Among the many colonial legacies of the Raj, perhaps the most popular is cricket. The sport is huge in India, with all its complicated rules and jargon—ducks and sixes and something called an lbw. Traditionally, a game of cricket is completed over a marathon five days, but in 2008 the Indians created a new league, called the Indian Premier League, where matches lasted only three hours.
The IPL was launched amid much fanfare. Sony agreed to pay $1.6 billion for the broadcasting rights. The best players from around the world were lured to the league, seduced by the promise of millions of dollars of pay for a few weeks’ play. The Indian economy was booming. Annual growth rates above 8 percent were the norm then. The auspicious beginnings of the IPL seemed to herald the new India: prosperous, self-confident, and determined to become the capital of a sport that had been dominated for centuries by white Anglo-Australians.
But times have changed. Television ratings for the IPL are way down this year, major sponsors are walking away, and eight of the 11 teams are operating at a loss. Corruption and mismanagement are rife: The league’s founder was ousted for corruption in 2010, and last year the IPL removed a franchise after a dispute that cost a government minister his job.
It is not hard, then, to see why the IPL remains a useful metaphor for the Indian economy, which has likewise stalled. India recorded only 6.1 percent growth in the last quarter of 2011, and some analysts predict the coming year will see that number drop to a mere 5.3 percent. The Financial Times reports that exports in March fell for the first time in three years, causing India’s trade deficit to hit a record high; its fiscal deficit, meanwhile, rose to 5.9 percent, well above the government’s stated target of 4.6 percent. These data come on the back of news last week that Standard & Poor’s revised down its outlook on the Indian economy from stable to negative.
The malaise of the Indian economy is a reminder that the road to great power status is full of potholes. Forecasters and pundits who assume that emerging giants like India (and China, for that matter) will maintain the kind of smooth, linear hypergrowth of recent decades would do well to take note. Hopefully, for the sake of India’s people as well for the stability of the region, New Delhi will seize this opportunity to hit reform for six lest it be trapped lbw for a duck.