I request your kind attention for my latest op-ed titled ‘India’s Unique Achievement: Triple Transition’ that appeared in “The Economic Times” on 15th August 2017 (Tuesday).
I hope you will be able to spare the time to go through it. I will greatly welcome your feedback.
India’s Unique Achievement: Triple Transition
The Economic Times, 15th August 2017
Three scores and ten years after its independence in 1947, India can look back with a fair degree of satisfaction at its economic accomplishments. The most important in my view has been the decisive victory over food shortages, debilitating hunger and famines. Having been witness to the devastating Bihar famine in the mid-sixties and participated in a ‘miss a meal’ movement led by one of our unsung heroes, Lal Bahadur Shastri, I cannot think of a bigger achievement than to have removed the stigma of starvation deaths from our midst.
There have, of course been several other notable successes. Per capita incomes have risen by more than ten times. Poverty has been nearly eliminated with only 12.4% of the population now below the poverty line compared to more than 70% in 1947. Indigenously designed and produced satellites; one of the world’s most successful space programs; vibrant manufacturing sector that produces from pin to rockets; a burgeoning services sector that includes a globally competitive IT industry. Even our staunchest critics will grant that India has not only proven the Cassandras wrong, it has raised hopes among other emerging economies that democracies can also achieve economic success.
India’s most notable achievement is its success in simultaneously undertaking its Triple Transition- economic, political and social. Independent India inherited an extremely stratified and diverse social order, backward economy and fragmented polity. Indian leaders accepted these daunting initial conditions and launched India’s simultaneous triple transition, which makes for extremely complexity and is perhaps unique in human history.
Other countries have tackled this triple transition sequentially. In England for example the political order was changed well before its industrial revolution. In the US, native Indians were sacrificed and African-Americans given their political or human rights well after the country had completed its economic transition. In the modern period, China has achieved glorious success in its economic transition and pulled a fifth of humanity out of poverty, but its political and social transitions have virtually been left unattended. Korea similarly achieved its economic transition under a dictatorship and only then started on its political transition.
Given our circumstances, India had no option but to adopt the triple transitions simultaneously. Our forefathers had the foresight to realize that pushing forward with only the economic transition could well have implied either a social implosion or a political explosion- that would have mortally wounded the newly independent country. Impatience at our slow economic progress, often displayed by our elite, is simply unwarranted because economic growth has to be in sync with and is constrained by the pace of its social and political transitions.
Enormous challenges remain to be urgently tackled. India’s young population with 65% below 35 years of age and 50% below 25, is increasingly impatient and ever more aspirational. It has to be productively employed. This has to be managed in an economic environment that is characterized by acute uncertainty on account of turbulences generated by the 4th technological revolution that now surrounds us.
India must whole heartedly adopt the latest cutting edge technologies, including AI (artificial intelligence) while simultaneously generating more than 7 million jobs annually. This is a daunting task. Completing them will require bold, innovative and collective thinking by all stakeholders combined with focused implementation. Employment generation, while attaining global competitiveness across sectors and industries must be the exclusive criteria for evaluating government policies and corporate strategies.
With its vibrant democracy and openness to global trends, India does not have the luxury of ignoring critical challenges that emerge as development proceeds. Environment has to be protected; the looming water crisis to be averted; regional and inter-personal inequalities to be reduced; agriculture to be modernized; urbanization to be better planned to avoid slums, squalor and stress; child labour eliminated; better gender balance achieved; and progress made on the entire range of social development goals. The list is long and daunting.
India has the talent, ingenuity and vast reservoirs of entrepreneurial skills to successfully take on these challenges. For harnessing these resources, we have to create an eco-system that will allow our citizens to maximize their potential. The essential condition for this is to put in place a development state that is focused on providing the entire gamut of public services efficiently and equitably.
Therefore, the focus on governance reforms and further deepening them is the right way forward. We have incentivize good performance, discourage laxity and dishonesty and eliminate both petty rent seeking and large scale corruption. First steps have been taken over the last three years. These have to be further reinforced for India to have gotten on to a higher, sustained and inclusive growth trajectory.
Author is Founder Director, Pahle India Foundation, Delhi