India: The Giant Awakens


This is indeed India!

The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations – the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien persons, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined. Even now, after a lapse of a year, the delirium of those days in Bombay has not left me and I hope it never will.

Mark Twain, American author, 1897

For a literary giant so expert at distilling complex ideas into words, it’s revealing how awestruck Twain felt when he visited India. The colour and contrast of his language tell you all you need to know about this most mystical and beguiling of countries.

From Goa to the Ganges and from Kashmir to Kerala, the vivid intensity of India’s colours, smells, tastes and sounds all conspire to create a sensory overload. The rich choreography of Indian life makes you feel like you’ve lived your entire life in black and white, to be suddenly dazzled with Technicolor.

One in every six people on Earth is Indian.

With a long and rich history, India’s roots stretch out through the ages. Pre-Hindu Vedic scriptures, among the oldest religious texts still in use, date back to the 12th century BC and four of the world’s 12 classical major religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism – all originated in India. What’s more, the Indus Valley was one of humanity’s first urban civilisations – arising 3,000 years before Christ.

Given India’s sheer vastness it has often been likened to a continent, and it’s easy to see why. Home to 29 states and seven union territories covering 3.3 million km2, it is 13 times the size of the UK.

India: The time is now (video)

One in every six people on Earth is Indian. And with over 1.3 billion people, its population will soon overtake China. Once a hindrance to growth, India’s mass of people will be its greatest asset in the future.

The reason lies in demographics. Indians are young with over 65% of the population under 35. The majority are highly educated and fluent in English. India’s workforce will be the world’s largest within the next 15 years. Over 70% of the population live in rural areas with massive potential for urbanisation. Indians are diligent savers and generally eschew debt. The potential demand for a variety of goods and services from a large and expanding middle class is huge.

India’s massive pool of human capital bodes well for future growth. The US government forecasts that India will be the third largest economy by 2030, behind the US and China but ahead of Japan.

However, as high-speed India powers ahead, there is a danger that some passengers are left behind. Unresolved issues may come back to bite a future, prosperous India. Growth without redistribution will leave millions in poverty and only widen income inequality. Greater employment opportunities without enlightened attitudes to gender equality will curtail female advancement where it is most needed. Economic advancement without equality of opportunity will only aggravate contemptuous attitudes to the lower castes and raise the fundamental question of what defines ‘development’.

As India marches forward, it needs to heed the lessons of the past and make growth inclusive for all.

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