Turn of the Tortoise


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India is the world’s most populous democracy. Its strong growth rate and economic and social progress for much of the 1990s and early 2000s gave many nations hope that a country striving to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in a free society could achieve greater equity and inclusiveness. But it has taken many decades for India to reach this position. The slowdown of the last few years raises the issue once more of what it will take for India’s government and business sector not to allow such an impressive economic performance to stagnate or roll back. China, too, has had to accept lower rates of growth and confront future economic and social uncertainties. T N Ninan views 2015 as the pivotal point for assessing what has gone wrong in India, and what might be the game-changers to restore forward momentum. While the present government of Narenda Modi is aiming to see if business incentives can be allied with government’s long-standing efforts to feed India’s people and create new jobs, the author believes private enterprise has not stepped up enough to sustain needed growth. The Indian state’s own experiments to conduct public business in a more effective way has not yet arrested high levels of corruption, identified the processes for ending absolute poverty, or found the right “green keys” to foster economic development and protect the environment at the same time. Ninan does not conclude that India’s moment has necessarily passed definitively. He draws from its history to indicate where lessons for renewed growth may be found. There is too much that is still positive about the country’s human and capital resources – and the usable experiences of other democracies such as the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – to assume the chance for economic and political eminence has passed. Rather, targeted development projects, new businesses, new entrepreneurs, and new attitudes might yet lead to the favorable outcomes India has long sought. Economic strength may also enhance the country’s political aspirations, not only vis-a-vis China and with the U.S. as a possible strategic partner but also in international standing.


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