Learned to Be Patient With India: Bahl At ‘Super Century’ Launch
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19 July 2019 saw the launch of ‘Super Century – What India Must Do To Rise by 2050’ – the latest book of The Quint's Editor-in-Chief Raghav Bahl.
In the presence of distinguished guests including author Gurcharan Das, former RBI governor and MP Dr Bimal Jalan, MP and former IIM-Bangalore professor Rajeev Gowda, and journalist and national security expert Praveen Swami journalist, Bahl shared the success of his new book at Indian International Centre in New Delhi.
The launch was also graced by scores of well-wishers, who expressed the need for more books like 'Super Century' to help India overcome the problems it’s currently grappling with.
An unwavering optimist on India, Bahl kickstarted the event by recounting the story behind his ‘Super Trilogy’.
Here's what he had to say.
How India’s Economy Necessitated ‘Super Trilogy’
This actually is the third book in what we internally, pompously, called Super Trilogy. It is the third book with the title of ‘Super’.
In the early 1990s, when India began its liberalisation, China and India were equal. Our GDPs were virtually equal and on a per capita income basis actually, India was ahead of China. It sounds impossible right now. But within 15-16 years, by 2006-07, China was almost 4xIndia in per capita income.
So I asked myself this question, ‘I know how we have done our economic opening up, how did China do its economic opening up?’ And that was the genesis of the first book that I wrote, 'Super Power'.
We really did a face-to-face comparison between China and India in that book. I was very optimistic with India in those days as well.
Remember, 2007-08 were go-go years before Lehman happened in September and I wrote a very optimistic account of India, and I said we have the institutional infrastructure and strength that China does not. We are now growing almost as fast as China. In fact, in nominal GDP terms in those go-go years, India was growing faster than China.
What I did not bargain for was the stalled reforms of 2011. I think this country just went into a stall in 2011 and we just simply fell way behind China. And then, since my prognosis did not come out so correct, I said, “Let me write another one” and then I wrote 'Super Economies' where I brought America into the equation and postulated that there are going to be three super economies in the world – perhaps a bit later than I thought it would happen – but there would be three super economies.
America was, of course, the legacy super economy. The super economy, which had been the sole super economy for a while. China which was the scrappy challenger but had become a super economy. India, which was what I called a sleeper super economy that would get there in a few years.
My definition of a super economy were four or five criteria. It has got to be a large country, large population, large landmass, nuclear-armed armies, a double-digit share of global GDP – which only America and China had at that time, India is getting there – and a geographical location in the hotspots of the world, therefore you have an influence on the critical incidents that are happening in the world. And the three countries which ticked those boxes were, of course, America, China and India.
There again I realised, in the first five years of Modi 1.0, I figured I had again been a bit too optimistic. While in the foreign policy sphere, the first Modi government did have a fair number of achievements, in the economic sphere, unfortunately, I found that they were wanting a lot compared to the kind of promise with which they had come.
Optimism Tempered With Patience
I realised that the date of India’s tryst with destiny had again been pushed and again, therefore, the final third book that I wrote, I told myself to be a little more patient with India. It is going to take longer, that I had tried to be too impatient with this country. Therefore, I gave myself a lovely three-decade period of what India must do to rise by 2050.
One reason, of course, is that I won’t be here to defend my thesis. So I could be horribly wrong and everyone will write about it posthumously, so that is fine. It does not trouble me.
But more importantly, it gives us 30 years to do what we have not been able to do. I have tried to outline that in the book and I am sure that will come out in the panel discussion.
I would repeat that the Modi government has done much better in the foreign policy sphere. When the government came in, it was thought that PM Modi does not have the talent or experience for foreign policy, but has the talent and experience for economic policy.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be the other way round. He seemed to be far more aggressive and a risk-taker in foreign policy, and far too timid – and turned out to be, in my opinion – far too much of a tinkerer and incrementalist when it came to economic policy. All of that I have written in the book, I am sure we will discuss it.
That is the context of the third Super book which is 'Super Century'. I hope in the next three decades, we can do what we, frankly, could have done much earlier, but as I said, I have learned to be patient with India.
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