I know, it pains me to write that, and to say that I have given up on India. But, the nature of my profession and my personality means that I end up saying and writing unpleasant assessments of life.
But, every once in a while, I read something so egregious that preoccupies me to an extent that only blogging can relieve me of the discomfort about the old country. Such was the case when I read this about India's crony capitalism.
In the India that I grew up, society was "marked by divisions of caste, race and religion." Such a stratification was not anything new:
Prior to the country winning independence in 1947, its people were subjugated by imperial British administrators and myriad maharajas, and the feudal regional monarchies over which they presided.If there were a few good things in India's Nehruvian economic policies, it was that the affluent were held under check.
Even afterwards, India remained a grimly poor country, as its socialist leadership fashioned a notably inefficient state-planned economic model, closed off almost entirely from global trade. Over time, India grew more equal, if only in the limited sense that its elite remained poor by the standards of the industrialised west.Not anymore. Over the past two decades of liberalization, "India has created a model of development in which the proceeds of growth flow unusually quickly to the very top." Economic inequality now is worse than what it was even under the bastard Raj!
Even a casual visitor to India will find it hard not to notice the highly unequal society that the country is. But, "perhaps because Indian society has long been deeply stratified, this dramatic increase in inequality has not received as much global attention as it deserves." You know, that's how India has always been, so why bother!
There is every reason to believe that on its current course, the country’s the gap between rich and poor will widen, too. Perversely, the closer India comes to its achieving its ambitions of Chinese-style double-digit levels of economic growth, the faster this will happen. On most measures, it should already be ranked alongside South Africa and Brazil as one of the world’s least-equal countries. Even more importantly, poor countries that start off with high levels of inequality often struggle to reverse that trend as they grow richer.While there are plenty of disagreements on the implications of inequality, I think there will be an universal agreement on this:
India’s greatest curse is inequality of opportunity. People with skills and access to global markets have benefited hugely, while those in rural areas without skills or connectivity have lagged far behind.If victory can come from pointing to even worse conditions, then India can rejoice that it is not anymore the country with the largest population of extremely poor, who live on less than $2 a day; Nigeria is the new king! But, this is not the World Cup!
For many in India, such talk is sure to provoke sharp debate. Tens of millions of people remain destitute and thousands of farmers commit suicide each year. Nearly 40 percent of Indian children under 5 are short for their age, a sign of chronic undernutrition.India is at yet another important crossroad
“The claims that India is on the verge of winning the battle against extreme poverty sit uneasily with the current concerns about job creation or rural distress,” said an editorial last week in Mint, a financial newspaper in India.
India is set to grow in economic might throughout this century, as America did during the 19th. By some accounts, it has already overtaken China as the world’s most populous nation; in others, the baton will pass during the next decade or two. Whatever the case, the fate of a large slice of humanity depends on India getting its economic model right. Meanwhile, as democracy falters in the west, so its future in India has never been more critical. To make this transition, India’s billionaire Raj must become a passing phase, not a permanent condition. India’s ambition to lead the second half of the “Asian century” – and the world’s hopes for a fairer and more democratic future – depend on getting this transition right.But, I am not holding my breath; I gave up on the old country a while ago! :(