Spring Fever Literary Festival
16th March, 2015
India Habitat Center
Penguin Random House India hosted its annual literary festival, The Spring Fever, in grand splendor at the India Habitat Center. On its third day, the topic of discussion was ‘Can India Make It’ and there could not have been any four finer speakers to talk about the subject than Mihir Sharma, Aakar Patel, Raghav Bahl, and T.N. Ninan who had all coincidently written a book with Penguin Random House on the same subject.
Though the conversation took an optimistic note on the subject of growth and economic progress, there was no denying that the many internal conflicts in India if not quenched will clog our systems and inhibit growth.
The conversations were inspiring, illuminating, and threw a light on numbers that would soon define our nation and its role in shaping the world.
There are three transitions that a nation goes through before achieving economic growth and progress. The first is the demographic transition. This means that if a nation has a greater young population, the greater are its chances of a booming future. The second is disruptive transition – the need to connect the many young people into a line of progressive thinking. The third is modernity in attitude.
Most nations that experienced economic growth ticked these one by one. Britain created that infrastructure first, before anything else. India, on the other hand, is going through these three phases at once. It does not have the resources or skills to handle such demands.
During the next two years, there would be 13 million unemployed people in India. This is roughly the total population of Spain. To accommodate them, the current national job growth of 1.6% must triple itself.
Mihir pointed out that to solve this crisis, the manufacturing sector has to grow rapidly. There are no more profits to be made doing agriculture. The young people do not belong there anymore. They move to where the jobs are, and jobs must open up in factories.
We have always stopped short of real reform. Mihir believes that under this government we can strive for change, for growth. Modi has been a radical break from old order, he said. What Modi hoped to be cannot be disagreed. There is now a genuine appreciation for change in the common public. This era will define us.
The 20th century was the Age of Superpowers where military strength was key to world dominance, Raghav said. We had two power blocks – the Soviet Union and the United States – and all the other countries stacked under these two. The 2st century, he pointed out, will be an Age of Supereconomies where growth and economic progress will rein superiority. We have three Supereconomic power blocks – The United States as the stalwart, China as the scrappy old one, and India as a booming sleeper.
The triple alliance that would soon follow, he said, between American, China, and India will shape the future and assure global growth and peace. They would be the centralizing powers of democracy.
What made Superpowers and Supereconomies?
Raghav said it was the aftermath of World War 2, the six years that followed, that shaped the world in the 20th century. Whoever had the most military strength was inevitable a world shaper and a power to be reckoned with.
Supereconomic nations started shaping into existence during the years following the attack on the World Trade Center to the Crash of Lehman in late 2008. America weakened during these years while China seized to grow. India, on the other hand, grew, though not as expected.
Raghav says that there are several criteria boxes that a nation needs to check to be a Superecomony. The first, a double digit GDP. India is currently at 6 or maybe 7 and will soon see itself crossing this mark. Second, the country should be large – a large land mass and a large population. Third, a large military or ability to project military strength either with nuclear weapons or conventional armies. Fourth, a fairly young population. Fifth, it should be close to the theatre of geopolitical action – Asia. This is precisely why Brazil, though they check most boxes, is not a Supereconomy just yet.
Aakar Patel, holding a more pessimistic note on the subject of India’s growth, said that the data alone didn’t give a complete picture. The data, he said, shows growth, but the rate at we are growing is not one that would in any way matter to the development of this country. In an external context, India might look like a stronger contender, and globalization, to some extent, has been a force very favorable to us. This projected strength will soon collide with our internal weaknesses. Then, we will fail to meet the expectations that the world has of us. That will clog our growth.
He pointed out that we as a nation lack a certain dynamism. The morality with which we do things needs to change for the better. Our young generation’s lack of skills and proper services – for ex: their inability to write a proper CV – he said, will hit us hard. We have a deadline here, he said, and we are doing poorly already. If we don’t change at a rate that is nearly impossible, then this chance to grow will skip us.
T. N. Ninan
We could do all the wrong things and still matter, T. N. Ninan said. India has become a voice to be heard in the global circles. But within itself, it is but a brooding whisper. We have burned down our forests and clogged our rivers for a few extra points on our balance sheets. Economic growth, he said, is not the big number at the end of that sheet. It is but the single, isolated data that matter. The Economy is an income issue, not a balance sheet issue.
We are an aspirational society. Our middle class is our political and economic reality. The moment we understand this to its full capacity, you will realize that there is a lot about India and its economy beyond the parameters of a debate, Ninan concluded.