India 2024: Two roads are diverging, which one do we take?

by | Oct 15, 2019

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Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum in their 2011 book ‘That Used to be Us’ described five pillars of prosperity that together made the American economy grow. These five pillars are public education, infrastructure, immigration, government support for basic research, and the implementation of necessary regulation on private economic activity. When we look at this in the Indian context, some interesting facts appear.

Public education in India has been systematically destroyed and handed over to business. There are more coaching centers than schools. When I was in school in the 1960s, my town and all others for that matter, used to have the Government Intermediate College (called GIC), as the best school. Good marks in the Board Exam would get you professional seats. Not anymore. 

Infrastructure is pathetic. Before 2014, getting electricity 24 hours in most places was unimaginable. A lot has happened since then. Roads are coming up faster, but every city gets choked within an hour of rain and flood is a perennial problem in the vast Gangetic plane. Even Kerala in the south is devastated by recurring floods. It takes not months but years for bridges to complete and there are no silos and supply chains to handle agriculture produce. 

We received lakhs of illegal immigrants in Eastern India with full collusion of politicians and local industries. Our best minds migrated to the US after receiving almost free education from the IITs. In the 1970s, something of the order of 80 percent IIT graduates went to America and the vast majority of them became permanent residents and citizens. Another point to ponder about is that if the Indian CEOs of famous American companies had not gone to the US from India, what would they be doing here today? 

The Indian government supported science, by going out of the way but except for progress in Space and Atomic Energy, hardly anything emerged out of the immense investment. There is a disconnect between the government-owned scientific laboratories and the industry they are supposed to serve. Their work not bought and used by industries, the scientists changed their metric of success to the number of research papers to their credit and in attending conferences and seminars. 

Private sector after 1991, feasted over the Indian economy. We have this double tragedy of an inefficient public sector and an extractive private sector whose aim is to make profits. The Indian pharmaceutical industry is critically depending on China for basic materials and God forbid, if China stops supplying intermediate molecules, India will have serious scarcity of life-saving drugs.

So why the surprise when in 2019, India has 106 billionaires which puts the country fourth in the world, after the United States, China and Germany? In GDP terms, India is a $3 trillion economy compared to the $21 trillion US economy and $14 trillion Chinese economy. Much smaller nations like Germany and Japan make more than us and France and UK, almost the same as us. It is obvious that a few people own much of India’s wealth.

The condition of Indian farmers is curiously pathetic. From seeds to fair price for their produce, they are systematically shortchanged. English writer Samuel Johnson (1709–1784) famously said, “Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but the only riches she can call her own.” The riches of India were earlier held by kings, then looted by the British and now are appropriated by the owners of the private industry.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi set up an audacious target of making India a $5 trillion economy by 2024. Going by his track record, I have no doubt that it will happen. The point is who would own this – another 100 billionaires added in the list or an efficient public sector and the people emerging out of poverty into the middle class?

India is at a historic turning point. One track goes to the revival of public owned enterprise – roads, railways, factories, power, telecom, seeds, fertilizers, and petroleum; the other goes to their natural death and the private sector taking over the economy of more than 1 billion customers. No middle path is going to take us to $5 trillion. Moreover, there will be no return from any of the two courses taken. 

William Shakespeare wrote, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Our leaders elected by a massive mandate in 2019 have great responsibilities to take country on the right track. In Kath Upanishad, there are two most important words in the verse 1.2.2 – Shreyas and Preyas – the preferable and the pleasurable approach for man. The intelligent man selects the electable in preference to the delectable


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  1. There is only one option which India needs to follow in letter and spirit to become a five trillion economy in the next five years. The roadmap is simple but hard to follow. The major components of the roadmap are : rule of law, merit the only consideration , barring all kinds of criminals from politics (accused or convicted), forced retirement of corrupt officials including punishment , judicial services to be manned by persons of the highest integrity, stopage of freebies from public exchequer, minimum qualification and retirement age for the politicians etc.
    If the above steps are followed with sincerity, the things will fall in place automatically leading to efficient public owned enterprises creating wealth for the country. The private sector will also operate within the parameters of supremacy of the rule of law.

  2. Arunji, You have nicely identified five pillars and particularly the current state of Public education, Infrastructure and Govt. support to Science & Research. It requires massive reforms and courageous decisions in this regard.

  3. We are different on papers and reality. There is a huge gap between poors and rich. This gap has to be bridged upon. You pointed out various points and each seems to be a valid reason for blockage of Indian prosperity. A better planning is needed to bring research to field rather than keeping it reserved in research papers. An integration between industry and research organisation is required. Everybody should understand their credibility and work for upbringing of society and nation.

  4. The point is who would own this – another 100 billionaires added in the list or an efficient public sector and the people emerging out of poverty into the middle class?..

    This sentence sums the points so well. Growth without inclusion is meaningless.. even counter productive. There is an India which lives behind high walls and an India which is condemned to the streets. The walls need to be kept going higher and with more guards – but the model is unsustainable.

    • Written Blog shows your concern towards FUTURE OF INDIA
    • Points are straight forward
    • Very Interesting facts, covering many facets of Indian contexts, written beautifully
    • Education should be affordable, easily available, for RURAL INDIA.
    • Privatisation Of Eduction with Unnatural FEE Structure kills many Dreams.
    • Gurus should be paid with Full pay. No Contract system/ No Outsourcing.
    • Future of India leaves , mostly in RURAL INDIA.. should have Best schools; Teachers, with Happy minds, without Overburdened- Extra works..No experiments in Education System.
    • Proper motivation (any form) to Present Scientists; Future Scientists with Dignity; Respect to their works towards FUTURE INDIA.
    • Health sector also concerns, with Easy availability & Accessibility to Nearest Health Center , equipped with FULL Regular Staff , NO Outsourcing/ Contract system. Should be provided Well Equipped AMBULANCEs in Each PHC with Full staff & all Medicines.
    • FARMERS should be given Good return of their Hard work for CROPS.
    • No Privatisation in any sector , Health, Education or Any Govt Sectors.

  6. When the country has been converted to corporate governance, who cares for the common man and the wisdom available in the country? Who cares for improving the quality and standard of living of the common man? As if country will prosper by completely ignoring and avoiding common man! This is today’s Bharat boasting of the lifestyle in Vedas, Ramrajya, spiritual wealth of Bharat.

  7. मैं मेरी विवेचना की शुरुआत आपके ब्लॉग की आखिरी पंक्ति से करना चाहूंगा। “प्रेयस व्यक्तिगत कामना की पूर्ति है, अनंत इच्छाओं की पूर्ति का प्रयास है, और श्रेयस संपूर्ण मानवीय मूल्यों के लोक मंगलकारी विचारों को समझने का प्रयास है।“

    भारत में खेती से लेकर संशोधन तक, देश के एक सामान्य नागरिक से बडे नेता, अभिनेता, अति उच्च पदाधिकारी और बड़े उद्योगपतियों तक यह भावना की आपूर्ति यदि पूर्ण हो जाए तो आज हमारा देश अब्दुल कलाम साहब के स्वप्नअपेक्षा के मुताबिक बनने से कोई नहीं रोक सकता.
    हमारे देशसे अति बुद्धिजीवी युवाधनका हमेशा के लिए देश के बाहर जाना यह इतना ही चिंताजनक विषय है जितना बाहरी आतंकवादी गतिविधियों से संकलित घुसपैठियों का आना।

    भ्रष्टाचार, बिना पहचान के काम ना होना, सिस्टम की लापरवाही, आरक्षण, जातिभेद, धर्मभेद, वर्णभेद, भाषाभेद, जैसी कठिनोत्तम परिस्थितियों के सामने खड़ा रहने की हिम्मत युवा तभी जुटा पाएगा – यदि वह श्री अब्दुल कलाम साहब की तरह अपना ध्येय प्रेयस से ज्यादा श्रेयस की और केंद्रित करे।

    श्री अब्दुल कलाम साहब के परम गुरु परम पूज्य प्रमुख स्वामी महाराज और वर्तमानकाल में परम पूज्य महंत स्वामी महाराज युवाधन को बहुत ही सहज और स्वभवीक तरीके थी प्रेयस की जगह श्रेयस की और ले जाते है और श्रेयस को जीवन का परम लक्ष्य बना देते हैं। अद्भुत आर्टिकल लिखने के लिए मे और समग्र युवागण श्री अरुण तिवारी साहब के आभारी है।

    सर, मुझे आपके लेख प्रेरित करते हैं।

  8. The 2011 book “Poor Economics” by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, who won Economics Noble Prize yesterday lays out a middle ground between purely market-based solutions to global poverty, versus “grand development plans”. I liked the book for its call to understand how the poor really think and make decisions on such matters as education, healthcare, savings, entrepreneurship, and a variety of other issues. Whatever accusation people make about Modi’s government’s economic policies, it is taking decisions based on observation and actually listening to what the poor have to say.

  9. Dear Arunji, Your blog of where are we heading for 2024 is a wonderful description in the most scholastic way describing education research infrastructure in India. Privatization in education has totally ruined the moral ethics in education. Like health education is also seen as a business and poor and low middle class are lost. I remember being studied in rural Gujarat in a poor family and not spent single penny even during PhD study but supporting family due to generous teachers like Ashok Dhuvad, Jethabhai Pandya in my primary education teaching english and science without any fees and Dr Anil Sheth, Dr HI Jhala, Dr Moodbidri during my doctoral study in Mumbai who only want good science without any expectations. Where are those teachers now?

    India is having more billionaires but at whose cost killing small enterprises and widening the distance between rich and poor. Economically we have more billionaires means 90 percent wealth goes to select 5 to 10 percent people killing small business.
    What we need is a model of Gandhian and Baltic and Nordic countries for the equanimous development and not the US model.

    For research there is an ample politics in biological science especially by a small group harms too much to a basic research. Regarding education I see many universities dept Research centres buy crores of Rupees worth of instruments and do not use them instead outsource all work to the private companies. Research especially in biological science has lot of groupism and politics not allowing deserving scientist to grow. So what we do is just export our IIT and IIM graduates and country is at loss.

    Why India does not have its own machines for biological research or even a chemical we depend on western country than what our IIT IIM are doing. We are simply exporting talented manpower and taking wrong pride instead . It is not the fault of Govt but our own people who misuse Govt machinery. Everybody talks of Gandhiji but does anyone care to follow his advice instead we are killing all small businesses?

  10. There appears a serious flaw in the mindset of Indian people, for everything we blame the system, which is misused and abused every day by everyone. All cities are getting choked within a few hours of rain because all drainages are filled with garbage full of plastic. The roads cave in next. The system of maintaining road is not in place. The focus is to make new roads not to maintain them. The 5 trillion economy of privatized public services does not look a good idea.

  11. A very relevant article highlighting the present status quo in India. A very big area that needs reform is Education. Today, we have a system, which is getting outdated by the day. We are living in times, where technology has changed the face of human interaction at both social and professional levels. And the rate of change keeps accelerating by the hour to such a point that by the time you get used to technology, it is already dated. The only constant that exists is change and an ever accelerating change at that.

    To quote Eric “Astro” Teller, the CEO of Google’s X Research and Development lab, “we will all feel out of control, because we can’t adapt to the world as fast as it’s changing. By the time we get used to the change, that won’t even be the prevailing change anymore—we’ll be on to some new change. Another big challenge is the way we educate our population. We go to school for twelve or more years during our childhoods and early adulthoods, and then we’re done. But when the pace of change gets this fast, the only way to retain a lifelong working capacity is to engage in lifelong learning.”

    Hence, what we are witnessing is a continued chaos, as we are trying to tackle issues with tools that have already gone by their use by date. We have to seek innovative solutions and for that we need to be very critically informed. The only way is to bring about an education system, which is a very relevant system that keeps pace with the times by constantly informing and updating itself, and which leads to the generation of Individuals, who keep developing processes that foster lifelong self learning as well as contribute to continuous collective learning.

    Once we have a populace, that is adequately informing itself, we will start observing changes that will create a progressive impact on all the five pillars of Prosperity mentioned, ie public education, infrastructure, immigration, government support for basic research, and the implementation of necessary regulation on private economic activity. It will take its time and the road ahead has its own challenges, but what is heartening is that at each point in history, humanity has always risen to display the drive to adapt quickly, and more profoundly in India, which could easily qualify as a civilization that has adapted and assimilated change like no where else.

  12. Dear Sir, I agree to everything you said and I feel that we all know these problems but do not have anything on the solution part. My concern is that even after knowing all this, we are not doing anything. we keep asking of education to all but are we really heading forward. Students still do not know anything other than engineering, doctor and CA.
    I think the few things that every Indian student needs to be taught: 1. Most Indian students are taught the stupid concept of “Kismat”. Every other person I see is always blaming their luck for everything. In fact I myself always kept crying on this. And it takes them to the level of mental laziness where they do not want to do anything and just relax depending on their fortune.
    2. self confidence: out of the concept of “luck” provided with negativity everywhere of Intelligent vs non-intelligent, students lack self confidence to the level we cannot imagine which again ruins their future.
    I personally believe that if students are somehow made to believe in themselves, India will rise enormously in next 20-30 years.
    You have so much of influence in society. if you could do on this part…. rest, for economy…. It is for sure going to be inclined towards billionaires but the challenge is how much we can restrict it and give the share to other part of society.

  13. Prof Tiwari, this is an excellent reflection, status quo isn’t an option here, as you correctly noted there isn’t room for middle ground even, choice must be made either:

    1. the revival of public owned enterprise – roads, railways, factories, power, telecom, seeds, fertilisers, and petroleum; or

    2. the other goes to their natural death and the private sector taking over the economy of more than 1 billion customers.

    Much as there will be no turning back, the time for the choice is now. Revival is the more sustainable path as far as I am concerned however difficult and austere, this path will create ground for unending progress that will affect all citizens! Failing to make a choice at this point is choosing to fail definitely.

  14. Sir, You have very well explained the present situation. Indians have seen 70 yrs of rule by a single party and the system has been polluted from top to bottom. It requires public private partnership or privatisation of administration like passport department along with government control over prices on services. Specially, the administrative department requires private intervention.

    I come from Bihar and every year floods wiping away the hard work is a sad story. But the sadder part is that nothing is done to change this story. It is accepted as a fate.

    After coming to Australia, which is not some ancient country but built over last hundred years, I wonder if we celebrate our ancient roots or curse the mindset it created. The system as it exists does not favour the poor, the villager and the daily wage earner. There will be 5-trillion economy, which will become 10 trillion economy and 15 trillion economy but it will be a different India, owned by corporations and the leaders promoted by them leading the country through sponsored elections. But I hope it will be better than what we had in past.

  15. Very well pictured the Indian scenario. I also feel a disconnect between education system and national needs, that needs attention. Your thoughts like this will not only provoke the minds of the people who matters but will make them to realise it’s importance. Most of the times, we know, but do not realise.

  16. A very good summary and analysis of the state of Indian affairs. Whilst a lot is being done by the present Government on various fronts, a lot is still to be done. Arunji you are in a position to make a difference by at least writing to PM’s office and get his attention to these issues and try to obtain if there is any Road Map towards possible solutions to these problems. Dr Abdul Kalam gave the nations similar Pillars on which the work is required to make India Great … I would like to add two more serious issues on which a strict action is required is in the adulteration of Food and Drugs which causes great damage to the Public.

    We must all individually contribute in whatever little way we can assist in improving the situation, as after all Government is people too…

  17. Very well articulated sir. The need of hour is to improve the education system. Let’s take very small example many people want to become the Primary Teacher but none of them want their child to study in Primary school. Such is the condition of edu infra in our country. Another biggest problem is Brain Drain. Because we as system failed to create such opportunity where these meritorious could find suitable position. Next point is infrastructure, Although govt has put a lot of efforts in last few years but there is mountain to climb. Our scientists are doing a great job but there is disconnect between Labs and industry. 5-trillion economy is just a number but it requires a lot of effort to improve the condition of our farmers. Farmers are the backbone of any nation until and unless govt is able to improve their condition than only these numbers matter.

  18. Broadly speaking, the sustainable development of any democratic country necessitates three wheels: (a) Strong and responsible Government, (b) Strong Economy, and (c) Strong and Vibrant Civil Society institutions ( the Citizen Sector and independent media). In the contemporary India, the Govt. is decisive and stable, and our economy overall seems to be good. Unfortunately, our civil society institutions are weak and often controlled by various vested interests.

    A strong civil society will ensure efficiency as well as effectiveness in the public services. This will lead to equitable and sustainable development of our nation.

  19. Born of humble roots, Prime Minister Narendra Modi never lost the “common touch”, which served as a polestar in his efforts to lead the Indian nation in the fulfilment of its historic heritage. Never hesitant to do the unconventional or to tweak the “establishment”, he is in no doubt as to his goals for his nation. Private systems are naturally for profit. There is lot of inefficiency that goes in the government owned and managed systems. The task ahead is to make public sector – banks, transport, education, healthcare – efficient. It can’t be privatized.

  20. The unresolved question , since independence is PSU Vs. Private Enterprises. Till 1991 India opted for PSU in Infrastructure, Coal, Mining, Airlines, Hotels, Watches and many more. However the mounting losses and lazy, incompetent management; unproductive workforce of Reservation based took its tool on the Govt. resources.

    Privatisation though less humane, is what changed the Economic Scenario of the country and lead India amongst the five major economies of the World. The poor record of BSNL and huge losses, for the reason that for every 1000 customers being served by the private operator, BSNL employed four times more employees.

    The private Enterprises is thus, preferred mode for achieving the five trillion dollar economy.

  21. I come from Amethi. No other place can be a better example of how Indian establishment treated its villages. Ujjavala and Swachch Bharat are good optics but the condition of Indian farmers, who are actual villagers, is “curiously pathetic” and from seeds to fair price for their produce, farmers have been and continue to be “systematically shortchanged.” I hundred per cent agree that “the riches of India were earlier held by kings, then looted by the British and now are appropriated by the owners of the private industry.”

  22. You have hit the nail in the head. “There is a disconnect between the government-owned scientific laboratories and the industry they are supposed to serve. Their work not bought and used by industries, the scientists changed their metric of success to the number of research papers to their credit and in attending conferences and seminars.” The mammoth Indian public sector has to transform itself before it is dead and last rites done. It is a pity that I do not see the transformation happening. Neither at the top, nor within the organisation, there is a will to embrace change and what does not change in the modern world perish.

  23. Sir as far as education system is concern governing body like Education Minister, District Education Officer, Block Education Officer, etc.

    1. Have very negative approach towards teachers who are imparting education
    2. Schools lack basic amenities
    3. High level of corruption at officers level
    4. Giving affiliations to the private institutions by avoiding basic requirements etc

    If these issues are solved then one of the above mentioned sectors education can be reformed and can play important role in growth of economy. Privatisation never ever can be solution for failed sector. If any sector is not performing as per expectations it means neither ministry nor officers/employees are performing their duties honestly.

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