Progressive critiques of India’s recent development prospects are often marked by schizophrenic worldviews – between what is and what ought to be.
Mira Kamdar’s recent piece in the World Policy Journal illustrates this well. By Ms. Kamdar’s account Indians are heading down an inevitable path to doomsday. Malthusian population pressures, resource scarcity, global warming, environmental degradation, industrial capitalism, and political corruption have combined with an inherently fractured society that is likely to erupt in caste, religious, and class warfare, terrorism, and self-destruction. Mix in the recent US-India civilian-Nuclear deal and the presence of unstable neighbors – Pakistan, Bangladesh – along with an aggressive China, and Ms. Kamdar offers up all the ingredients for a nuclear holocaust. The only uncertainty we are left with is: which doomsday will India break into first — internal implosion or external explosion?
And if this is not enough, Kamdar has one more concern: Indians are taking to cars rather than following the example of bicycle aficionados in Amsterdam, Paris, and New York.
All this, because Ms. Kamdar wishes to disabuse her readers of taking too seriously the rosy-scenarios painted for India in the 5 year old Goldman Sachs BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India- China) report. Perhaps the BRICS authors expected a less fundamental critique of their growth-accounting models? Instead, Ms. Kamdar offers her own BRICS dream in the very last para of her piece: India’s under-class and lower castes having finally usurped political power will magically transform Indian democracy, to root out corruption, poor governance, and “…will have delivered quality education and healthcare, housing, clean water and sanitation…. Its policies will reflect the active civic engagement of an informed electorate, becoming a model for the world of the advantages of truly democratic governance. Now that is what I call dreaming with a BRIC.”
An ongoing doomsday scenario in India that ends in a future utopian vision for India: Ms. Kamdar offers no intellectual bridge from here to there. So how can one trust the reality of either worldview?
Perhaps if she had considered the half-century lost under the unproductive haze of the License Raj; or the pernicious harm done to Indian polity by a caste based reservation system that actually reversed upward caste mobility and institutionalized caste divisiveness in Indian society — an outcome that ironically is the one real ingredient in Ms. Kamdar’s utopia; or, if Ms. Kamdar had considered the woeful neglect of land markets in India instead of choosing to paint the Nano plant site controversy in West Bengal in class-warfare terms; or, that even assuming the worst case global-warming outcome and its impact on agricultural productivity in India, opening up the rural economy to trade and investment offers the individual farmer more, rather than less, options – of goods, technology, and mobility – when dealing with a changing environment.
All of the problems Ms. Kamdar touches on are real and require incremental but genuine responses – to be provided by markets, entrepreneurship, leadership, and good governance. And these responses will by necessity emerge from what India is and not from some radicalized new society that Ms. Kamdar dreams.
Too bad Ms. Kamdar has chosen to neglect the reality and promise of progress in India, while conjuring up wild lurches between doomsday and utopia. One can only hope that the readers of WPJ are more grounded than the author.
Guest post by Nimai Mehta, Assistant Professor of International Trade and Business at American University, Washington DC.