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India’s New Vision

4 minute read

Barack Obama may be the leader of the world’s most powerful democracy, but not its largest one; that distinction belongs to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom Obama wrote about in our recent TIME 100 issue. Modi is now completing his first year in office, and the sense of expectation and energy in his country is palpable. When I met with him earlier this month at his residence in New Delhi, with TIME Asia editor Zoher Abdoolcarim and South Asia bureau chief Nikhil Kumar, Modi was at the center of a whirlwind, with an ambitious reform program at home, 16 trips abroad with China up next, a new al-Qaeda threat against him, and economists challenging whether he would be able to drive India to the 8% GDP growth projected for the coming fiscal year.

We discussed these topics and more over the course of two hours, in the only extended interview he has given as Prime Minister. A recurring phrase, like the chorus to each verse of the conversation, was “I firmly believe,” and indeed he projects a sense that he plans to move his country into the forefront of nations by force of will and conviction. He was by turns practiced and passionate as he talked about what it will take to overcome India’s modern history of missed opportunities, what it will take to drive economic growth without environmental damage and what distinguishes the U.S.-India relationship after years of often awkward interaction. For the U.S. and India are more than just the world’s two biggest democracies. They are diverse, multiethnic and multicultural democracies, and at a moment when many nations are debating how to balance national identity with ethnic diversity, India continues to provide a bracing example.

Modi’s ideological roots lie in a strain of Hindu nationalism that can make minority Muslims and Christians uneasy. But he went to great lengths to address that concern. “The diversity of India, of our civilization, is actually a thing of beauty,” he said, and noted as well that “India by its very nature is a democracy. It is not just as per our constitution that we are a democratic country; it is in our DNA.” A devout belief in the power of those values is essential to move India forward, he argued, and whether Modi can succeed will provide no end of lessons to young democracies that are watching him closely.

Nancy Gibbs, EDITOR

What You Said About …

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