An anthology is like a banyan tree. Regardless of the ideological complexion or worldview of individuals, it gives an opportunity to bring together people of all possible ideological hues, something like a banyan, which provides succor to everyone who chooses to rest under its foliage and get relief from the scorching heat of the sun.
When we conceived the idea of this book and set out to put together essays on India’s socio-economy, the real challenge was to make it as wide ranging as possible.
In a true and rightful spirit, let the fresh leaves sprout and an- tagonistic viewpoints bloom, just as it happened in our case, when we coined new terms while compiling this anthology. India- Singapore bonhomie is described as the ‘InSing’ relationship, while the well-meaning and constructive overseas travel of Indians that is becoming increasingly frequent, is categorized as ‘Briefly Abroad Indians, or BAIs’
Notwithstanding all the evils that engulf our society, India can still rightfully claim to be the world’s largest democracy. The beauty of a democracy lies in pooling in of divergent thoughts. It so hap- pens that some of the best ideas are thrown up by reasoned and well contested debates. An anthology of essays on socio-economy is also a debate where the essayists put forth their views on where the society and the economy - entwined that they are - seem to be heading. There is no verdict or judgment, there is no sense of per- manence. The jury is not still out, rather it is always out, simply because a socio-economy is always fluid. Akin to a potter who is molding clay into various shapes and sizes, the socio-economy is perennially being cast in different ways by its constituents.
Four years ago, when we came out with our first compendium of essays, India was in the throes of a political upheaval. People were yearning for change, which they seem to have subsequently got through the path breaking national elections. For the first time in almost 30 years, a single party managed to get a simple majority in the House of the People, or Lok Sabha. However, governance is not as simple as getting a majority in Parliament. The public votes a party or a coalition to power with a lot of expectations and it also tends to be impatient.
When this previous book of ours, What’s Up! What’s Down! was published, many issues which are now topics of a raging de- bate, such as fraudulent activities of well established banks, de- monetization, roll out of Goods and Services Tax and expansion in the scope of use of the Aadhaar Card were not on the center stage. In fact, demonetization as a concept was non-existent at the time, not only in India but for that matter anywhere in the world. How- ever, people were rudely shaken off their dinner tables, when it was announced, on that fateful night of November 8.
While the socio-economy as a whole is impermanent, at the same time, several issues which bothered us earlier are still rel- evant and will continue to remain so. Economic growth, inflation, gender discrimination, the shame of rape-by-the-minute, child la- bor, agrarian distress, to name a few, still bother us.
Change or lack of it, the scenario that has unfolded in recent years, makes it all the more incumbent upon us, that we diligently and dutifully chronicle the era in which we live in. We had a choice to do so by writing our personal views but that would have ended up as a monologue, which we had no intention of thrusting upon the readers.
We went around asking dozens of academics, researchers, busi- nessmen, consultants, educationists and management profession- als about the ‘How, What and Why’ of India both locally and in terms of its international relations. Interviews were conducted with several experts in their respective fields, who monitor India’s pulse on a daily basis.
Businessmen and corporate executives, those who have not yet put the Indian market on their radar, are seeking to understand the dynamics of this great nation. Their wish is to see India become more efficient in its approach towards its society and economy.
India is on the cusp of its third generation of economic reforms. More than 25 years after the forces of economic liberalization were first unleashed, the country has come a long way. From informa- tion technology to consumer goods; big brands to start-ups; rural development to smart cities; Make in India to Digital India; the country is taking the next leap forward, but challenges remain.
For one, India’s population continues to grow swiftly. Every- day, close to 85,000 babies are born, which translates into over 30 million newbies ready to join the workforce annually, in addition to the lag that is piling up over the years. Population growth makes it imperative to have faster economic growth - to accommodate the teeming millions. This comes at a steep cost for the environment. If China’s experience is anything to go by, rampant economic growth is seldom environmentally sustainable.
Herein lies the challenge for the next leap forward - learn les- sons from the path taken by other developed countries and emerg- ing economies. Urbanize but also provide urban amenities in rural areas in order to keep a check on the large scale migration from villages and mofussil towns to cities. Build smart cities but also be smart enough to tackle eco-hazards. Make in India, but don’t make a mess of municipal planning.
While many believe that India has come out of policy paralysis and wheels of governance are turning, others have taken a dia- metrically opposite view and are upset that their hopes have been belied. They are particularly disappointed that the promise of ‘mini- mum government, maximum governance’ has not been kept.
To be sure, over the last several decades, India has definitely made progress in many spheres. How and when the next leap for- ward takes place, depends on us as a socio-economy. The leap should not be empty sloganeering. The leap should not be regressive as it was in another country, in another era. We don’t want a great leap of grandeur, that means nothing to the commoner, the aam aadmi and the aam mahila [the common man and woman]. A simple leap for- ward, which makes their lives better will suffice.
Gurdip Singh and Sameer C. Mohindru