"Recent accounts of the alleged rise of India barely mention the
fact that the country's $728 per capita gross domestic product is
just slightly higher than that of sub-Saharan Africa and that, as
the 2005 United Nations Human Development Report puts it, even if it
sustains its current high growth rates, India will not catch up with
high-income countries until 2106.
Nor is India rising very fast on the report's Human Development
index, where it ranks 127, just two rungs above Myanmar and more
than 70 below Cuba and Mexico. Despite a recent reduction in poverty
levels, nearly 380 million Indians still live on less than a dollar
Malnutrition affects half of all children in India, and there is
little sign that they are being helped by the country's market
reforms, which have focused on creating private wealth rather than
expanding access to health care and education. Despite the country's
growing economy, 2.5 million Indian children die annually,
accounting for one out of every five child deaths worldwide; and
facilities for primary education have collapsed in large parts of
the country (the official literacy rate of 61 percent includes many
who can barely write their names). In the countryside, where 70
percent of India's population lives, the government has reported
that about 100,000 farmers committed suicide between 1993 and 2003.
Feeding on the resentment of those left behind by the urban-oriented
economic growth, communist insurgencies (unrelated to India's
parliamentary communist parties) have erupted in some of the most
populous and poorest parts of north and central India. The Indian
government no longer effectively controls many of the districts
where communists battle landlords and police, imposing a harsh form
of justice on a largely hapless rural population.
The potential for conflict among castes as well as classes also
grows in urban areas, where India's cruel social and economic
disparities are as evident as its new prosperity. The main reason
for this is that India's economic growth has been largely jobless.
Only 1.3 million out of a working population of 400 million are
employed in the information technology and business processing
industries that make up the so-called new economy.
No labor-intensive manufacturing boom of the kind that powered the
economic growth of almost every developed and developing country in
the world has yet occurred in India. Unlike China, India still
imports more than it exports. This means that as 70 million more
people enter the work force in the next five years, most of them
without the skills required for the new economy, unemployment and
inequality could provoke even more social instability than they have
For decades now, India's underprivileged have used elections to
register their protests against joblessness, inequality and
corruption. In the 2004 general elections, they voted out a central
government that claimed that India was "shining," bewildering not
only most foreign journalists but also those in India who had
predicted an easy victory for the ruling coalition.
Among the politicians whom voters rejected was Chandrababu Naidu,
the technocratic chief minister of one of India's poorest states,
whose forward-sounding policies, like providing Internet access to
villages, prompted Time magazine to declare him "South Asian of The
Year" and a "beacon of hope."
But the anti-India insurgency in Kashmir, which has claimed some
80,000 lives in the last decade and a half, and the strength of
violent communist militants across India, hint that regular
elections may not be enough to contain the frustration and rage of
millions of have-nots, or to shield them from the temptations of
religious and ideological extremism.
Many serious problems confront India. They are unlikely to be solved
as long as the wealthy, both inside and outside the country, choose
to believe their own complacent myths.
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