Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stirring speech at the Red Fort on Monday struck all the right notes as he sought to lay the roadmap for the country for 2047, when the nation would celebrate the centenary year of its independence. Modi’s articulation of the new path was aimed at inspiring the young generation to “dream big” and focus on five ideals. In his words, “panchpran” should help India become a developed nation in the next 25 years. The PM has asked India’s citizens to take five resolutions—making India a developed nation, removing every trace of bondage and servitude, taking pride in its heritage and unity, and fulfilling their duties in the next 25 years. No one can disagree with the PM’s earnest call to the nation. After all, development is a sum total of economic, political, social and religious upliftment—when every citizen starts taking determined steps towards channelising India towards development.
The most substantive part of Modi’s speech was the ambition of a developed country status for India by 2030. It’s not that he has mentioned it for the first time—he had earlier held out that prospect in 2017 on a visit to Kedarnath. The time frame the PM had set then was 2022. That dream would remain unfulfilled, but one only hopes that it doesn’t have to be extended once again. There is no doubt India has made rapid strides in the last 75 years—it will become the world’s fifth-largest economy and is on the way to become third-largest; it is self-sufficient in food; and key development indicators such as infant mortality and life expectancy have steadily improved. The significant achievement of 20 million vaccinations in a relatively short period of time speaks volumes for the nation’s intrinsic strength. These are not small achievements.
Yet, it would be an understatement to say that the challenges are formidable. Developed economies usually have a high component of GDP comprising the industrial and services sectors. On the former, the less said, the better, as the manufacturing sector in India is much smaller in relation to the whole economy than for virtually all of East Asia, let alone the more advanced economies. While the services sector is progressing well, India’s knowledge economy is still ranked a lowly 97 out of 154 countries in the UNDP’s Global Knowledge Index 2021, which quantifies the knowledge and development conditions of countries. No nation can progress if it doesn’t fix the three `E’s—education, employment, and employability. But India risks frittering away its demographic advantage as more than half of the working population is still unemployable. The PM also talked about ‘Jai Anusandhan (innovation)’, which essentially calls for education reforms, much bigger public spending on research & development, resources to set up research centres of excellence and investment in the ICT industry.
That the world’s largest democracy and the world’s fastest growing major economy is still merely a lower-middle-income country is because of institutional decay—under-staffed judiciary, understaffed but barely accountable bureaucracy, and a poltical system that is still obsessed with caste, freebies, and religion. All of this needs to be reversed if India has to consistently achieve an annual economic growth of 8% over the next two decades. A democratic system predicated on social justice, equality and unity would need to be reignited if India has to march towards its rightful place in the global order.