Independence Days have it in them – they make one introspective. Unlike birthdays and New Year (Jan 1) when one thinks of the self, August 15 makes you think of the broader trends and where the nation is headed. Maybe, it is also because it’s a holiday in India and many of the media also carry the introspective type of content!
India batting 54, Reforms hit wicket 10, PC retired hurt 20, Internet at the non-striker’s end on 6. That’s the story of the 4 Anniversaries. (Well, only two of them actually fall on August 15 – Indian Independence Day and the launch by VSNL of commercial Internet access. The other two events happened around this time give or take a few months.)
India at 54 is only now coming to life. Across India, despite the day-to-day problems we have always faced here, there is a new optimism that tomorrow will definitely be today, and more importantly, it is in our hands to make it happen. The Reforms train has lost steam in recent times, but Indian companies have finally figured out that if they don’t improve quality and make their operations world-class, a mix of new technology, smart customers and cheaper imports will make them irrelevant.
The PC and the Internet have both garnered about 5-6 million users in India. It has been a disappointing growth. The future holds promise as one shifts from the processing era to the communications era. The computing era has given birth to the Indian software services industry, which last year garnered USD 6.2 billion in export revenues. The domestic market needs to be brought to life if we have to build the foundation for long-term growth.
Let us first take a look at India in the last 10 years. A look at some economic indicators (from an article by Niranjan Rajadhyaksha in the August 20 issue of Business World):
- GDP growth rate was 5.3% in 1990-91 and 5.2% in 2000-01 (growth has slowed in recent years after rising earlier in the decade)
- Per Capita income has risen from Rs 8,283 to Rs 21,648 in the last decade (but wealth distribution continues to be very uneven)
- Inflation (as measured by the Wholesale Price Index) has fallen from 10.3% in 1990-91 to 7.1% in 2000-01
- Fiscal decficit continues to hover around 9-11%
- Services now accounts for 47% of the economy as compared to 31% a decade ago
- Forex reserves are up from the lows of USD 1 billion in 1990-91 to a comfortable USD 43 billion now
While Inflation, Services and Forex reserves are the bright points, they do not capture the shift in Attitude. Among the younger generation, there is Hope and Optimism. In many ways, this was captured by the Vajpayee of the late 1990s who could do no wrong. For the first time, India had political leadership one could be proud of. As has happened so often in India, our leaders have flattered to deceive. Instead, there is a growing belief that one’s destiny is firmly now in one’s hands. As Indians have powered ahead on the world stage, the future of India and Indians is no longer as intertwined as it was a decade ago.