New Delhi: A long, long time ago, in the heydays of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, the world did not care for India very much aside from expressions of bitterness or bemusement about its nonalignment. The single biggest factor ranged against India was its economic backwardness, which denuded it of weight and stature in international politics.

Nehru did his best. But his best was not good enough. Having become Prime Minister of a newly independent country pauperized by centuries of foreign rule and conquests, he tried to revive the economy through mixed means and five year plans. He laid invaluable foundations for the country’s economic and industrial growth, but failed to see the big fruits in his lifetime.

Indira Gandhi’s strong suit was nationalism, securing India from external threats, and so on, but she deliberately wrecked the Indian economy for her own selfish reasons. To capture absolute power and the capital necessary for it, she imposed the license-permit-quota raj, which, if you believe a recently produced NITI Ayog paper, still exits and prospers, choking India’s powerhouse small and medium industries.

India came to be respected internationally after 1991. Manmohan Singh’s reforms unleashed the Indian animal spirits, and India was never the same again. If Sonia Gandhi had not felt so threatened by Manmohan Singh’s potential as Prime Minister, she would have permitted the reformer to run the full mile. The world waited in vain for second generation reforms.

Still, hopes were not lost, and world leaders had high expectations from Narendra Modi to pick up where Manmohan Singh had faltered. The exultation about his election in 2014 largely flowed from renewed hopes in the Indian economy. Modi has comprehensively dashed them.

It takes a special kind of genius to destroy a healthy economy. Modi managed that with demonetization. Nobody believes his spins about demonetization. He should take care not to spin demonetization with foreign leaders and financial experts like Emanuel Macron. He will be laughed out of court.

The tragedy is, of course, greater than demonetization. The Indian economy is mortally shocked and wounded by his quackery and capricious ways. As the world gets more and more integrated and complex and needs a variety of experts to chart a course through the perilous maze, the Modi government is banishing them. Policy-making has acquired the character and form of trial and error, and the economic consequences have been immediate and disastrous. GDP growth in the first quarter of this year dipped below six per cent and under four on the old calculation. Since quarter after quarter has shown decline, the world is bound to ask, “Has the Indian economy lost its promise, or has Modi wrecked it?”

The stark fact is the feel good factor has gone missing from the economy. Such economic activity as is happening is courtesy the never-say-die small and medium entrepreneurs, who are nevertheless inexorably being driven to the wall by the powerful residues of the license raj. Indian big industry, on the other hand, is not investing. While flattering Modi in personal interactions, it does not trust the economic environment he has created. Business sentiments will not look up at this rate for a long time, and perhaps as long as Modi remains at the helm.

Bad sentiments spread like bad news quickly. Once world leaders realize Narendra Modi does not have it in him to steer the Indian economy to sustained growth, they will not only switch off from him (which is fine), they will also give up on India (which is unacceptable). And no sooner than the world loses interest in the Indian growth story (deeming it to be not happening), it will consign India to the old place: as being just another post-colonial country that could not make the grade.

This writer expects nothing to change under Narendra Modi. Indeed, he denies anything wrong. Highly egoistic, he cannot admit to failure. Lacking in intellect furthermore, he loathes experts. Where Manmohan Singh was vastly informed and insightful about the Indian economy and its great moving forces, Modi is clueless. At once simple and complex, business is about sentiments. When sentiments fail, recovery is slow and painful if at all.

And since so much of geopolitics is about geo-economics, India’s economic failure under Narendra Modi will affect its international power status.