Opinion

Ian Bremmer

How far can Modi take India — and how fast?

Ian Bremmer
May 20, 2014 22:38 UTC

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As a result of last week’s parliamentary election in India, three of the world’s strongest and most transformational leaders are now in Asia: Japan’s Shinzo Abe, China’s Xi Jinping, and India’s Narendra Modi. They control a fifth of the global economy and govern two-fifths of its citizens. All have active plans to shake up their societies.

The expectations and the stakes are sky-high for each of these leaders, but none more so than Modi. Last week, Modi won the world’s largest-ever democratic election in a decisive fashion, with his party converting 31 percent of the national vote into 52 percent of the seats in parliament — the first absolute majority in the lower house of parliament since 1984. Meanwhile, the reigning National Congress Party — which has ruled India nearly without a break since its independence from Britain — turned in its worst-ever performance, losing three-quarters of its seats.

Why do Indian voters find Modi so appealing — or, depending on your outlook, Congress’ leadership so repulsive? As chief minister of Gujarat, his state of 60 million people, Modi unlocked economic gains reminiscent of China. During his 12-year tenure, Gujarat’s per capita income outpaced the national average, rising almost fourfold. Modi put his money where his mottos were — “less government and more governance” and “no red tape, only red carpet” —  paring back suffocating state inefficiencies to unlock business potential and competitiveness. This is precisely what the Congress party has been unable to solve at a national level, with high inflation, lagging economic growth (at least by historical standards), and legislative gridlock that makes America’s Congress look like a well-oiled machine.

Indian voters want Modi to implement the Gujarat model on a national scale. The question is whether Modi can do so as quickly and dramatically as Indians demand. Unlike China and Japan, power in India remains woefully decentralized, and a sweeping win won’t change that. We won’t see a quick recovery in India’s legislative output, which last year was at its least productive levels in history. That’s because the houses of parliament remain split, with the Congress party and its allies maintaining a plurality of seats in India’s upper house, the Rajya Sabha. Congress holds 12 of India’s 28 (soon to be 29) states, which in turn elect the upper house members; Modi’s BJP has only five.

The next round of elections, where only a third of the chamber’s seats will be in play, doesn’t happen until 2016. And just as the BJP has derailed the Congress party agenda in an opposition role over the last decade, now we’ll see a role reversal, with Congress engaging in rabid obstructionism. Modi will struggle to cut enough red tape to match voters’ lofty expectations. When it comes to politically sensitive issues like labor, energy and agriculture, structural reforms that require legislative fixes will be hard to implement any time soon.

Japan’s path forward, in five steps

Ian Bremmer
May 9, 2014 20:28 UTC

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On the surface, Barack Obama’s recent Japan visit struck all the right chords for Tokyo. For the first time ever, an American president stated that the U.S.-Japan security treaty extends to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute, the most combustible geopolitical conflict between Japan and China. And Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a “key milestone” for negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the trade deal that encompasses 12 countries and more than 40 percent of the world’s economic output.

But there was less to the visit than meets the eye. Obama’s Senkaku pledge was a restatement of existing U.S. policy. The “key milestone” on TPP was never identified; in fact, it seems that the 40 hours of bilateral discussions between the U.S. and Japan led to no breakthrough at all. And while the trip was a big win for Obama — he managed to placate Tokyo without provoking Beijing — it didn’t offer any solutions for how Japan should deal with a rising China.

With the United States disengaging on foreign policy and China rapidly expanding its influence, Japan is caught in a dire geopolitical position. But Tokyo still has options. Here are five foreign policy priorities for Japan.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
May 5, 2014 22:14 UTC

Political risk must-reads

Eurasia Group’s selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie — presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @ianbremmer.

U.S. diplomacy: failure to launch

Russian Diplomats Are Eating America’s Lunch – James Bruno, POLITICO  

Russian ambassadors to the 28 NATO nations have 960 years of diplomatic experience. The same group of U.S. ambassadors has 331 years of experience. Russia has two political appointees serving as ambassadors to NATO countries; America has 16. What impact are these experience and preparedness gaps having in the current Ukraine crisis?

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