Exactly two decades back, at the turn of the century, the talk of the town was where India would be in 20 years’ time. There were arguments and counter-arguments as to why we should gaze 20 years ahead, rather than a shorter time frame. It was also suggested that 20 years in the life of a nation like India was just a speck and planning for the next 50 years would be ideal. Anyway, 2020 is here. Have we reached the destination that the many Vision 2020 documents said we would?
Most prominently, the erstwhile Planning Commission’s India Vision 2020 asked itself this question in 2000: What would India be like 20 years hence? Acknowledging the fact that every country needs a vision document to motivate society to achieve its inherent potential, the Planning Commission constituted a committee that included 30 experts from various fields. Besides suggesting that India needs political consensus on important issues of the economy, the committee looked at issues of education, health, employment and agriculture.
Taking into consideration all the factors that influence the economy, the document envisaged a targeted annual GDP growth rate of 8.5-9%, which would result in the quadrupling of real per capita income and no Indian would be ‘living below the poverty line’ by 2020. “This will raise India’s rank from 11th today to 4th from the top in 2020 among 207 countries given in the World Development Report in terms of GDP. Further, in terms of per capita GDP measured in PPP (purchasing power parity), India’s rank will rise by a minimum of 53 ranks from the present 153 to 100. This will mean, India will move from a low income country to an upper middle income country. This is a very real possibility for us to seize upon and realise,” said the report.
It is no secret that as much as 78% of the global GDP (of about $86.31 trillion) comes from 16 countries, and of this nearly 55% is contributed by five countries, India being one of them besides the US, China, Japan and Germany, in that order. India is inching towards the $3 trillion mark, and its GDP growth rate remains strong. But that is hardly a solace when seen in connection with the size of the country and its resilience in the face of gathering storms.
In these 20 years, since the start of the millennium, India has risen to become the fifth-largest economy of the world and virtually also among the most preferred nations for investors and manufacturers. Our growth story took off in the late nineties with the service sector. Starting in the 1960s, Indian engineers had made a beeline to Silicon Valley in the US. In the 1980s, US technology companies started to make a beeline to India’s ‘Silicon Valley’, Bengaluru and thus started the IT outsourcing boom. In the past decade or so, Indians have come to man the leadership positions in the world’s top technology corporations.
But, like in every fairy tale, India began to lose the plot of its growth story. According to a report by a financial agency, the collapse of the non-banking financial sector, the bursting of the real estate bubble, short-sighted policies and knee jerk reactions of the government, almost zero industrial growth, and lack of consumer demand are some of the macro reasons for the current slowdown. The much-touted fight against unaccounted money, euphemistically called ‘black money’, resulted in demonetisation, which set back the cash economy that fuelled agriculture and small and medium industry and business. The introduction of the GST reaffirmed the government’s resolve to bring in a nation-wide uniform tax structure but hiccups in implementation need to be taken care of.
The vision for 2020 included the creation of 200 million jobs, more world-class universities to catapult India as the knowledge hub of the world, and raising farm income. Sadly, we are nowhere near the targets on these counts, despite efforts by governments since 2000. Eradication of poverty is another issue that seems to elude solution.
Paying rich tributes to one of the world’s ancient civilisations, Lord Macaulay had said in the British Parliament in 1835, “I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre…the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage...”
Here we are in 2020, and we can only look longingly to that old glory. But there are new goals to achieve, new glories to imagine. Are we ready to lay the template for the much-publicised $5 trillion economy in the next five years? India has the potential, capability, determination, political will and above all the desire to emerge as a strong and benign global power. Let’s not be giving excuses in 2025, please.