about the economy? Generally speaking, are there positive signs there?

MCCARTHY: Oh, most definitely there are positive signs. The World Bank is predicting, for one, that as China's growth rate slows, India will outpace it to become the world's fastest-growing economy. Inflation here is down. The Indian rupee is stable. Modi has presided over an economy that is slowly improving, and, to his great fortune, the global price of oil has fallen at the same time. He's also encouraged, Renee, 150 million Indians who never had bank accounts before to open them for the first time, and that represents a remarkable shift socially for India.

MONTAGNE: And what about foreign investors? Are they bullish on India?

MCCARTHY: Well, they see foreign direct investment opening up. You know, outside investors can now own up, for example, to 49 percent of a company in the defense sector. Now that's not enough for some, but foreign investors in the renewable energy are starting to see India as this wild west of opportunity. There's so much demand and so little supply. And they have pledged at least tens of billions of dollars in investment. Now on the reform side, Modi's record is a little less dazzling. There's still an ocean of red tape and regulations to swim through for businesses, and until there is this more salubrious environment for business, investors will hang back when India needs them to surge.

MONTAGNE: He's certainly, though, been out courting foreign investors. He's made lots and lots of trips overseas. So has he, in that sense, delivered on his promise to make India more of a global player?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think the image of India on the cusp of this international renown, it excites people here. And he gets credit for that with these high-profile visits to the United States and China. And abroad, he draws red-carpet, rock-star treatment. But at a time when there's so many domestic problems, all this globetrotting wrangles a lot of Indians who say there's more theatrics than there is substance to those trips. But, Modi argues, look, I'm encouraging better relations and more investment.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Julie McCarthy in New Delhi measuring the last 12 months under Modi. Thank you very much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.