This is a week when I feel especially hopeless about India’s future. A week in China has caused this gloomy mood. I have just returned from the World Economic Forum’s ‘Summer Davos’ in the city of Tianjin. I had not heard of Tianjin till two weeks ago and, because I was told that it was near Beijing, expected an obscure dormitory town. So when I found myself in a magnificent, modern city of shiny skyscrapers, spectacular bridges and fine boulevards, I was stunned.
We chattered amongst ourselves in Hindi about why such a Convention Centre would take ten years to build in India and agreed that it could be because democratic processes take longer than totalitarian ones. Then we went to Tianjin railway station to take the high speed train to Beijing and we stopped making excuses for the Motherland. Tianjin railway station looks like Delhi’s new international airport and the train that covered the 130 kilometres to Beijing in thirty minutes is faster and more modern than any I have ever been on. When we got to Beijing, the Indians I was with, were as angry as I was at how far India had been left behind by a country that till the seventies was at least twenty years behind us.
There are those who blame democracy for this and they are wrong. If there is one thing that makes us better than China it is democracy, but to come back to India and find our biggest political leaders, and the whole of our media, absorbed by ancient political problems only added to my gloomy mood. What is the point in discussing Kashmir if all we can come up with is the idea of sending yet another all-party delegation to the Valley?
Why are we discussing temples and mosques at all when we know that the biggest political problem in India is governance? If China has overtaken us in infrastructure, in urban development, education, sanitation and healthcare, it is because China has understood that the key to delivering these things is governance. It is not the fault of democracy that we have bad governance, but the fault of our political leaders. Of the present lot, only the Prime Minister understands that India cannot hope to become a fully developed country in this century unless we begin a massive process of administrative reforms, but he does nothing about it.
Our ruling family appears to have no interest in governance at all and prefers to fritter away their years in power by taking us back towards an economic model that caused us to get left behind in the first place.
Only when we changed course in the nineties did things improve. Today we can be proud of a middle class of more than 200 million people and Indian companies that are recognised as world class. But, there is a huge section of Indian public opinion, led by the ex-novelist, that hates what has happened. In yet another one of her lengthy diatribes last week, she praised Sonia and Rahul Gandhi for being on the right track. If I were them, I would be more worried about this endorsement than anything else. There is a growing impression in the business community and among those who understand economics better than the ex-novelist does, that our ruling family is moving us back towards socialism Indian ‘ishtyle’.
Meanwhile, the country from which our Lefties, Liberals and Maoists get inspiration, has moved with spectacular success towards a market economy. When I twittered about this, someone twittered back that perhaps we should lease India to the Chinese for the next 200 years. It might come to that if we do not buck up.