I spent the past few days in Chennai, the Capital of Tamil Nadu, visiting relatives and finishing off some personal work which was waiting for my visit for the past 4 months.
Every time I visit India, my perception of the environment has kept going up – I mean, increasingly positive. The improvements that I see all around should have come about couple of decades ago, keeping in tune with global enhancement to living conditions. But India faltered on its way to economic growth, led by ineffective leaders who were always subject to political pressures and vagaries, and who made decisions not always keeping the welfare of the country at heart.
However, notwithstanding the huge delays which have cost dearly, finally things are shaping up. I am not going to be positive about most things, however. In a very large country like India, it is very tough and almost impossible to get every section of the society aligned with economic growth imperatives and the sacrifices that are sometimes necessary to achieve equitable growth for all. There are people who are always against the central government and its initiatives. There are state governments not ruled by the same party which rules in the centre (federal). There are religious factions, there are minorities and then there is the “silent” majority who do not care about anything.
With all these challenges, India is moving fast forward, which is a rather surprising development over the past year or so. It will take considerable time, but it is not inconceivable for India to reach a 9 to 10% GDP growth rate, and a per capita income of USD 3,000 in the next 5 years, which should lift the size of the GDP to more than twice what it is today. It is also entirely possible (given the trajectory and assuming minimal disruptions) to achieve a per capita income of USD 5,000 in about 10 years’ time, which would be roughly three times the size of the economy today.
Well, good to read. On the ground, things move slowly however. Corrupt practices continue, albeit with reduced intensity. I pick up feedback from cab and auto rickshaw drivers, who are rather articulate and voluble when it comes to criticizing everything around us. I also collect inputs from folks that I meet, because invariably the talk turns towards the ineffectiveness of state governments and economic growth, etc.,
One thing which worries me is that what you hear about the English capability of Indians is actually not true. Most people are more comfortable in their mother tongue or in Hindi, the de facto national language which 70% of India speaks and understands. When I called a central government agency in New Delhi which is responsible for the national bio-metric ID cards, and chose the option to receive instructions in English and to speak with someone in English, I could not get the right person despite multiple attempts. I was able to get only Hindi speakers, who were baffled that I could not converse in Hindi, and struggled to understand what I was trying to say. It was incorrigible that the senior management of that agency has not addressed the issue, as everything in Central Government in New Delhi (and elsewhere in the country) is supposed to deal with all parts of the country, not just with Hindi speakers. Further, I tested the basic English language of OLA and UBER drivers in Chennai, and they consistently demonstrated lack of grasp of basic English communication.
So, what are we talking?!!!
It is not adequate for just the IT workers and Financial Industry workers to speak English. India needs to do something urgently to rapidly enhance English literacy. The most popular language in China today is English! Is it surprising? No. China has repeatedly demonstrated that if it sets its mind and heart to achieving something, it will achieve that, come no matter what. India does not follow this tenacity in thinking to achieve and then achieving the target with heart and mind.
Another parameter that I use to measure improvement is the ability of the economy to maintain capital assets to ensure maximum utilization and productivity of the asset. India has repeatedly failed to maintain its assets. Simple examples include MIG fighter jets (“flying coffins” as these are called), roads, power plants, water supply, railway stations and rail tracks, airports (improving finally), and infrastructure in general. Faulty lifts (elevators) and escalators abound. Attention to detail is completely lacking. Maintenance discipline which is an essential and critical component of economic productivity does not exist. How then can India compete with China?
In a large metro city like Chennai, with a population of 8M (50% more than Singapore), the upkeep of public facilities and roads are found to be seriously in disarray. I dread the upcoming monsoon season when the number of potholes in roads will multiply rapidly. It is apparent that public money is not being spent wisely in the interest of the public. Many arterial roads do not have pavements, or have pavements which are occupied by hawkers. The city municipal corporation does not seem to be taking strict action on violators. All legislators are afraid of voter backlash, but they view the voters in pockets. The silent majority goes without a say.
I can go on and on, but the key point that I observed is that people are optimistic and the general economic environment is improving (notwithstanding President Trump).
I hope that one day, not in the too distant future, at least some Indian cities will reach the status of global cities which attract talent from around the world.
The Indian story continues……….
13th August 2017