TECH TALK: Technology and the Indian Elections: Rising Democracy

China and India are now seen as the two dynamos of the world. Wrote Jeffrey Sachs in an article entitled Welcome to Asias Century recently: By 2050, China and maybe India will have overtaken the US economy in size. He adds: When poorer countries like China and India are relatively well managed politically and economically, they tend to grow more rapidly than richer countries. The poorer countries have an advantage of relative backwardness, in that they can import the know-how of the leading economies. That occurs through the importation of capital, flows of foreign investment, and the training of scientists and engineersTechnological catch-up can be frustrated if a lagging country is politically unstable or economically mismanagedBoth China and India squandered the chance for rapid economic growth in the first decades after World War II because of Maos communism and Nehrus socialism.

Democracy has worked in India, but the democratically elected leaders have failed Indians for much of its history as an Independent nation. For the period from 1947-1991, India remained isolated from much of the world, stuck in the glory of its ancient past, and a leadership that did little to integrate a growing population into the world. The majority of the population was illiterate, and it was almost as if poverty was the birthright for them. They knew little better. The contrast with China was stark. Since the 1980s, China focused on economic development and transformed itself from a laggard into a regional and global powerhouse. Indias Hindu rate of growth of 3-4% was seen as a small price to pay for its democracy.

The last decade has changed all this. Forced to bring in reforms, Indias leadership suddenly saw the benefits of integration with the world. The software industry showed the way. As the media sectors were opened, television channels showcased aspirational lifestyles and brands. Just as the Indian cricket team now benchmarks itself against Australia, the Indian economy is now compared to China. The difference may still be significant, but at least it is now starting to shrink. For the first time, a generation has grown believing that it has the ability to define its own future, one significantly better than the previous generation. The heady mix of democracy and entrepreneurship can be the twin pillars for the resurgent India.

Just a few years ago, Indias democracy was seen as one of the reasons it lagged behind an authoritative China. Now, this very open and participative culture is seen as the hidden weapon for long-term growth. And elections are the hallmark of a democracy. So, as India goes to the polls soon, the vote will also be for its future the people elected at every level can make a difference in building tomorrows India. In previous elections, the choice in most cases was between the deep sea and the devil, and it didnt really matter who got elected. Now, with an active media and a populace more aware of its rights and opportunities, elections and our votes do matter. If India has to realise its promise and potential, we, the people, will have to make intelligent, considered choices and actively contribute to building the New India. This is where technology can make a difference.

Tomorrow: Emergent Democracy

TECH TALK Technology and the Indian Elections+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.