I recently spoke in an event discussing world economies 'beyond China': My topic was Africa and I reported what I spoke about in an earlier post on this blog (Read Beyond China: Why Africa Matters). I was, however, not speaking about India's prospects in this changed world. It is only fitting for me to supplement my earlier post with what I think of India's prospects.
China's prosperity and ascendancy present both a great opportunity and a grim challenge to India. China's economic growth, and consequent rise in Military Power, dwarf India's position in its immediate neighbourhood, where it faces many challenges anyway. Its relative loss of significance will both impact its domestic polity, where a particular firebrand nationalism is on the rise, and its resource economies, which is far more interdependent with its neighbouring countries than Indians will like to believe. At the time when the United States and China are particularly prone to falling into a 'Thucydides Trap', pitting the ruling power against a rising one (read more about Thucydides Trap here), a defensively minded insecure India is great danger of becoming America's foot-soldier in Asia, embarking in pointless challenges to China's hegemony. At the same time, however, a rising China presents an unparallelled opportunity for India for partnership and shared growth, because the economies and societies of these two nations can be seen as interdependent and complementary. India's skills can be useful to China's vast material economy, and China can dramatically expand the market for Indian goods, services and people. China is, in more ways than one, India's big opportunity.
However, such economic common sense is likely to be trumped by binary, antagonistic views of the world, coming out of politically motivated constructions of India's history. What makes such partnership even more difficult is because India, so far, has displayed what one would call a 'closed mind'. Pratap Bhanu Mehta came up with this wonderful comparison between China and India, which, for anyone even vaguely familiar with both countries, will find intuitively appealing: China, he says, is a closed society, but has an open mind. India, in contrast, has an open society, but as a nation, a closed mind. This description seems apt: Despite India's vibrant democracy, young population and wonderful entrepreneurs, the limits of its own imagination holds India back. While Indian professionals earn plaudits for their intelligence, knowledge and work ethic from all over the world, India collectively seems to be caught up in an interminable adolescence, viewing itself as a perennial victim and constructing an introverted world view around the same.
While there are sociological and historical explanations of this phenomenon which make it look deeply rooted and difficult to change, this is a massive tragedy. India's attempts to bracket itself with its bigger neighbour increasingly looks vain; despite its cacophonous democracy, its claim to a premier role in the world community is rendered fragile by its inability to engage. Its callous disregard for its own poor citizens, almost comical corruption of its 'Babu' class, the persistent and self-defeating moral relativism of its public life, put a serious dent to its claim to economic dynamism. And, this is not just about competing with China or impressing the bond market: The demographic 'dividend' that the Indians make so much about can very easily turn into a demographic disaster, if India fails to deliver its promise.
In their perceptive book 'Why Nations Fail', Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson make a point that may be valid for India: Contrasting economies such as Mexico and the United States, they show countries prosper when its citizens limit the power of its elite. And this works even in the old economies: Their point is that the English Industrial Revolution owes a lot to its revolutions in the Seventeenth century, which limited the powers of its aristocracy and the Church and opened up spaces for its scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs. On the other hand, in countries like Mexico, the ruling classes and their cronies accumulated unchallenged power, and this went beyond politics and invaded all walks of life. One needed to be 'connected' to do anything in these economies, hindering social mobility and economic dynamism. This was also the case made by Alan Beattie in his False Economy, in the narrative why Argentina could not become United States, despite having similar starting points. The case currently being made for a 'strong leader' in India is the case for leaving it to the elites, its upper classes, to take care of the country through unchecked capitalist development. This has failed before, and except in economics fantasy, this has never worked anywhere else.
Given the experience so far, India may follow the path of Argentina, succumbing into a fragile economy, rather than developing robust institutions and making good of its implicit promise of the rule of law for all its citizens. To do so, however, it has to approach its own problems with an open mind. At a time when the Indian heartland is teeming with insurgency and the Indian government is having to pull back the Helicopter Gunships that it sent to the UN Peacekeeping missions in Central Africa for use on its own people, India is uneasy talking about its model of development: Any idea that is remotely foreign is usually rejected out of hand, though this idea of an India based on shared history itself is directly imported from Europe. Anything short of a rosy portrayal of India, is immediately jumped upon, with the claim that such discussion is not patriotic and worse, an evidence of worldwide conspiracy to undermine India. Anyone bothering to talk about the 'other' India, the one which is being systematically robbed by corporate interests, are heckled into silence; sadly, most Indian middle class professionals, sensible in other walks of life, join the Social Media gangs employed by Prime Ministerial hopefuls in suppressing any discussion.
India's opportunity, I shall argue, is not in building a capitalist Disneyland or submitting to a strong leader, but in building a strong citizenry and respecting rights and promoting opportunities. Instead of living in denial of its own problems, its future lies in opening up to the world and engaging with it. At this very moment, India's path is a choice between a path of adversity and confrontation with the inevitable self-destruction at its wake, or the prospect of cultivation of a common Asian future alongside China. Such economic common-sense is usually trumped by historical memory and self-serving elites; India can, and should, do more to be introspective and reinvent itself to be ready for a world of Chinese preeminence.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Reli
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
It's not often that I get to do things I like, but, as it happens, the lockdown came with a little gift. I was asked to develop, by an Indian entrepreneur with a strong commitment to education, a framework for a Liberal Education for one of his schools. And, as a part of this exercise, I was asked to develop a critique of Indian Education, if only to set the context of the proposal I am to make. I claim to have some unusual - therefore unique - qualification to do this job. I am, after all, an outsider in all senses. I have lived outside India for a long time, but never went too far away, making it my field of work for most of the period. I have also been outside the academe but never too far away: Just outside the bureaucracy but intimately into the conversations. I worked in the 'disruptive' end of education without the intention to disrupt and in For-profit without the desire for profit. Along the way, the only thing I consistently did is study educatio
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.