We are a funny people. We top the academic charts the world over while a large number of children in our backyards either die as infants or have to go to work as child labor before they can think of going to school. We are the leading destination for medical tourism, yet our public health system lies in tatters with basic healthcare a distant dream for the less privileged. We have the Mayawati's, the Mamata's and the Jayalalitha's yet we need a reservation bill for women and wake up to crimes against women every morning. We have embraced the true meaning of Islam, of Buddhism, of Hinduism and of Christianity, yet our vote banks are divided along religious grounds. We seem to be very pleased with ourselves as a nation without reflecting on the rot that we sweep under the carpet. Dr. Ramesh Grandhi, in this article, looks at issues facing us as the emerging superpower of the immediate future.
It has been long forecast that India would occupy one of the top five places in the world based on GDP. The HSBC Global research report bears this out, and yes it is indeed a matter of some pride that we will be in the third place by the year 2050 with just China and the US ahead of us. Newspapers are blaring the fact that our economy will be the third biggest, but if we go past the headlines, we see not a very rosy picture. Corrective measures are the need of the hour, but will our government which seems more intent on fighting Mamata and Anna have the political fortitude to address this long term issue? Plans will need to be made now and not a decade or so into the future.
Studying the figures I was reminded of an advertisement that had brought a smile to my face sometime ago—a kid comes running home declaring proudly—“Mom, I came third in a race at school. The proud mother beams, but the canny father asks “How many students participated my boy?” The answer “Just three of us”. This time the kid wasn’t looking all that pleased with himself.
The report portrays a very similar picture, China will be on top with a GDP of 24.6 trillion dollars (trillion=1000 billion), the US will be second with 22.2 trillions and India is third but at a measly 8.2 trillions. If you look at the per capita figures, the comparison is so skewed that you will end up being dismayed. China’s per capita incomes are almost 4 times ours and America’s more than 11 times.
We are doing much better than them on one yardstick though, we are beating them silly in population figures. We are doing so well in fact, that we will shoot past China and have 200 million more citizens than them (161 crores to 141 crores). These figures are so depressing that I am finding it difficult to even be cynical.
We need to do a lot of introspection, where have we gone wrong? Is there something lacking in our psyche that prevents us from achieving what China has shown is eminently possible? Is it the way we are governed, or is it our form of government? These are questions our intelligentsia and all well meaning people must ask repeatedly until we get answers. It wouldn’t be surprising if even Bangladesh crosses our per capita figures soon, to my recollection Sri Lanka and perhaps even Pakistan have better figures even now.
It is gratifying to know that the coming decades will be Asian ones, with Europe taking a back seat. Populations are aging in Europe, Japan and the affluent North American countries, and at the same time falling. These facts are playing a role in their economies cooling down. Developing countries will be the engines of growth, which is a very welcome sign.
India will need to get its act together, we will need to educate our masses on the dangers of overpopulation. We are talking about a 40% growth in population and that too from an already high base—will these figures be sustainable? I know we cannot adopt the draconian measures China can. We are also seeing that the educated middle classes and the rich being satisfied with a single child. They have realized that giving birth to and bringing up one child and ensuring he or she has the best possible breaks they can provide is more important than giving birth to 2 or 3 children. The masses below the poverty line however are doing the opposite skewing the demographic profile even further.
Population control is such a touchy subject that no politician is willing to touch it even with a barge pole, but someone has to do it and do it soon. We have the opportunity on hand now to really excel, but these macroeconomic issues that can influence our future have to be tackled vigorously. Can it be done in a democratic set up? I believe it can, but for that our polity has to mature, our leaders should resist the urge to address the least common denominator and rise to the occasion. The intelligentsia and the NGOs should step out and articulate the evils of overpopulation. Water is already scarce and food availability will be an insurmountable problem. If we wake up now and take corrective measures, the 161 crores might come down to 150-even that will be a huge achievement and improve our per capita figures by a sizeable percentage.
We owe it to our children to do the right thing by them. I am reminded of a PPT I had seen sometime back when an emaciated child in 2075 looks at a photograph of his grandparents and asks them “why have you left us in such a state?” That PPT left an indelible impression on me. I guess it is time all of us right thinking citizens think about the way we are going about things—conspicuous consumerism and materialism of the worst kind, and make a course correction.