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India – Not just one-eyed, we are also blind, deaf and deluded

AAKAR PATEL- I  am 46 and with good health and good luck can expect to live another quarter century. Will I be around to see India as a developed nation? No, and neither will you.

Disregard this debate about whether we are a one-eyed king amid the blind or whether we are world conquerors with our growth. We are neither. Holding on to middling growth on a tiny base (our GDP is $125 per Indian per month) is an ordinary achievement. Many nations have done it before us. It is in accelerating on from here that the great societies separate themselves from the mediocre ones.
We are not a great society. Like petulant children we keep insisting the world see us as great and sulk when told by the RBI governor that we may merely be good.

Many nations struggling to hit 3% growth today regularly clocked double digits for decades, lifting their citizens out of poverty. This includes even the Soviet Union, which had a command economy and therefore no ‘reforms’ as we would know them. Can we say we’re doing better than them economically? Only if we are clueless about our real station in life and about what is required by a citizenry to make their nation truly developed.

Nothing around us suggests we will turn things around in 25 years. Let me sketch out the most basic, indisputable things.

Witness the strange paradox of unemployment in India. Everyone agrees that the lack of organized sector jobs is one of the nation’s top problems. In the same nation, the IT sector finds it so difficult to hire people that it rejects nine out of 10 applicants. Not because they are insisting on high quality, but because the material available is poor. We have high unemployment and higher unemployability.

Insulated by their access to schools set up mainly by Christian missionaries, the middle class is deluded into thinking that Indians are congenitally smart (I have heard many references to ignorant Americans). The fact is that the quality of education the average Indian gets is terrifying. I ran a business for many years and I can testify that hiring Indians with basic language and problem-solving skills is not easy. Who then will deliver sustained growth? Not these people.

The state has never had the ability to deliver education, health or justice to Indians. Let us be honest and accept it. I am saying this because it is not easy for Indians to understand that the failure of the state in this instance is a failure of Indian culture and society, not that of a particular political party. If Indians are not getting health, education and justice, this superpower fantasy will not happen. Nationalism is not going to bail us out of this one, I am sorry.

As a society, we show no understanding of rule of law (witness the asinine debate over Ishrat Jahan’s murder). We are a constitutional democracy only because it has come down to us. The idea that a democracy is a nation of laws and not of men is alien here. I am not being harsh in admitting the obvious.

There is no acknowledgement of India’s apartheid against Dalits and Muslims and Adivasis. Indeed, there is instead a whining from the privileged about how these communities are being appeased. How will we grow strong with 40% of our population being discriminated against? We will not.

There are those who are expecting deliverance through the Gujarat Model, thinking of it as something fresh which will transform India. To them, I must point out the dissenting view of my fellow Patidars.

They are Gujarat’s premier landholding caste, its most dominant political community (the majority of ministers in every Gujarat BJP cabinet including Modi’s has been Patels), socially powerful (the Swaminarayan sect is a Patel movement) and with connections around the world. They have access to capital and are heavily involved in business and industry as readers will know. If even this community feels left out, the Gujarat Model is rubbish.

So do not expect Modi to bail us out. He could not do it even in his own state, a state with the best business talent on the subcontinent. It is unfair in any case to ask so much of one man. It is not in his powers to do this and now that two years have produced zero change on this front it is time to acknowledge it.

Lastly, it is not a question of tweaking some law. The GST bill and such things are trivial matters, not the silver bullets you are told they are. More legislation will not produce sustained double digit growth.

We take offense at even being called one-eyed when the reality is we are not only blind but also deaf. Till we accept that, the process of change cannot even begin.

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Comment (1)

  1. Wonderfully clear perspective and very well put. I agree with most of your ideas (differ a bit on some). Be prepared for rage and abuse from those many who know that as the only form of debate. I wish you all the best in your future writings.

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