India is being hailed as an "emerging" power, but what we are really witnessing is a re-emergence. Before the 18th century, India was a dominant player in the world economy. At their peak, India and China together accounted for close to 50 per cent of world GDP. Today, it is the interplay of democracy, demography and the Indian diaspora that makes the story of re-emergence significant.
India will have unique answers to four debates facing the world at the beginning of the 21st century: Economic development versus liberal democracy, pluralism versus fundamentalism, the effects of globalization, and the effects of a diaspora on the original and host countries.
There is an essence to India, which tells us that behind the diversity of life, there is a spiritual reality called unity. India represents "diversity in unity," a centrifugal state reined in by only the very loosest and most fragile of bonds.
Hinduism appears the source of that unity. It is seen as just another religion, while it is in fact a way of life. Hinduism doesn't have any one founder or a Bible or a Koran and consequently, it doesn't require its adherents to accept any one idea. It is thus cultural.
India has disproved the despondent vision of Malthusianism, and since becoming a democracy in 1947, it has not seen famine despite population growth. The larger working population has helped country's savings rate rise to 34 per cent of GDP, projected to increase to 40 per cent by 2015.
India benefits from a demographic dividend as an unusually young country in a greying world and it will stay so till 2050, morphing into a consumer market for the world. Its middle class is already larger than the U.S. population, and expected to swell to 580 million in the next two decades.
Further, smaller numbers of dependents will enable a phase of guilt-free consumption. These multiple forces will drive an unprecedented growth rate of 5 per cent annually or higher until 2050.
"Freedom deficit" is one of the major causes of economic backwardness. Democracy, economic development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. India is the only large democracy where the growing prosperity of the lower orders is well above that of the privileged groups. No country in the world has the combination of democracy and demography that makes the Indian opportunity so significant.
A diaspora estimated at over 30 million people fills important mainstream roles and responsibilities in their adopted countries, helping shape the destiny of these countries. The President of Singapore,Governor-General of New Zealand and prime ministers of Mauritius and Trinidad and Tobago are all of Indian descent.
Between 1995 and 2005, over a quarter of immigrant-founded engineering and IT companies in the United States were started by Indians, according to a study by Duke University and the University of California. And Indian immigrants own an estimated 35 per cent of the country's hotels.
According to the 2000 U.S. census, Indians had median annual earnings of $51,000, compared to $32,000 for Americans overall. About 64 per cent of Indian-Americans have a bachelor's degree or more, compared to 28 per cent of Americans overall, and 44 per cent for all Asian-American groups. Almost 40 per cent have a master's, doctorate or other professional degree, five times the national average.
When people of Indian origin are held in high esteem, respect for and understanding of the country go up. The influential Indian diaspora affects not just the popular attitude, but also government policies in countries where they live, to the benefit of India. India benefits tremendously through these people in luring large multinational companies as well as entrepreneurial ventures.
The Indian model is unique and holistic - a democracy that simultaneously has engaged in a measured form of economic liberalism. The essential tensions that accompany a vast federal, growth driven and socially conscious structure, combined with an unparalleled range of diversity, makes India a shining example of development and growth for the world.
Aditya Jha is the national convener of the Canada India Foundation.
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