20 Years Ago India

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20 Years Ago India

By | April 2012
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Twenty years ago this weekend, three top Indian officials burned the midnight oil tearing up old import controls and preparing a package of economic reforms that would slowly lead to the booming India that is widely admired today, with growth of 8-9%, 300-350m people enjoying the benefits of a consumer economy, and businessmen operating internationally.But India seems to be in no mood to celebrate that momentous event, just as it wasn’t at India’s 50th anniversary of independence in 1997 when the feeling was downbeat. People then were unsure of what to celebrate, since so little had been achieved in terms of economic development, care for the poor, and industrial efficiency since the British left in 1947.Ten years later, that had changed because of the economic boom of the intervening years. But the 1997 mood is now back again. People are aware that, despite all the economic and business successes, 800m people are still desperately poor and under-nourished, with poor access to clean water and health and education services. Public infrastructure and services are crumbling, national security and defence preparedness is woefully inadequate, and governance is sliding into a greedy, corrupt and inefficient abyss with no bottom in sight.Popular contrasts of India’s elephant and China’s tiger economies are being trotted out in various articles and studies, as they have been for 20 years. But the contrast is simplistic because India has its tiger industries such as information technology (IT), autos, pharma, and mobile telecoms that have been spurred by entrepreneurial drive and technological change.There are also rapidly industrializing states – notably Gujarat and Tamil Nadu (despite its political corruption). These are taking the place of India’s earlier internationally lauded cities, Bangalore and Hyderabad, the capitals of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh that have been swamped by the greed and corruption of politicians and businessmen in areas such as land acquisition,...