From Hindu Growth Rate To Policy Lethargy: Surest way to book a seat in spectator row

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By Amar Yumnam
The non-enticing and absolutely low growth rate of the Indian economy during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was aptly described by the inimitable Professor Raj Krishna, a brilliant product of Chicago University, as the Hindu Growth Rate. The economic reforms initiated during 1991 made it look like India had left the slow and non-assertive nature behind. But things have turned out to be different. India is now caught in what Professor Kaushik Basu, Chief Economist at the World Bank, calls “policy lethargy”. Everything in India moves so slowly, and even if it moves it moves without direction. In most cases, it does not move at all despite rhetoric and big talks. India is almost like a country without national spirits, national directions and national pursuits for carving a unique place in the comity of nations with pride and the head held high.

It is as if India is forever bound by the Hindu philosophy of the next life and not aggressively pursuing for performance and achievement now; the country is perpetually coming back to the atmosphere and spirit associated with the Hindu Rate of Growth. While the aggressive pursuit of personal accumulation of wealth, as exemplified in its most degraded form by the involvement of army and law enforcing officers in drug trafficking, without any concern for implications on other individuals and society is salient, the absence of a national pursuit of enhancement of social life for the collective is stark.  Now the risks and costs involved in following this path of political economy need to be clear to all of us. At the level of the country, the youths today are no longer attracted and convinced by the philosophy of non-pursuit of anything in this life for a superior next life. Youths today are asking for delivery of the promises now and performance for better life in the current version of incarnation.  There is merit in this for the global context today is for competition – contemporary and assertive- for ensuring improvement in well-being. In this the old method of warfare and invasion on others to accumulate wealth is no longer the prevailing language. The language now is speed, efficiency and technology.

The immediate context in which this preoccupation has been revived is the unfolding scenario in the higher education sector of the neighbouring Myanmar. While India has been talking of the scope for involvement in the social sector transformation of the neighbour, the engagement by other more advanced countries is loud and real. In April, the International Institute of Education in New York, the core American agency for international collaboration, produced a report on the higher education scenario in Myanmar. There are already American scholars teaching In Yangon and Mandalay Universities. The Yangon Technological University has already approached the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for collaboration. The two American universities with strong research capability on Myanmar, Johns Hopkins University and Southern Illinois University, are going to establish their centres in the country. Besides there are already strong efforts from the European Union, Japan, China, Taiwan and ASEAN countries for robust improvement of development capabilities in Myanmar. This implies one thing for sure as testified by the development history of the United States of America and the more recent experience of China. The technological and innovation capability of this country would experience a leap-frogging in about a decade’s time. Now superimpose this capacity for technological innovation on the resource abundance of the country, the picture is just enough to cause sigh and admiration by the rest of the world for the dramatic development pace the country would be displaying in about two decades or so. 

Now look at India. The Prime Minister’s visit to the country and the Border Area Development collaboration did cause lots of excitement but nothing has come out of it till today. It may be recalled here that the Thirteenth Finance Commission did take interest in the development of the international border areas within the country and did sponsor a number of studies in all the provinces, including Manipur, having international boundaries. When the Prime Minister agreed with Myanmar on jointly addressing the border development issues, the development researchers in India were excited. But months down the line, even the agreement has remained a confidential document of the government and nothing visible has come out of the announcements.

While Myanmar would certainly pick up her development pace and, mind you, it would be certainly faster than the Hindu Growth Rate of India, we do not have any envy and ill-feeling on this. The reason for disappointment lies in the missed opportunities. While India shares aggressively in the development transformation of Myanmar, it would be a win-win situation. This would help the technological innovation process of India as well besides speeding up Myanmar’s transformation. With the active involvement of the American universities in the re-designing of higher education, the scope for Indian engagement is restricted and less attractive. The resultant picture is more depressing for Manipur. Being the province of India bordering the neighbouring country and with potential capabilities for enhancing the collaboration in the social sector, Manipur could have benefitted with strong engagement with Myanmar in higher education. But Manipur is now marked by an absolute absence of perspective and leadership with a vision to giving a fillip to participate in the unfolding trans-border scenario. Manipur’s higher education has got a deep beating in the hands of contractor oriented and academic-disoriented leadership in higher education.  With the sector transforming and technological innovation capability being enhanced, Myanmar would be the next country in South East Asia with a strong development performance. In the case of India and, for that matter, Manipur the resultant outcome would be just a spectator of the dramatic positive changes happening next door. God bless the Hindu Growth Rate and the contractor mentality. While there has been no global example of development being delivered by this blessing and mentality, let us see if this happens in the case of India.

(Amar Yumnam is the Director of Center for Manipur Studies and Prof. of Department of Economics, Manipur University)  

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