A few weeks ago, I was chatting up, informally, with a group of Delhi University second year undergraduates in Economics honours. The disdain and anguish expressed by them about the prospect of studying Indian Economics as a major, compulsory subject for the next two semesters not only surprised me but set me thinking.
Their unanimous suggestion was that the university had gone crazy in including Indian economics in the syllabus. I asked them what was wrong with it. It is natural that as Indians and in an Indian university, it was in order, if not absolutely necessary, to study Indian economics. They were not impressed. “Of what use?” asked one of them. “What’s its relevance in today’s context,” asked another. “It is boring, why can’t they teach econometrics, maths or statistics instead,” commented the third one. “In Oxford, Harvard etc. they don’t insist on learning British or US economic history for undergraduate students” said another brightly.
In all they were rubbishing India, insisting that this country has no big economic story to tell, and that its post-independence socialist experiment was a sham. More importantly, India doesn’t count, they bragged, to waste their time with Indian economics. “You know, it is to facilitate those stupid cranks who appear for IAS, IES, Railways and other sarkari tests that they are making us study this stuff,” informed one of them.
I tried telling about the difference between theoretical economics and applied economics. “India is one of the greatest experiments in applied economics,” I argued. “If you really understand Indian economics, then you have learnt all about the world economy,” I boasted. They retorted, complaining of all the negatives about India that they have read in journals and what all they heard in the classrooms. Nothing is flattering about India. “India is home to the largest share of poor, illiterate, malnourished, plagued by killer diseases in the world.” They countered in one voice. “This is not a land of opportunities, go to any super market mall, they are filled with foreign stuff, nobody wants to buy Indian goods. India doesn’t make great ideas and great men,” said one. “Only mediocrity, sycophancy, crab mentality and crime fetch you reward” they all agreed.
“But friends, let’s not digress. This country is a software giant, it produces the largest share of scientist graduates in the world, it feeds a population thrice the size of America, it’s the second largest population in the world, seventh largest geographical area, rich with most bountiful mineral wealth, the third fastest growing economy (after China, Turkey) today and in a decade it is going to be the third largest economy after China and the US, it is gifting away $40 billion toward Euro zone bailout. It is a nuclear power, the West is looking to India for their economic recovery at a time when the US and Euro zone growth is stagnant at 1.5 per cent to below zero, India boasts of the second biggest consumer market with a similar size of middle class with purchasing power. And you feel Indian economics boring? India on the move, because of its sheer size, casts a long shadow across the globe. In mobile tele-density we are the world number one with 930 million (May 2012) and still growing. Indians constitute the second largest contingent of students going abroad for studies. Your problem is you are ignorant about your own country”, I countered.
This had an impact. “And remember this land was repeatedly ravaged and looted, (still being looted) by foreigners for a thousand year and yet it is so immensely rich. Not for nothing that we worship this land as eternal treasure repository of gold (swarnagarbha)”, I proudly proclaimed. I will revert to this later in this series.
India needs better marketing. Not to the outside world. But to our own younger generation. Young India unfortunately, is entirely westernised. As a country, we are westernised too. Our education, democracy, governance system, institutions, parliamentary system, health, dress, media and fashion were all westernised even before we globalised our economy. When India gained freedom, more than two third of the world was under western military dominance. It was so for nearly two centuries. So the world philosophy, history, civilization, culture, economics and literature as we know, were the products of that western domination. The West saw the world naturally from their perspective. In schools and colleges we too taught our children that story, not the native thought. Even in decline, the West looks at the world from their narrow perspective.
The West’s political dominance ended after the World War-II. But their economic decline has begun only after the 2008 depression.
In a recently published book, No One’s World, Charles A. Kupchan (Oxford University Press) gives an interesting insight about how the retreating West is looking at the rising rest. Western strategists believe, notwithstanding the economic peril they are undergoing, the cultural sway and institutions they have created in the rest of the countries will help them hold on to their mastery. (This should be a must read for the students in Indian universities). Kupchan says, “The emerging landscape is one in which power is diffusing and politics diversifying, not one in which all countries are converging toward the Western way. Indeed, the world is on the cusp of a global turn. Between 1500 and 1800 the world’s center of power moved from Asia and the Mediterranean Basin to Europe and, by the end of the nineteenth century, North America. The West then used its power and purpose to anchor a globalised world—and has been at the leading edge of history ever since. But the West’s rise was a function of time and place, and history is now moving on. East Asia has been anointed as the candidate most likely to assume the mantle of leadership… The twenty-first century will not be America’s, China’s, Asia’s or anyone else’s, it will belong to no one… For the first time in history, an independent world will be without a center of gravity or global guardian. A global order, if it emerges will be an amalgam of diverse political cultures…”
Habitually, we imbibed the West centric mindset and failed to look within. The post-independent India produced some spontaneously brilliant works on Indian economy. But they are not part of the curriculum. Post-globalisation India also produced many interesting titles on economy. They also tried to explain and define emerging India. Some books that immediately come to mind are; Imagining India by Nandan Nilekani, A Better India A Better World by NR Narayana Murthy, Global Crisis and Uneven Recovery by YV Reddy, India and China as Allies and Adversaries by Ira Pande, Super Power – The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise by Raghav Behl, India’s Politics: A View From The Backbench by Bimal Jalan, Strategic Consequences of India’s Economic Performance by Sanjaya Baru, A View From Outside by P Chidambaram, We Are Like That Only by Rama Bijapurkar, Tracking Globalisation by JS Sodhi, Elephant Paradigm by Gurcharan Das, Economic Reforms India and China by B Sudhakara Reddy, The Twilight of the Nation State by Prem Shankar Jha and The Caged Phoenix by Dipankar Gupta. (All reviewed in Organiser).
These books belong to the same genre as their basic premise is globalisation (rather promoting it) and essentially written from a pro-US perspective. They well cover the two decades of Indian honeymoon with globalisation but fail to analyse the Indian economy from a post-West world scenario. They are not India centric. There are some equally stirring books by foreign authors too, significant for their India content. The India story has to unfold on a robust nationalist footing. The biggest tragedy about globalisation is the missing India connect. In the coming weeks we will discuss that.