Editor's Note

Job Cut Out

For over three decades, the world has painted India as a slumbering giant, poised to awaken and redefine global economic dynamics 

As India gears up to potentially claim its spot as the fourth-largest economy in the world by the financial year 2024–25, surpassing even Japan, the global spotlight intensifies. With the world's youngest population, boasting a median age of merely 28 compared to 39 in China and 49 in Japan, India stands on the cusp of a remarkable economic journey. Yet, amid this optimism, a critical challenge looms large: the urgency to harness the demographic dividend and propel the nation into a trajectory that evades the middle-income trap.

For over three decades, the world has painted India as a slumbering giant, poised to awaken and redefine global economic dynamics. Since the liberalisation of its economy in 1991, India has displayed commendable growth figures. However, the narrative of India's ascent has often been overshadowed by comparisons with its colossal neighbour, China, whose meteoric rise under a different political paradigm has dwarfed India's progress.

Between 1991 and 2023, India's GDP growth rate, averaging at 5.9%, pales in comparison to China's staggering figure of 9%, leaving observers pondering over the underlying factors. The impact is visible on the two countries’ poverty alleviation achievements as well. While China brought down extreme poverty from 50% to zero between the years 2000 and 2021, India is still trying to get rid of poverty with the latest government claims putting it at 2.1% under the Multidimensional Poverty Index framework. The biggest gap between the two nations is visible on the per capita income where an Indian earns just a fifth of his Chinese counterpart. This stark contrast in economic trajectories is frequently attributed to the differing governance models of the two nations.

China's President Xi Jinping was re-elected for a third consecutive term in 2023 and India stands at a pivotal juncture, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi vying for a historic third term in 2024, a feat unseen since Jawaharlal Nehru's era. Modi's narrative revolves around the promise of a resolute government capable of making tough decisions in the nation's best  interest.

However, the opposition, a coalition of diverse parties, challenges Modi's cult-like dominance in Indian politics, championing a return to coalition governance. Rahul Gandhi, representing the Nehru dynasty's legacy, emphasises the need for a more inclusive approach, likening India to a bouquet of flowers that thrives on diversity rather than uniformity.

The debate over governance models underscores deeper ideological divisions, with proponents of coalition politics advocating for a revival of regional parties marginalised by the ascent of Modi's BJP. As India stands on the brink of a transformative era, the choice between a strong, centralised leadership and a more decentralised, inclusive approach will shape its economic trajectory and global standing in the years to come.

Since the China-comparison is unlikely to leave India alone, it would be prudent to take lessons from its quick ascent to global superstardom and current isolation. Whichever party or coalition comes to power it would do well to pay heed to divergent voices, especially the critical ones. Consensus building through debate and constructive criticism is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy.