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Emerging Asian Giant Shows Feet Of Clay

64 years after independence, India’s prospects look suddenly shaky, and uncertainty and confusion faced Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he gave his Independence Day speech in India today. .  Opposition leaders attacked the speech as revealing the helplessness of the government in addressing corruption scandals and other serious problems facing the country. From the FT:

The corruption furore, a stalled reform agenda and parliamentary mudslinging are likely symptoms rather than the cause…

Senior financial analysts are less assured about India’s long-term prospects. One of the lessons they take from the ruckus of the past year – whether high prices, corruption scams or parliamentary paralysis – is that if the short term is rocky, why then take for granted that India’s future is one of steady economic improvement.

The locking up of powerful politicians and senior business figures for alleged corruption has given them cause for hope, but equally cause for concern that old certainties no longer hold. Some sooner see Africa repeating India’s economic successes than India itself.

Prime Minister Singh, who is fourteen years older than independent India,  has been instrumental in India’s rise over the past two decades, but some think that era is ending. GE chairman Jeff Immelt, among others business leaders, has noticed the rising costs of operating in India.

Political questions also face PM Singh today. Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born, quasi-hereditary president of the Indian National Congress and a vital partner of the prime minister, has disappeared. Reports suggest she is in the United States receiving medical treatment, but that is all we know. The strong partnership between her and the prime minister, as well as their dominance of Indian politics over the last twenty years, is threatened today like never before. As the NYT reports:

“It is perhaps the most directionless government the country has had in the last 20 years,” said Yogendra Yadav, a social scientist. “This is their seventh year in power, and people are beginning to see all the instances where the government isn’t delivering where it said it would.”

Complaints are coming from all directions. Business leaders are frustrated over inaction on reforms on labor laws, foreign investment in retail and other issues. Social activists are planning a hunger strike to protest what they consider a watered-down bill to fight corruption. Leftists rail against rising inequality. A bill to create consistent, fair compensation policies when land is acquired for development is considered crucial, yet its passage is uncertain.

It’s not just the advanced industrial countries who have to make big changes in this startling and challenging century.

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  • J R Yankovic

    NOT good news. I can’t see how India is not vital to any serious American influence in the region. And particularly to any US effort to defuse tensions arising from what you call a Central-South Asian “Great Game.” A stable, secure and SECULAR – as distinct from a communally-divided (or, worse, militant Hinduist) – India is in everyone’s interest. And that includes anyone in Pakistan who still has half-an-ounce of sanity.

  • Luke Lea

    I fear India may not have the human capital to become the player you envision. China does.

    Facts are stubborn things. Realism is the first desideratum of moral responsibility in this world.

  • Kris

    “Feet of Clay”? Hitting the Book of Daniel pretty hard, aren’t we Mead? 🙂

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