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India a superpower? Not without...
September 10, 2005
In a TV poll conducted hours before Sania Mirza's fourth round match against Maria Sharapova in the US Open, a full 82 per cent of those taking part in the poll predicted a Mirza victory. In another poll, 55 per cent felt Sharapova would be under greater pressure than Mirza.
The score for the one-sided match that followed may have been unfair to Mirza, but there was little doubt that it was an unequal contest, and at no stage did anything other than a Sharapova win look likely. Yet, large numbers in India had convinced themselves that a Mirza win was on the cards.
This is not a column about sport. The poll on Mirza's chances is relevant because the tendency to make wish the father of fact goes beyond tennis matches. For instance, the easy assumption by many people today is that the 2003 BRICs report by Goldman Sachs has pre-ordained India's destiny as one of the great economic powers of the 21st century.
Indeed, some would argue that India is already a major force to be reckoned with. This, unfortunately, is at the same level of wishful thinking as the 82 per cent who forecast a Sania Mirza victory.
Like Mirza, India has the potential to achieve greatness. And just as Mirza has to work hard at improving her serve and her mobility on court, and reducing the errors in her ground strokes, India has many things to do before it can hope to be among the front-ranking economic powers.
The inescapable fact is that even today India accounts for only 2 per cent of the world's GDP, less than 1 per cent of world trade, less than 1 per cent of global investment flows and an even smaller share of global technology breakthroughs - with 16 per cent of the world's people.
While it is good to be optimistic and to be conscious about the country's latent potential, and indeed to capitalise on recent positive trends, it would be dangerous to get into the mindset that says we have already arrived.
The distance to be covered between today's reality and tomorrow's potential was emphasised in bold relief this last week, with the release of UNDP's latest Human Development Report. At a rank of 127, India is still among the laggards. And despite the front-ranking rate of 7 per cent economic growth, we are making precious little progress in education, health care, sanitation and other elements of social infrastructure.
Most other international rankings also show India in a poor light, whether it is the World Economic Forum's competitiveness report, or Transparency International's corruption perception index. In none of them do we match
Sania Mirza's global rank of 42, and she to her credit is likely to move up the numbers ladder faster than the country.
The problem with celebrating too early - and there are many elements in both the political and media worlds that have made a religion of premature triumphalism - is that we ignore the hard work that has to be done today, and the tough decisions that have to be taken.
To the credit of the UPA government, it has posed questions on basic issues to do with employment and education, empowerment and social security. The problem, of course, is not with the questions but with some of the UPA's answers.
The even bigger problem is that some other questions are not being asked - about the continuing mess in power, the other constraints imposed by India's physical infrastructure, the unfinished and perhaps abandoned task of fiscal correction, the absence of reform in agriculture, and much else. And when questions are not even asked, there are, of course, no answers.
If one can look for other parallels in the world of sport, it would be the Indian cricket team - full of individual stars, and full of potential, but without the organising ability to mount the sustained team effort and consistent performance that wins tournaments.
Pray that does not become the fate of the Indian economy - where we celebrate individual success while the team as a whole fails to perform.
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