Modi rode to victory in elections last year on a wave of economic dissatisfaction. But while many reformers before him have talked a good game, Modi has actually begun to deliver on his promises—making genuine progress in his efforts to make India more business-friendly and less regulated, addressing violence against women, improving sanitation, and patching up relations with other Asian countries and the U.S. There is, to be sure, a long way to go. Fully achieving any of his goals will require reforming India’s powerful, widely corrupt bureaucracy. But he has put the bureaucrats on notice while taking action where he can—for example, by substantially increasing allowable foreign investment in the insurance industry. And in greatly simplifying the procedure for getting a visa to visit India, he has symbolically lowered the status of bureaucrats and raised that of potential outside investors. Modi still faces such huge challenges as privatizing India’s vast portfolio of state-owned businesses and deregulating labor markets.
But simply by declaring those as goals, he has seized control of the national agenda and sent a message that it’s time for all of India—not just its infotech services sector—to join the 21st century. The IMF and other forecasters now believe India will be growing faster than China in a year or two.