Make-or-break Indian century 09 Sept 2015
Choosing the right option will determine if India can encash its human dividend. Failure to do so would result in disaster. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his supporters are fond of saying that the last 60 years of Congress rule has been disastrous for India. They are right about the time period. Except for the eight years of Janata and BJP rule, the Congress has held sway since the first post constitution general election in 1951. They are also right, in many senses, to lay India’s third-world conditions at the congress’ doorstep.
So how should we assess India’s journey over these six decades? That question cannot-should not-be answered without walking over a foreground of perspective, some of which is hidden adidst the call charges in my mobile-phone bill.
I pay 50 paise per minute-as many of you do-for local or long distance calls on my mobile network. Indian mobile-phone tariffs are among the lowest in the world. It is hard to imagine that in 1950, a long-distance call was 10 times costlier at Rs 5 per minute, a small fortune at a time when an officer entering the civil service earned no more than Rs 350 per month. The Indian economy has just emerged from the effect of a world war and a bloody partition. Its gross domestic product (GDP) was about one-sixth the cost of building a metro for Mumbai and about as much as the Supreme Court wants Sahara chief Subroto Roy to pony up as bail. The government’s revenue: Rs 332 crore.
But telling the story in the manner the BJP and its supporters do is plainly unfair. India has clearly grown richer and more educated, and Indians live sustainably longer and healthier lives. It is this human capital, generated over the years of congress rule, that Modi intends to use to vault India into the ‘good days’ he promises. The 2000s and 2010s, first under Atal Bihari Vajpaee and for the most part Manmohan Singh, were a period of unprecedented growth-with more people raised out of poverty than ever-regardless of what Modi and his supporters say. But the congress also delivered crony capitalism, corruption and offered no vision to match soaring expectations in this age of instantaneity.
Modi knows those decisions are his to make. The past indicates that incremental or selective change never works in India, yet he is in danger of following just that path. Like the congress, Modi’s track record is mixed. His supporters talks of the Gujarat model, but the latest data clearly show that while his state’s economy flourished (as did a few others, such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu), social and health indicators floundered. At the national level, ignoring these issues is no longer an option. There is currently a vacuum with respect to institutions and policies to address these challenges (health, education and training needs) in India, “Harvard economist David Bloom wrote with prescience in a 2011 paper. Choosing the right option will determine if India can encash its human dividend. Failure, said Bloom, could result in disaster.
As briefly noted by Samar Halarnkar-HT