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Is India a “lone bright spot” amidst global turmoil and economic gloom, or is it too premature to announce its “arrival” on the world stage? Sure, the Indian Economy is the “world’s fastest-growing major economy”, and its geopolitical heft and influence have grown with the Ukraine war, where Modi can “hold its own” with Putin, Xi, and Biden. Moreover, India@75 is self-assured and confident of its place in the international arena, aided by a youthful population “dreaming of the moon”. So, one can excuse the smirks and the smugness of the Indian Elite in these times. Especially when India@75 has discarded the “begging bowl” of yore and is now amid a civilizational “Indian Renaissance”, evoking images that hark back to its supposedly “golden age” before a succession of “invaders” put paid to its glory and colonized and plundered its riches.
However, all is not well in the nation, beset by severe societal crises and an economy that works for the few. Even its much vaunted Demographic Dividend threatens to become a Nightmare if India does not resolve the many “paradoxes” at the heart of the Indian Economy. Indeed, for a nation that prides itself as the “next” economic and geopolitical powerhouse, India@75 has much to do before it can “unlock” its potential to become a $5 Trillion Economy. Moreover, it has yet to resolve its “existential” questions around its identity, who is an Indian, and what constitutes “Indianess”. In addition, the creation of a “Billionaire Raj” where four decades of economic reforms have made it a highly unequal and severely unjust society. Its “famed diaspora” too risk becoming caught up in these battles back home, belying their many successes in their adopted countries.
The world is now very dangerous, perhaps facing its biggest crisis since the Second World War. With Putin threatening a “nuclear winter”, having already unleashed a “winter from hell” on Europe, it remains to be seen as to how “far” he will go and whether he is “going for broke”. On the other hand, the swirling rumours of a “coup” in China raise questions about Xi’s push for “immortality” in a nation that is already reeling under its flawed and fascist Zero Covid lockdowns, that have now become the “world’s problems”. Even Biden is battling an extremely obstructionist opposition, along with rabid “culture wars” that threaten the very existence of the United States as a single entity, prompting some to wonder whether he is the “next Gorbachev”. India’s relative stability is to be lauded and celebrated. Modi should ensure that Xi’s losses are his gains and that the present geopolitical “sweet spot” is translated into concrete results.
Having said that, many believe India’s hyped successes are a “mirage” and that the nation has been through many “false dawns” before, so one must be circumspect. For instance, despite the “spin”, the Indian Economy has several drawbacks, chiefly the “jobless” growth that has seen labour participation at historical lows. Next, even Davos 2022, which is usually “effusive” about India, has warned of a “darkened” global economic environment, where emerging markets like ours are at risk of a “four meals from anarchy” scenario presently afflicting our neighbourhood. Moreover, India@75 masks a “rut” for the many and rewards for the few, where Ambani and Adani plan “dynastic” succession, and the majority can’t even aspire to a modicum of disposable income beyond what keeps them “barely afloat”. Perhaps India@75’s biggest “failure” has been its handling of the pandemic, where each wave of Covid was like a “Tsunami” battering its image and bringing to the fore its real “fragility”, belying the media hype about our place in the world.
So, while the jury is out on whether India@75 has arrived, my take is that it is too premature to celebrate, though not early to aspire and dream. There are many pluses about India and its “untapped” market, and its vast resources must be put to good use. Of course, India@75 cannot “leapfrog” into economic stardom without either fixing its Informal Economy or neglecting its manufacturing sector. Indeed, the Indian Economy has become a “one pony trick”, powered mainly by its services sector. There are signs of a “unique” stagflationary spiral, with demand destruction and supply constraints. This is during economic “turbulence” and a “recession” brewing in the West. We have been there earlier, notably in 1991, when a similar global disorder almost brought us to our knees. To conclude, let us not trumpet about a Utopia when the reality can be a “false dawn” and a Mirage in what is increasingly looking like a Desert of the Unreal.
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