India’s parliamentary elections next year, like each of its predecessors, will be the biggest in history. They are also set to be among its most engrossing.
Mostly this is down to personality, given the rowdy contest between Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the opposition Bharatiya Janata party; and Rahul Gandhi, scion of the ruling Congress party’s family dynasty. But the battle also offers an ideological choice: the former’s centre-right agenda of better governance and economic reform against the latter’s focus on social welfare.
Yet, as a true contest of ideas, or a deeper debate about the type of country India wants to become, the poll will inevitably fall short, lost amid the hullabaloo of campaigning in a nation of 1.2bn. It is against this backdrop that a book such as Reimagining India is to be welcomed.
This collection of about 60 essays brought together by the McKinsey consultancy probes the country’s anxieties about its uneven progress on the path to becoming “Asia’s next superpower”. As the foreword notes: “India is reclaiming its historical prominence in the world economy. It has congratulated itself for ‘rising’ and ‘shining’ – but is doing so as quickly or as brightly as it should?”
The answers are provided by an impressive array of authors; mostly corporate leaders, academics and journalists, but also a classical dancer, a restaurateur and a chess grand-master. (Edward Luce and Victor Mallet of the Financial Times also contribute chapters.)
The line-up of business luminaries is especially eye-catching, featuring a clutch of Indian billionaire tycoons, such as Mukesh Ambani and Sunil Mittal, alongside foreigners such as Bill Gates. Sadly these contributions are often the least interesting, mostly because their authors strike a genial and upbeat tone, revealing little of their frustrations over India’s commercial climate or political leadership.
More diverting are those chapters that put India’s contemporary development into historical perspective. The country is often portrayed as chaotically governed; but, as academic Ashutosh Varshney notes, it is now vastly more stable than in the decades following independence in 1947 – not least because of the fading “existential threat” that its huge regional and ethnic diversity could wrench it apart.
Most satisfying of all are the authors who are willing to criticise decisions that have caused India’s economy to stall in recent years, a period economist Ruchir Sharma describes as a grand missed opportunity, characterised by fiscal indiscipline, “top-heavy central government” and endemic corruption.
A more lyrical example comes via novelist Manu Joseph, who chides India’s prosperous classes for blaming their country’s imperfections on “the rogues whom India’s poor have elected leaders”, and often on the less privileged themselves. “India’s middle classes have contracted a fever,” he says, which is “fanning one quest after another: an arsenal of nuclear weapons, extravagant space missions?.?.?.?[and] the clamour for election of a ruthless Hindu chauvinist”. That oblique reference to Mr Modi is a rare mention of politics in a collection whose most obvious limitation is its unwillingness to wade into the more inflammatory topics of governance and political leadership.
Its other weakness is that these essays do not quite add up to a coherent analysis of India’s future, which may leave some readers frustrated – even though anyone with an interest in the country will find much to satisfy their curiosity in the volume.
For all that, it is worth noting that discussions about India’s future direction at least happen in the open, be that in elections, or, in a more limited sense, books of this type, which often also feature a degree of self-examination from the country’s business elite.
The contrast with China is clear, where the recent Communist party plenum in Beijing was billed as a pivotal forum for charting the direction of Asia’s largest economy, but whose proceedings took place entirely out of public view.
This broader point is made, in one of the book’s most compelling essays. Yasheng Huang, a Chinese-born academic at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, attacks the notion popular among Mumbai and New Delhi elites that India’s faults are unavoidable consequences of its democracy, providing autocratic China with an insurmountable competitive advantage. “We should not seize on the authoritarian edge theory in the absence of empirical evidence,” Mr Huang writes, arguing persuasively that this evidence is much weaker than often assumed. “It is far more likely that China will move closer to the political system represented by India than the other way round.”
The writer is the FT’s Mumbai correspondent
Reimagining India: Unlocking the Potential of Asia’s Next Superpower
Edited by McKinsey & Company
(Simon & Schuster, $29.95)
考虑到反对党印度人民党(BJP)总理候选人纳伦德拉?莫迪(Narendra Modi)与执政党国大党(Congress party)家族王朝后裔拉胡尔?甘地(Rahul Gandhi)之间的激烈角逐，这场选举将主要是一场个人感召力之争。不过，这场争夺也向选民提供了一个意识形态选择：是选择前者改善治理、实施经济改革的中右翼议程，还是选择后者关注社会福利的议程。
该书的作者给出了答案。这些作者是一系列了不起的人物，主要是企业领袖、学者和记者，但也包括一位古典舞演员、一位餐馆老板和一位国际象棋特技大师。（《金融时报》的爱德华?卢斯(Edward Luce)和维克托?马利特(Victor Mallet)亦贡献了几个章节。）
尤其吸引眼球的是一连串商界翘楚，包括穆克什?安巴尼(Mukesh Ambani)和苏尼尔?米塔尔(Sunil Mittal)等印度亿万富豪，还有像比尔?盖茨(Bill Gates)这样的外国商界巨头。遗憾的是，这些人贡献的文章往往是最不吸引人的，主要是因为他们文章的基调温和、乐观，很少流露出他们对印度商业环境或政治领导的不满。
《重新想象印度：释放亚洲下个超级大国的潜力》(Reimagining India: Unlocking the Potential of Asia’s Next Superpower)，麦肯锡公司(McKinsey & Company)编著，（西蒙与舒斯特公司(Simon & Schuster)出版，售价29.95美元）