A 70-year Story Of Miracles
India is announcing to the world that it is not just ready to be counted, but it is ready to head the list of those being counted
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India’s journey from a fledgling partition-torn nation to a self-assured nation has not been easy, but it has been quite epochal and remarkable. In these 70 years, India has transitioned through several iterations: from an era of self-reliance, import substitution and public sector dominance to an age of calibrated liberalisation and incremental reform, and now, a new chapter of radical and transformative change.
India at 70 is a story of miracles. The biggest miracle is the fact that it remains strong and united. Seemingly homogenous entities from around the world have crumbled, yet a diverse geographical area — where more than 570 languages are spoken and dozens of different faiths are practised — has coalesced and thrived together. The shape of the modern Indian map is the same despite diverse pulls and pressures.
Democracy and people power represent the second miracle. India has gone through peaceful transitions from one leadership to another — but electoral rewards are now based more on economic performance and political decisiveness than rhetoric. Economic progress represents the third miracle. Between 1900 and 1950, India’s growth rate was below one per cent; from 1950 to 1980, it averaged 3.5 per cent; and western economists disparagingly coined the expression: “the Hindu rate of growth’’.
Over the last two decades, the transformation has been significant. This year, India overtook the GDP of the country that colonised it for 300 years! Also, for a country that 27 years ago had to smuggle out its gold reserves in the dead of the night to London to pay for nation-sustaining imports — it is quite remarkable that India’s currency is among the strongest performing in the emerging world, and its forex cover can in 2017 easily tide over an entire year’s imports. An impoverished and overwhelmingly exploited nation at independence is now flexing its muscles through its technology and entrepreneurial prowess. The story of Indian companies going global has already been well documented, but what is especially exciting is the way the startup bug has bitten many Indians. Today, India has the world’s third fastest growing startup eco-system — with 3,100 startups, India is closely behind UK with 4,000 startups.
As India completes 70 years, I firmly believe that in the next 30 years, India will rightfully claim its place in the pantheon of the great nations of the world. My optimism stems from the era of strong leadership and decisiveness that India has just entered. There is a never-before urge to unsettle the status quo and to reset paradigms. The political leadership is decisively dragging and pulling the country to the next level — in the process, taking a risk that no political combination has in the future.
In the coming years, disruption will be the new normal — and in time, this will enable efficiency, remove deficiencies and bring about proficiency. By cleverly replacing human interface, the government is reducing the scope for error as well as discretionary power. From cash to digital payments; from a multiple and complex tax regime to a single national indirect tax, from multiple and dubious identities to an iris and thumb verified identity that is being used for securing subsidies, and opening low-cost bank accounts — India is formalising its economy in a manner that has never been done in the past 70 years.
All this change is creating a workable template for social welfare. It’s been often said in the past that India has had the best of programmes on paper, but failed miserably on delivery and implementation. Today’s welfare programmes are gradually transitioning from rhetoric to reality through the vehicles of digitisation, financial inclusion and direct beneficiary transfer. This will, in the coming decades, ensure that millions migrate from the economics of subsistence to gratification.
India’s journey over the last few decades has been a tale of key shifts. A shift from the state to the market; a shift of power and influence from Delhi to the state capitals through fiscal federalism; and finally, a shift from a techno-phobic India to a techno-philic one. In the next 30 years, I expect these shifts to assume greater form and substance, giving the nation new heft and character. I also expect many exciting areas of the economy to boom. These include affordable transport; industries that support infrastructure and affordable home construction; waste management, including waste to energy; distributed power; low-cost restaurant chains, etc.
In the coming 30 years, I also expect critical action in two other areas that have dragged India behind in the past: agriculture and job creation. Since liberalisation in 1991, growth in India was an end in itself; unfortunately, it has resulted in mostly jobless growth. This is why the current missions of the Prime Minister on Swacch Bharat, on doubling farm incomes by 2022, on creating jobs through flagship programmes like Skill India, Startup India and Standup India will be so critical as India seeks to chalk out a new future for itself. In the coming years, I also expect radical changes in the way government healthcare is managed, the manner in which students are taught, the way we allocate water to citizens, the way we develop land, the manner in which we dispose garbage, the way we own and rent homes and assets, etc.
India is announcing to the world that it is not just ready to be counted, but it is ready to head the list of those being counted. Marcel Proust once remarked that the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. A year before Independence, Nehru first tried to give new eyes to the world about India by exposing our country’s rich traditions and ancient heritage through his tome, Discovery of India; seven decades later, the world is on a second discovery of India: but this time, it is seeing the country through modern and contemporary eyes.
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