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India – From Third World to Emerging Giant. Really?

As I look at modern India afresh, it is eye-opening to say the least, to witness the scope of change that has swept across the country over the past couple of decades. This is the case ever since the country opened its doors to international trade under the Rao administration in the early ’90s. So over the years of visiting India since that time, one could feel the transformation occurring. Today, what I see is really the accumulation of all that has happened in these intervening years and it’s remarkable and amazing. [In this post, I will try my best to stay away from some basic things that should have changed, but did not].

All in all, these economic reforms have made a profound and  colossal impact on the country – in how people live today and in how they think about the future and in its sheer economic potential.

Map showing India and Worldwide Foreign Relations

LEGEND: Grey:India; Dark Blue: Countries with key military, strategic and economic relations with India; Med Blue: Key strategic and economic relations; Lt Blue: Favorable Relations; Red: Border/Territory disputes with India

I recently came across an interview with an economist who put some numbers to my thoughts. As much as one may imagine they know about India’s future, these numbers were…well, mind-boggling.

The economist in question is Arvind Panagriyaa Professor of Economics & Jagdish Bhagwati Professor of Indian Political Economy at Columbia University and a Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.  He is also author of a book, The Emerging Giant, which was published in 2008 and described by Fareed Zakaria as the ‘definitive book on the Indian economy’. 

Here are some of the points he made about India and the future of the nation in a recent interview (content of interview paraphrased below):

India will be a global Superpower in the next 15 yrs – by about 2025.

In the last eight years, India has grown about 8-9% in real rupees, which translates to about 13% in real dollars. Even if the growth is 10% a year, the economy will go from $1.7 trillion to $7.0 trillion by 2025 which will enable it to pass Germany, UK, France and Japan.  India will be the 3rd largest economy, behind only China (#1) and United States (#2).

“Browning” of the globe

In the next 15 years, the world (basically the developed countries and China other than India) will be less 100 million people. On the other hand, India will be adding 130 million people in the age group 20 to 49. This means that India will actually be supplying the global work force.

What about inflation and corruption?

Inflation and corruption are issues that have plagued this country even during this past time of growth. So, while they will always have a negative impact, the projected growth rate will not suffer. 

What might be some deterrents to meeting these projections?

The only real deterrent is if something unexpected happens to reverse the economic reforms that have been in place for the past two decades.

And, of course, there are innumerable things that the Government can do better.

Some of the needs of the country, according to Panagriya, include the following:

    • Better education policy and opportunities, particularly in higher education
    • Land reform
    • Redistribution of wealth to reduce poverty
    • Less government control of implementation of policies and services delivery – involving private sector more and more; the government of India simply does not have the capacity to carry out some of the more ambitious goals of the country.

Poster; Artist: Maurice Mellier, 1941-43 (Source: US Library of Congress)

Based on Panagriya’s opinions and his projections, India indeed appears to be an emerging giant. Its future appears assured and bright, whether looking at in isolation, or on the evolving global stage. And the realization of the scope of this country’s potential is only now penetrating and spreading around the world.  

Remember Japan?

But.  As bright as it looks in the future, the reality can differ from projections. And how! Does anyone remember Japan and the predicted glory days that ended in a crash that the country is yet to recover from? Some three decades ago, Japan was like China is today. It was a relentless growth story towards far-reaching economic progress. It was only going to be a matter of time before Japan became mightier than the US as the world’s largest economy.

Or the case of Southeast Asia – until 1997, Asia attracted almost half of the total capital inflow into developing countries. The economies of Southeast Asia attracted foreign investors looking for a high rate of return while the regional economies of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and South Korea experienced high growth rates, 8–12% GDP, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This was widely acclaimed and was known as part of the “Asian economic miracle”. Then came the Asian financial crisis which was a period of financial crisis that gripped much of Asia beginning in July 1997, and raised fears of a worldwide economic meltdown.

What about India?

This is not to say that the same will occur in India!  However,  it’s prudent to mix caution with high flying projections.

In addition, it is disheartening to see some of the endemic issues that plague this country being ignored by the government. Am I sounding like a broken record about this? Well, so be it.

For example, corruption is a top-of-the-mind issue and a mighty blight that needs to be eradicated.

Here is one of the most fundamental ways that it impacts this country: The way I see it, once it is less easy to be a corrupt politician, I feel that this country can count on getting real leaders to step forward – those who are there to be of service to the citizens and country, not just to fatten their bank balances. Isn’t it past time for Indian politicians to stop treating their work as a personal business?

Until such a time that the right leadership (which is not apparent where I look) is not part and parcel of India, I must be honest, it is very, very, very hard to believe in these numbers alone. 

With the right leadership, everything has a much better chance of falling into place.

As India is often touted as the largest democracy in the world, it will be up to the people to vote carefully – with a view to bringing in those leaders that can leverage potential into reality, assuring a bright future for them and their descendants.

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India Foreign Relations Map: By User:SpartianSpartian at en.wikipedia or Deepak Gupta at Wikimedia Commons.  User:Spartian with changes by User:Emperor Genius [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Intriguing Insights About and Between U.S, India and China

The Economist uses interactive maps so creatively!  Here’s what I would like you to take a peek at.  They have compared the states or provinces of U.S., India and China to various countries based on equivalent GDP,  population or GDP per person. Can you say wow?   Well, you will, once you see these innovative maps!

They reveals some fascinating insights and also work to shatter misconceptions about the economic well-being (or not) of certain regions. I’m really trying hard here – to put this in enough words that intrigue you to click on the links below and experience the interactivity.  I hope I succeed!  This is so very, very interesting and I would hate for you to miss it. Both the content, as well as the super creative presentation of it. 

First, let’s look at the United States. To give you a taste of this, let’s take the largest state with respect to GDP – California.  Guess which country of the world its GDP is closest to? I’m going to let you find out which. Now, take one of the laggard states. Let’s see….how about Alabama? Well, its closest country in terms of GDP is Nigeria.

Big Texas is always an intriguing state.  Its GDP is equivalent of that of Russia, while it’s population resembles Saudi Arabia’s the closest.  Interesting stuff, wouldn’t you say!  And that’s just a taste of it.

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Next, let’s take a look at India. It’s largest state (GDP-wise) is the same one where I live, Maharashtra. After all, it does include the financial capital of the country, Mumbai. Guess which country is closest in terms of GDP?   I’ll tell you.  This state has equivalent population to Mexico but it’s GDP compares more closely with Singapore. But then, when you take it a step further, and look at GDP per person, it compares to….Sri Lanka!

Now, don’t you want to check out the same stats for another of the Indian states?

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And, then there’s Chinathe Asian Tiger, or is it dragon? Projected to overtake US as the world’s largest economy around 2020, how does it fare in all these dimensions?

The most populous province Guangdong, with almost 100 million people, most closely matches Indonesia’s population. Macau is the richest per capita with a GDP per person that matches, actually exceeds, that of Qatar.  Why?  Its population is tiny, similar to that of Solomon Islands, while it’s GDP is relatively high, matching that of Panama.

Here’s another interesting one from China – Shanghai (province=city), which is equivalent to Cameroon’s population, Finland’s GDP and Saudi Arabia’s  GDP per person.  I would say it’s doing relatively rather well.  

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All in all, I just wish I had more time to delve into and play with these maps!  Some day….

But, let’s draw some quick conclusions from this data.  Of these countries, the US leads in every way, and India lags behind all three with China somewhere in the middle. While the potential of both emerging Asian countries is undisputed, there is still such a wide disparity between them (even between China & US) and the super power. Its really hard for me to fully comprehend how or when these gaps will close. As for the gap between China and India, it’s immense!

Regarding India, to quote a friend who commented on this revealing data: This also shows how great our potential is, if we invest in nurturing our human resources. Education, education, education! Now that we have the population that we do have, we should be turning this threat into our greatest opportunity.

Now, if we can continue to dream a bit longer, wouldn’t it be nice to have a reliable government who can make this happen?

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