TECH TALK: India Rising: Lee Kuan Yew on India

Singapores former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew gave a lecture recently in Delhi. He is widely regarded as the person who built the Singapore as we know it today. To understand the implications of what he said, we will turn to our own Atanu Dey. Between them, we can analyse the reasons for Indias past failures and derive lessons for doing things right in the future.

First, a few quotes from Lee Kuan Yew.

What India has achieved since 1991 should not be underrated. There have been many successes. The Delhi Metro is one. Bharat Forge, the largest Indian exporter of auto components and the leading global chassis component manufacturer, is another example in the manufacturing sector. There are others. The question is why there are not many more of them?

There is no dearth of excellent analyses by Indians about this problem. An entire library could be assembled on the subject. I consulted two books: The Future of India by Bimal Jalan, who was Governor of the Reserve Bank of India from 1997 to 2003, Chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and has represented India at the IMF and World Bank; one other book, Governance by Arun Shourie who has held several government portfolios and is a well-known writer. To sum up their arguments for the failings of the system in a single word: politics.

Politics is a fact of life in any country. And coalition politics is a fact of Indian political life.

It has been suggested that Indias slow growth is the consequence of its democratic system of government. Almost 40 years ago, Professor Jagdish Bhagwati wrote that India may face a cruel choice between rapid expansion and democratic processes.

But democracy should not be made an alibi for inertia. There are many examples of authoritarian governments whose economies have failed. There are as many examples of democratic governments who have achieved superior economic performance. The real issue is whether any countrys political system, irrespective of whether it is democratic or authoritarian, can forge a consensus on the policies needed for the economy to grow and create jobs for all, and can ensure that these basic policies are implemented consistently without large leakage. Indias elite in politics, the media, the academia and think tanks can re-define the issues and recast the political debate. They should, for instance, insist on the provision of a much higher standard of municipal services.

At stake is the future of one billion Indians. India must make up for much time lost. There is in fact already a strong political consensus between Indias two major parties that India needs to liberalise its economy and engage with the dynamic economies of the world. The BJP led coalition government of former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee continued and indeed extended the economic liberalisation policies of Manmohan Singh when he was Finance Minister in PM Narashima Raos government. India now has a strong, able and experienced team with Manmohan Singh as PM. The time has come for Indias next tryst with destiny.

Tomorrow: An Answer from Atanu

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.