Is India@75 an aspiring economic powerhouse or a middling power “plodding along” and “muddling through” a steady stream of crises, unable to reach its potential? Well, one would undoubtedly believe the former if one were to go by the media spin and the propaganda unleashed almost hourly and amplified by the many “cheerleaders” in all spheres of life. Of course, one can be forgiven for mistaking India for the latter, going by “ground realities” and, most importantly, by having a “feel” of the “pulse” of the people. So, there you are with contrasting takes on whether India is the “flavour of the season”, being wooed by both East and West, or at the other end, a “failed state” that barely functions according to established norms of governance and democratic principles.
If you ask me where I stand in this debate over the exact classification and categorization of the nation, I would answer that India@75 has come a long way since Independence in 1947. While there is some distance to cover before it can be counted as a “nation with heft”, its remarkable successes prove its resilience and strength to overcome the many challenges that a complex and multi-hued society like India raises almost every day. Indeed, India@75 can well establish itself as a developed country by 2050 if, a “big” IF, it can rise above sectarian, religious, casteist, sexist, ethnic, and social divisions that have often stymied its path to glory. It would drag it down in the future, belying the hopes of its Billion plus people. So, we have come a long way, yet, there are miles to go.
Look at the economy, and one can look back with pride as India@75 has discarded the “begging bowl” of aid and alms from the world, and is self-sufficient to the point where it can extend assistance, rivalling its immediate threat, China, as is the case recently wherein we have surpassed the latter, in our financial support to a struggling Srilanka. This comes at a time when India@75 is remarkably “stable” among its South Asian counterparts, where apart from Srilanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and to some extent, Nepal, are in the throes of a “debt crisis” reminiscent of our state in 1991, when we literally “pawned” the “family jewels” to stay afloat. Of course, speaking of 1991, I have also been reminded of the same set of circumstances globally wherein an “imploding” Soviet Union and a raging Gulf war wrought havoc on the developing world. If one looks around, there are some commonalities here as the “dominoes” seem to be toppling because of the Pandemic and Putin.
Staying with the 1990s, I can also see the same social strife and an “identity crisis” of sorts where India@75 is still struggling to “define itself”, and this “existential crisis” of the Million Mutinies that the land contains means that we have a long way to go before we can claim our place in the pantheon of greatness. Of course, we are already counted as a civilizational “great”, with a history stretching back to Millennia and the “world’s largest democracy” being the moniker of having practised a form of governance increasingly under threat worldwide, including in India. Moreover, the pandemic has been “brutal” to India, and in its wake, I did wonder, “Where’s my country?” as the Second Wave unleashed the “worst” among Indians. No wonder many feel as though India@75 has yet to get over the “rut” of the successive waves of the Covid, and it is high time we “walked the talk” where the interests of India@75 citizenry should count.
Of course, India@75 is also in a geopolitical “sweet spot”, and globally, Modi is being wooed by both Biden and Putin not to leave out our erstwhile colonisers, the United Kingdom. With France, Germany, Canada, and Australia joining the ranks of “no limits” partnerships with India, it is time Modi “stole the show” and went one up on Xi, who has his own “problems” to contend with, before he can “immortalise” himself. As I read somewhere, geopolitics without geoeconomics is meaningless on the present global stage. So, we must and should “arrive” by translating our “friendships” world over into tangible economic gains. In this context, our much celebrated and feted Diaspora can help, successful as they are globally and perhaps use their experience to replicate their accomplishments back home to an eager and “young” India@75.
Talking about “young” India@75, it is the case that our much vaunted Demographic Dividend is turning into a nightmare and a disaster, as we simply do not seem to be creating the jobs needed to stave off social unrest. Be it the Agnipath scheme or the overdependence on the services sector – the Indian Economy is a “one pony” trick at the moment – we are missing the bus due to our failure to fix the Informal Economy and are also neglecting Manufacturing. Given these constraints, India@75 can seize the moment to “wean away” investments away from China, and a “smart” localisation approach, along with Atmanirbhar policies, can be the “game changer”. Otherwise, India@75 has to contend with Crores of working-age Indians “dropping off” the employment radar, not even looking for jobs.
Last, I am old enough to remember the exact “eulogies” about India as a “Caged Elephant” being set free and how the years to come are ours. However, even after three decades of reforms, we are still in the “aspiring” category, which leaves much to be desired. At least now, can we learn the lessons and “go for it” (to use Americanism)? We have the capabilities and the experience behind us, and we need to eschew dividing ourselves further and, instead, celebrate our diversity so that India@75 is fit and fine to meet the challenges of the next 25 years with confidence. Here’s hoping that India@75 lives up to its potential and does not regress but progresses.
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