10/01/2014 02:49 pm ET Updated Dec 01, 2014

Why Narendra Modi's Critics Are Wrong

Bloomberg via Getty Images

As they say: It's the economy, stupid.

Lately, it has become fashionable to criticize everything, no matter what the validity or consequences of that criticism. Nowhere is it more on display than in the aftermath of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's historic visit to the U.S. and his speech at Madison Square Garden.

Critics, ranging from The Economist with a startlingly lopsided article, to South Asians pretending to be objective, have rushed to express their disapproval of Modi and detract from what he is trying to accomplish. It is a form of schadenfreude that at best constitutes noise, but at worst is destructive.

Let's focus on the primary criticism, which hinges around Modi's handling of the Hindu-Muslim riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002. While the incident is a definite blemish on his track record, there is no reason to assume that it is indicative of his administration at this moment or in the future. On the contrary, he has stated explicitly that he wants the government to be inclusive of all Indians, including the nation's 13 percent Muslim population.

That does not excuse what happened in Gujarat but it does present Indians with a simple choice: either move forward or keep looking backwards.

Modi's agenda, though ambitious and encompassing everything from strengthening national security and promoting cleanliness to the ending of government corruption, has a clear focal point, and that is economic reform and growth.

India, today, is uniquely positioned to realize the benefits and economic power deriving from a virtually endless pool of human capital, an overwhelmingly young demographic (65 percent of the nation's population is 35 or under), and a substantial presence in the rapidly growing information technology and telecom arenas, but can't do so without revamping its archaic and restrictive market regulations, creating more jobs, developing its infrastructure, and attracting foreign capital.

In addition, without economic prosperity and the lifting of the lower and middle classes, no amount of social justice will enable India to compete in the global marketplace; or its citizens, including minorities, to thrive and advance. Narendra Modi, having come from a humble background, understands this fact well.

Scholarly (though sometimes specious) analyses, historical context, and cultural sensitivity are valuable tools to understand the world we live in, and to slowly improve it, but are not that useful for the day-to-day governing of a nation of 1.25 billion people, which requires making hard choices and taking action. Modi has set his priorities based on the most urgent need of the majority of Indians, both at home and abroad -- which is the modernization of its commercial framework and the generation of wealth -- and that is exactly as it should be.

The bottom line is that while it is convenient for the intellectual elite of India or elsewhere to live in an ivory tower of indignation and utopian ideals, it is even more important for most people to eat... Over time, other priorities, including the upliftment of all citizens left behind by the system, will be realized as well, but to expect a freshly elected leader to address every possible challenge right out of the gate is unreasonable.

Another aspect to consider is that society is a construct of many building blocks, which include not just justice and equality, but economic well-being, law and order, national security, and civic sense. These different blocks may interweave with each other but from a macro perspective, the economy forms the base on which everything else rests and can be supported (or not).

India's economic foundation, despite the frenetic growth seen in the past decade, is weak and beset by inefficiencies, cronyism, and overregulation; and these problems require a clear vision and sustained determination to solve. Modi's critics may roll their eyes at the euphoria in Madison Square Garden or bristle at the rock star treatment given to him by foreign leaders, but should realize that this support is also essential for his mandate to succeed -- a mandate that could impact not only India but its global trading partners as well.

Good leaders are symbols of hope and purpose, both of which Modi embodies right now. It is these things that people are supporting and without which India would remain stuck in a rut on every front. The alternative of doing nothing, which previous governments have done plenty of, is no alternative at all. I agree that it is still early and that we need to wait and see how Modi performs, but he should at least be given the benefit of the doubt.

It's time, therefore, to suspend the criticism and let our new leader do his job without the peanut gallery heckling that undermines our credibility in front of the world, and which can hamper Modi's ability to do what he has set out to do.

Anything else is self-indulgent and counter-productive.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a commentator and the author of two thriller novels. Visit his website at and follow him @sanghoee.