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The reputed global magazine, The Economist, is bullish on India and has gone as far as to proclaim that this decade is India’s to lose, or in other words, telling us that a golden future awaits us, only if we can seize the moment. This upbeat assessment of the future of the Indian Economy is indeed welcome and a refreshing change from the bleak and downright dismissal of India’s chances in the coming years from most of the Western press. More so, when the Economist’s main rivals, the Financial Times and Bloomberg, vacillate between guarded praise and downright criticism.
Among the reasons cited by The Economist in support of its argument is that the “digitalization” of India is unlocking the “hidden wealth” in the largely inefficient Informal Economy and the provision of digital modes of Identity verification, Payments, and Taxes, would lead to a massive burst in the output of the Indian Economy. As I wrote earlier, the Informal Economy in India is where the jobs are and so, fixing it should be the first priority for anyone serious about India’s long term growth prospects. Moreover, when recent data indicates that the share of the Informal Economy is shrinking in relation to other segments.
With integration comes the benefit of centralization and consolidation of services, and as this post of mine points out, this would lead to immense benefits in the way everything from welfare payouts, tax payments, and collecting payments for goods and services sold as well as sending money to each other for any and every reason are concerned. For instance, using Aadhar to identity beneficiaries of welfare schemes and then transferring the monies directly using bank accounts linked to the Aadhar card, and then verifying the genuineness of the recipients, and performing due diligence on the tax payouts, are made simpler and seamless when the entire value chain is digitalized.
Next, the Big One of all the reasons for The Economist to be bullish on India: is the easy and smooth adoption of Digital Payments by one and all. When the concept of the UPI or the United Payment Interface, the integrator for all digital payments, was first mooted, there were many sceptics who pointed to the lack of internet connectivity and coverage along with the “digital divide” and dismissed it as a non-starter. However, in a span of 5-6 years, Indians have taken to digital payments like a Duck to water, so much so that India is the world’s largest digital payment market, both by volume and the number of users. Thanks to Demonetization, India has indeed leapfrogged into the Digital Age.
Third, when taxes (direct and indirect) are collected, paid, and tracked through digital channels, it reduces the scope for under collection, widening of the tax net, and most importantly, provides small businesses and individual taxpayers the ability to pay their taxes on time and most importantly, receive and track refunds and report grievances if any. It also allows the governmental agencies to track evasion, take action against defaulters, and bring the offenders to book. Moreover, digitalization goes hand in hand with the GST (Goods and Services Tax) the implementation of which was likened to India’s “Second Independence”.
However, the magazine also cautions that these trends along with the chance realignment of global forces, and the inheritance of a nation of youth, or the Demographic Dividend, can wither India’s growth prospects if it does not douse the fires of religious and ethnic as well as sectarian and linguistic divisions simmering in the nation and can easily burst and lead to the deterioration of business climate. So, essentially what the Economist says is that this decade is “ours to lose” meaning we Indians have a historic opportunity to get our act together or fall by the wayside.
Last, this is not the first time that the Economist has been bullish on India. I remember how when India was “opening up” in the 1990s, it had called us “A Caged Elephant breaking free” and waxed eloquent on how we would overtake China in a decade or so. Well! Three decades down the line, we are still talking about India’s perpetual and ever-elusive “moment in the Sun”. So, for anyone who cares to know, it is good to be feted by the global media, just that we need not get carried away, for who knows, the shoe can be on the other foot in no time.
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