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How will Narendra Modi usher in India’s new ‘age of achievement’?

September 28, 2014 at 6:26 PM EDT
On Sunday, thousands attended a speech in New York City by new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who declared that India is entering a new age of achievement. Alyssa Ayres of the Council on Foreign Relations joins Alison Stewart to discuss the details behind the new leader's plans.
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ALISON STEWART: During a speech attended by thousands today at Madison Square Garden in New York, the new Indian prime minister Narendra Modi predicted that India is entering a new age of achievement. He meets with president Obama tomorrow.

For more about the man and his plans, we’re joined now by Alyssa Ayers, she’s a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Alyssa, you just came from Madison Square Garden, can you briefly describe the scene there.

ALYSSA AYRES: It was really the Indian-American community’s welcome reception for the new Indian prime minister. The entire stadium was filled with excitement. You could hear people chanting, ‘Modi, Modi, Modi.’ It’s his first visit to the United States in many years.

There was a real pent-up excitement among the Indian-American community to have him here and welcome him as India’s new prime minister and hear what he had to say.

ALISON STEWART: He was recently elected just last Spring in a landslide. Tell us why he was elected at such a decisive victory, and a little bit more about him.

ALYSSA AYRES: He campaigned very specifically on a platform of economic growth and good governance. Those twin messages came at a time in India when the previous government had been plagued by corruption scandals, so the good government’s message was a very important one.

Voters were hearing that and saying, ‘you know what, let’s vote for a change.’ And most importantly his message on economic growth at a time when Indian growth rates had dipped below five percent from peaks of nearly 10 percent in 2009 to 2010.

Indian citizens heard the Modi message about getting the economy back on track, looking for the promise of more jobs, greater opportunities, and I think that was the secret to the success of his party.

ALISON STEWART: Now there’s been a series of irritations between India and the United States over the past few years. What are some of those irritations and what do you think the president and the prime minister will discuss as a result of this?

ALYSSA AYRES: It’s certainly the case that there has been some challenges particularly in the trade and economic relationships over the course of the last couple years. It was exacerbated by the fact that Indian growth rates slowed, which made the business environment a little bit more challenging for a lot of American companies that had previously been big champions of the Indian story.

Some of these irritants have to do with trade, areas where we don’t see eye to eye. India recently also decided not to ratify a very important agreement that had been reached under the WTO — something called the trade facilitation agreement. I’m sure that will be a topic of conversation between the two leaders.

There are some other elements there. I think the United States would like to see the possibility of the civil nuclear initiative move into a commercial operation — that’s another irritant that’s been of long standing.

ALISON STEWART: And finally, what is his stance, his approach to Pakistan?

ALYSSA AYRES: He has an approach to Pakistan that seems premised on the idea that outreach and communication can try to help bridge their divide very early on. The prime minister invited all the heads of government from the surrounding countries in South Asia to attend his inauguration.

But among the many meetings that he held with heads of government from around the South Asian countries, his meeting with Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif was the one that was most heavily covered and paid attention to. Now, there have been some problems here in that relationship and most recently planned meeting between Pakistani foreign secretaries was cancelled, because the Pakistani high commissioner had met with Kashmiri separatists in India.

I think what you saw in prime minister Modi’s speech at the UN General Assembly yesterday was a call for more dialogue with Pakistan, but he was very firm that this can’t take place under the shadow of terrorism. So, he’s looking to see Pakistan do more to reign in the threat of terrorism and the threat of terrorists so they can work to try to advance, or normalize the relations.

ALISON STEWART: Alyssa Ayres, thank you so much.

ALYSSA AYRES: Thank you for having me.

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