Aakar Patel | What kind of a ‘developed’ nation might we be by 2047

The Asian Age.  | Aakar Patel

Opinion, Columnists

If we expect to grow faster, how and what are we doing or going to do that is different from what we have done since 2014?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the Raisina Dialogue, in New Delhi, Thursday, March 2, 2023.

Some things happened last week that require reflection. They are different things but we shall try to join them. The “mother of democracy” hosted her children at the G-20 foreign ministers’ meeting. There were some step-children in attendance also, like our nameless neighbour on the east and the Gulf states, which are not democratic, and some others like Russia and Turkey which are democratic only in name.

A few questions come to mind when thinking about our position in the grand scheme of things. The first one is our demand that the global order be modified and we be given our rightful place in the United Nations Security Council. This demand was repeated again this week, and of course has found its place in the ruling party’s manifestos. The question that occurs is why does the nation that is already a “Vishwa Guru” need to be on the Security Council? The answer is not known perhaps because the question has not been asked before, but we have to consider it seriously since the claim is serious, just as the claim that we have been elected head of the G-20 is serious. Also, if we are a “Vishwa Guru”, why not just take the place on the Council rather than ask for it? If someone is stopping us, who dares do that to a Vishwa Guru? Again, the answer is not obvious.

The other thing related to this issue is what happened at the G-20 meeting in Delhi. It was a meeting of the foreign ministers and one national newspaper had this headline “G-20 foreign ministers meeting: Divisions between Western countries, Russia-China derail joint statement”. The context was the war in Ukraine, which also derailed the joint statement last year in Bali (when Indonesia was the G-20 president though it was not a Vishwa Guru). The question that occurs is simple: can our presidency not produce anything different from Indonesia’s or anyone else’s, and if it cannot, then what is the point of all the song and dance? This is a rhetorical question.

The next thing that happened is that India has, in addition to being the mother of democracy and Vishwa Guru, become the world’s most populous nation. This news came to Vishwa Guru from the outside. The World Population Review database says that on Friday, March 3, our population was 142 crores and 80 lakh people, while China’s was 142 crores and 50 lakh people. When this becomes official, there will be a lot of song and dance about it, but remember that it is the second time that India is ahead of China. The first was of course all the years before 1947 when, if you assume a united India, it was always the most populous part of the world.

Why do I say that the news came to us from outside? That is because we have not conducted a census for the first time in over a century, and we do not know when it will be conducted. The second last thing on this subject is that along with becoming the world’s populous nation, our fertility rate has been falling. It stands at 2.0, which is right at the point of replacement, and it continues to fall. Meaning that in a few years our population will start to decline. There is something to be said here against those people who keep scare-mongering on the basis of faith, but this is not the place to discuss that. However, we should, and this is the last thing, consider that a few years ago we began our demographic bulge, when the number of working-age people in the population began to maximise.

However, this is also the same period when our labour force participation rate and our unemployment rose, according to the government’s figures. A combination of a record population and record unemployment, what will that bring? We will see.

The last item in this column deals with the Union Budget. The Prime Minister had last week referred to it as the “Amrit Kaal” Budget when talking about such things as education. The first point of “Amrit Kaal”, according to him, is that by or in 2047 India would become “developed”.

Now, if we go by the growth rate we have achieved since 2014, which is an average of 5.7 per cent growth per year, where would we be in 2047? The answer is at $8,800 per capita. That is $4,000 less than China is today, and less than one-fourth of Japan’s current per capita and about one ninth of America’s current per capita GDP.

If we will call ourselves “developed”, are we going to do so by changing the definition of development? Or do we expect others to come down? Or do we expect to grow faster than we have since 2014? If we expect to grow faster, how and what are we doing or going to do that is different from what we have done since 2014?

This is again a rhetorical question because there are no answers. Our solutions lie in acronyms, slogans, coining new words and phrases and pretending to be something we are not and are not about to be. Getting the great powers to agree to something against their will requires either hard power or at the very least great moral authority, neither of which, truth be told, we have. A government that cannot count its own people, cannot count its own record of growth and extrapolate it, that does not acknowledge its own data on employment and joblessness, will not be taken seriously. On the positive side, nobody can stop us from preening, from bombast and from pretending. And so, we can expect that to continue.