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Given the reluctance of the political class to talk of the aspirations of an urbanising India, it is refreshing to hear BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi voice the ambition to create 100 new ‘smart’ cities, to talk of optic fibre grids across the country and dream of connecting India through bullet trains in the way Atal Bihari Vajpayee connected India through the golden quadrilateral of highways. The bullet train, Modi was right in telling BJP cadres at the Ramlila Maidan in the capital on Sunday, changed the face of Japan through the connectivity it provided, and China emulated Japan in providing similar top-end infrastructure. Indeed, given how jobs are being created in urban areas, if ‘Bharat’ has to prosper, the only way it can do so is by becoming part of ‘India’—no matter how romantic it may sound to better the lot of farmers, the vast majority of them have to move off the land if they are to prosper. And if 300 million Indians are going to move to urban areas over the next two decades—to use the McKinsey number, this means India needs to build 700-900 million square metres of commercial and residential space each year or two new Mumbais each year—India needs those 100 cities where people can walk to work, it needs those bullet trains if the rest are to commute to work over 200-300 kilometres every day.
What struck the most about Modi’s speech, though, was the distance even the BJP needs to travel if it wishes to lead this modern India. At a time when even bringing prosperity to rural India means liberalising agricultural trade, especially exports, Modi suggested real-time data on crop production so that decisions could be taken on whether to import or export—the latter is a bad idea and suggests the BJP sees no contradictions between developing export markets and on-off export policies. Similarly, given how India’s energy demand, according to a McKinsey analysis, is expected to more than double to 1,508 million tonnes of oil equivalent (mtoe) by 2030 from 691 mtoe in 2010, this means current levels of supply are woefully inadequate. In the case of coal where demand will rise to 750 mtoe from 283 mtoe, this means private coal mining has to be brought in immediately—as in the case of other minerals, however, the BJP remains wedded to the idea of only ‘actual users’ being allowed to