Can India's Future Be Taken For Granted?

There is a lot of talk about India as a developed nation. Developed nation by 2020, that seems to be the consensus everywhere. In India, every businessman or policy maker you meet are absolutely convinced that this is going to happen. Already grand plans are being made to accelerate the speed of growth: The Chinese benchmark of 10% GDP growth is what Indian government wants to beat. In the West, commentators are going one up on the debate: They are not just talking about India and China and their growth, they are talking about how this century will be shaped by the rivalry of China and India, and whether we will have the rerun of the great wars that afflicted the last century.

All of it takes Indian prosperity for granted. There is ample reason to do so. The young population, English speaking urban class, huge natural resources, all of it may count towards it. In fact, no one knows what the unlocking of this vast economy has in store: India's villages and millions have hibernated for ever under the might of empires, domestic and alien. It has never been freed. Its great power is expected to hold the world in awe, its enterprise is to change this century as Americans did the last, and its vast power of people - raw hands - is to lift the world's productive capacity manifold and earn India its rightful place.

And, also, it is critical that it must happen. This is to be the last great frontier of market capitalism, bringing about 40% of the world's population in the fold - the final stage of diffusion of industrial revolution. Once India and China are in the fold, prosperity reaches its billions, that will be the end of history. China is already getting there: India must catch up. In all the talk about India's emergence, there is this expectation mixed with fear: It must happen, otherwise it would not be.

But that's the fear I shall echo here. It is indeed flattering to be compared with great industrial nations of the past century, but India's path is fraught with danger. For all the talk, India today looks much like Argentina in the beginning of the twentieth century - large landholding, a system of privileges, power in too few hands, too many barriers to individual freedom - than the Golden Age America. We consistently underestimate the cost of corruption: The feeling is that this is going to go away if the country grows rich. But, instead, with every bit of prosperity, corruption strengthens its hold, it becomes more pervasive, condemning institutions hitherto untouched - like judiciary and media, not to mention military - and its pettiness pervading all aspects of daily life. More than anything, the corruption may stop that ultimate leap to prosperity, just as it did for Argentina.

Corruption and the culture of privileges go hand in hand, and in that respect, all the efforts in India are misdirected. India wants to be in the top league almost wishing away its poor, just by making the rich richer, by speaking English, and by putting up its cities in front of the world. There is almost no recognition that its great power can only come from waking up its forgotten villages, the unlocking of hidden capacity: Its fragile cities, its cocky middle class, its dated education system and its privileged and pampered urban babus do not give it any great advantage or lift to compete at the top table. Not just this, the current development model adopted by India in fact is tearing it apart: Its society is being pulled from all sides by an emerging technocratic privilege system, and an undecided and weak coalition for a government is slowly ceding power to a fanatic nationalism of sorts. Without a deliberate act of political imagination and action, India may soon be consumed by the self-destructive rage of the fascist Europe, and the inward violence of similar sort may soon erupt.

India has a great promise, but it should not take itself for granted. One thing for sure: This is India's moment. Its success or failure will determine where capitalism goes next. The fragility of it all makes one nervous: Possibilities and Challenges are both so enormous, that they can tear India, and along with that, the current Capitalist consensus, apart. The fear is contentment. Like a typical adolescent civilization, Indians are taking the progress for granted. A false sense of history is being created; a false sense of presence is being promoted in the public life. In its pressure, India is becoming the most staunchly nationalist country, and a wild west of Capitalism. And, in this land grab, we are facing the real risk of wasting it all, the promises and the possibilities - much like Argentina, and a little like Fascist Italy by the day.


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