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  • Modi Cut India’s Red Tape. Now He Hopes to Win Votes for His Work.

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  • MUMBAI — A jeans maker saw his delivery costs cut by half when highway police stopped asking for bribes. An aluminum wire factory faced only three inspectors rather than 12 to keep its licenses. Big companies like Corning, the American fiber-optic cable business, found they could wield a new bankruptcy law to demand customers pay overdue bills. Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised nearly five years ago to open India for business. Fitfully and sometimes painfully, his government has streamlined regulations, winnowed a famously antiquated bureaucracy and tackled corruption and tax evasion.But cutting red tape has yet to translate into broad growth for this emerging economy, or spark much outside investment. Small and medium-sized businesses have struggled to keep up with the pace of the overhaul. Some, which seldom paid taxes before, went bankrupt. Civil servants stumbled repeatedly in efforts to turn Mr. Modi’s abruptly issued policies into simple-to-follow standards.Now, as 900 million Indians go to the polls, Mr. Modi has to convince voters to stay the course and that his reforms — unconventional to many — are taking root. As the campaign between his Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Congress Party heats up, Mr. Modi faces an opponent, Rahul Gandhi, who contends that the prime minister has disrupted a functioning economy and caused job losses.“The economy is actually in tatters,” Congress Party spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala said.Mr. Modi’s team argues that if his party wins the national vote that ends May 19, growth will follow. “The first two years after key reforms, growth tends to slow,” said Amitabh Kant, who heads Mr. Modi’s economic policy commission. “Then the acceleration happens.”Key statistics on growth and unemployment have been delayed or disputed in recent months, leading to a torrent of economic bickering. Yet India has actually done more over the past four years to make it easy to do business than any country except tiny Djibouti and even tinier Brunei, a review of World Bank data shows. Researchers assessed the ease of obtaining construction permits, connecting electricity, drafting contracts and other variables. Business leaders, interviewed last month, consistently explain that they have seen corruption pared and bureaucracy reined in. Tax demands have been simplified, and many businesses now can go online to file for government permits and licenses.Mr. Modi is counting on India’s business class, a key constituency, and he has led in the polls. Detractors say that advantage has come at a cost. Mr. Modi has retained the political support to keep economic reforms moving in part by fanning sectarian tensions between the country’s Hindu majority and its Muslim minority. A factory district in Mumbai, a metropolis that is India’s most populous, shows how his program of change has started to crack a patronage system where everyone took a little but the national economy lost a lot. Mr. Modi’s idea to minimize graft has bee

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