The title of the recent book An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions by Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen is much suggestive for India. Before its advent, the 21st century was heralded as India’s. Many sceptics like me did not buy it but, being an Indian, thought that India being a land of miracles, it may come true.
The myth attained credibility with the American Papal stamp when President Obama during his six-day visit in 2010 used the adjective ‘incredible’ 19 times for India. Naivety persuaded us to believe that we have almost become a superpower before 2020.
Then what happened that the certain Indian glory became ‘uncertain’ by 2013?
Let’s examine the issue.
Centuries, like Lakshmi, do not belong in one country or continent for long. The 19th century belonged to Europe, particularly UK, and the 20th century to USA. The 21st century was to be Asia’s. In Asia it was supposed to belong to India. It was fallaciously assumed that profligate Americans will eat and drink away their economy, and terrorism will bleed America through its pores.
Europe will be strained between nations and continental European integration, and in the process will be too mired in its problems to think beyond itself. The debt-ridden UK economy will be insolvent soon, as an IIM professor told me in unguarded moments a couple of years earlier, and added that we would be morally obliged to feed them because of our past relations with them.
We believed that USA and Europe will abandon their positions of power and allow us to encroach. Would they ever? Never. Let us not fool ourselves. America’s power—muscle (military), mind (intellectual) and money (economy) rather than decreasing will become more lethal and subtler till they are able to attract the best minds and hands from the world.
Americans might share some space for the time being with the useful other like India to counter prospective intimidation from China. Others including Europeans will have to strive out of their skin to snatch the centre stage.
The 21st century will belong to those who would excel and sustain themselves and help it in the fields of health services, education, economy, security, natural balance and social conduct. Even a sundry reality check informs us that many countries fare better than us. Facts puncture our myths.
If perused, they inform us that the present century, if we behave the way we do, will be China’s, not ours. ‘Physician! Heal thyself’, seems to sum up our health services. Despite breakthroughs, and the fact that India tops the world in the production of generic medicines, it is far behind China in health care. India spends 1.2 per cent of its GDP in comparison to China’s 2.7 on medical care.
The grand narrative of Indian transformation from being the land of snake charmers to ICT masters hides that we are mere service providers and consumers of others’ product.
China, even Korea, is far ahead of us in hard and software production.
We are laggards in education too. With GER around 18 per cent, how can our democracy sustain itself without democratization of knowledge? We may blame the criteria of evaluating HEIs but the fact is that none of our universities finds mention in top 200 in the world. India’s contribution to critical research is less than half of China.
Even in quantity of research dissertations in engineering and technology India’s share is about 1,000 PhDs which is more than nine and fifteen times less than USA and China respectively.
After a stint in Gujarat, the writer teaches at IGNOU,