Business Today

The Big Picture

Aroon Purie        Print Edition: Jan 6, 2013

Even a casual conversation with a businessman these days invariably veers towards the stasis in India. Inertia is rife across government departments where even the most innocuous of decisions is deferred. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party jump into bitter face-offs to score political brownie points. High interest rates make financing of any kind of capital investment or expansion risky while inflation tenaciously eats into your savings and disposable incomes. And economic growth? It is common to hear predictions of sub-five per cent GDP expansion next fiscal year.

Incidents in 2012 highlighted the frailty of India. In a July electricity grid outage, large swathes of north India, where some 670 million people live, plunged into darkness. An administrative decision on foreign equity in retail companies ended up in a slugfest in Parliament for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance coalition.

In August, North-Easterners by the trainload hurried home as rumours of attacks on them spread on social media. Retrospective tax amendments put the credibility of the Government of India in question. Global credit ratings agencies put India's rating on a negative outlook as the summer rolled in. The rupee sharply declined in the foreign exchange markets.

A young population typically translates into a nation that is high on aspiration, is willing to take risks, will spend more, and, in general, is more demanding... in the coming decades, India will stay young bubbling with energy.

And through the year Indians underscored their eroding faith in the future of the country's economy by buying more gold than ever before. India, if you believe social chatter and living room conversations, is living through some of its worst days with no hand at the nation's wheel.

At Business Today, however, we take pride in being able to take a distanced view of issues at hand. So, join me and zoom out to take a 35,000-feet view of the story called India. Some context first. In terms of what they take home every year, Indians have never prospered as fast as in the last 20 years in recorded economic history; per capita incomes have nearly trebled since the economic reforms of 1991/92. The profile of the economy has changed dramatically with services making for nearly three-fifths of our $1.6 trillion GDP decoupling the country from rains every year. Manufacturing companies are much more competitive and are expanding overseas rapidly.

But all that is in the past. The Indian story is just beginning to play out if you can look beyond the immediate term and focus on what financial analysts call fundamentals. So, we decided to theme our 21st Anniversary Issue, the one you are holding, around why you should keep faith with India. Here are some of the fundamentals: India's young population, its rising social spending, the starburst of entrepreneurship over its skies, its ability to adopt technologies with speed and ease, and a government that is increasingly being forced to deliver.

A young population typically translates into a nation that is high on aspiration, is willing to take risks, will spend more, and, in general, is more demanding. Around one-third of our population is under the age of 15. This means in the coming decades, India will stay young bubbling with energy.

One estimate puts the addition to India's workforce at an average of one million every month for the next 20 years! To be sure, such a demographic dividend can be erased by school dropout rates that continue to stay high and an alarming increase in lifestyle diseases. Call us stubborn optimists but we like to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. Read a heart-warming story of a daily wage earner investing in his son's schooling and how Indian education is getting a big leg-up from philanthropists.

Entrepreneurship has always been in our veins and a Gallup survey of 5,000 people nailed that fact once again early in 2012, when it showed that one in six Indians owns a business. The power of this zest for risk dovetailed with youth is something that Arun Maira first flagged in Business Today in 2005. His column A Nation of Fireflies talked about the power of millions of young agents of change. Think of it as a million Narayana Murthys or Sunil Mittals creating change and wealth on the ground. That is what we are at the cusp of. Maira, a management consultant in 2005 and a member of the Planning Commission today, serves his third essay for the magazine on the topic.

Education is key to arm India's young with skills for the job market, and for once there is good news to report there. Several private programmes back the government's increased spending on education in the last decade or so. Such initiatives bring best management practices to education. Though small today, they have enormous potential of scaling up and, more importantly, have a demonstrative effect on the rest of the education system.

This anniversary issue is full of similar stories of hope from governance, technology, health care, energy, agriculture, Indian multinationals, urbanisation, and the growing soft power of India. Sixty-six stories - to keep step with each year of independence - that will reinforce your belief in India. Despite the current despondency, I believe, the Indian promise still holds. Keep the faith.

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