Saturday, July 17, 2010

Guha on "Will India become a super power?"

Inspired by a nationalist feeling which paradoxically peaked during my life in the US and fueled further by the "India Shining" economic growth, I must admit that I, for the first time, fancied the chance that India will one day become a super power.

Time has changed since and I believe now that the chances of India being a super power in the forthcoming decades, given the ground realities in India. But I still nurture the hope that India has its chance in being a super power.

I recently ran into a booklet - as big as pocket diary - from "Outlook" magazine which addressed the question "Will India Become a Superpower" written by the noted historian Ramachandra Guha. I have respected Guha for his objectivity in his various articles in India Together and Outlook. So, I found myself compelled to read it. A few of Guha's observations and his conclusion are very interesting.

In the article he succinctly outlined the mood of the wider world and conventional wisdom about the newly formed Indian Republic. According to Guha's observation, world-watchers of 1950s believed that India would not stay united or democratic because its didn't fit the European model of society united by a common language, common religion and a common enemy. For the same reasons, the fact that India is unique in its status as a union and a democracy (however dysfunctional it is)

I have come across a school of thought, especially among the youth of 1970s that the Nehruvian socialist vision had obstructed India's progress had it been under Patel's more capitalist hands. While Guha doesn't directly address this if-else point, he observes right after independence the private sector stalwarts such as Tata and Birla asked for the state interference.
The Bombay Plan of 1944, endorsed by G.D. Birla and J.R.D. Tata among others, asked both for curbs on foreign investment and for an enhanced role for the state...At the same time, Indian capitalists lacked the capital and knowhow to invest in sectors such as steel, power, roads and ports. They were thus content to focus on the manufacture and distribution of consumer goods, leaving capital goods and infrastructure to the State.
What really lead India pulled away from progress is the government under Mrs. Indira Gandhi in the late 1960s which, citing "political expediency" had failed to liberalize the Indian economy that by then had the right elements such as manufacturing infrastructure, skilled engineering and technical workforce in place.

In his conclusion he quote corrupt and degraded central government, trivialization of media as some of the seven reasons why India will not become a superpower. However, he says India should actually stop trying to be a super power which, in his own words, is a "my penis is larger than yours" way of thinking. Instead he calls for India to judge itself against its own achievements.
"We need to repair , one by one, the institutions that have safeguarded our unity in diversity, and to forge, also one by one, the institutions that can help us meet the fresh challenge of 21st century"

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