Swadeshi: The Quest for Self-reliance CD set and MP3
discussion of India's economic development since Independence in 1947 is
bound end up in schizophrenia. On one side, clichés about poverty,
overpopulation, bureaucratic obstructionism elevated to an art form. On
the other, statistics that tell of an India that can feed itself, that produces
consumer and industrial goods on a continental scale, that has nurtured
a scientific and technological establishment that has put men into space
and now supplies software to much of the West's computer industry.
Mark Twain spoke of 'fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty.' The two still go hand in hand a century after Twain visited India. They are the cause of such frustrations. How can a country so well-endowed by Nature and by the industriousness of so many of its citizens (Indians are natural entrepreneurs in the best sense of the word) have failed to grow and unleash anything like its full potential? China, which used to be coupled in the same breath as India, has per capita income three or four times as great. Taiwan, Malaysia, even Pakistan are better off. And if the reason for this stunted growth can be identified, it is likely that India could one day 'take off' in economic terms and become the next great economic success story?
Those are the issues that haunt this program. It's never clear cut that western-style development economics led by middle-class consumption holds the answers for a country of India's size. Efficiency would throw not just millions but hundreds of millions out of work. And no state could ever have enough wealth in its coffers to extend a decent welfare net beneath those millions.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Indian nationalists have developed a constituent economic program for an independent India. The means was to be Swaraj, or self-rule. The end was Swadeshi, which means literally 'of one's own country.' It began as a boycott against British goods at turn of the century but for Gandhi and the independence movement it meant economic self-reliance for the necessities of life. Once independence was achieved in 1947, the debate shifted to competing views of which economic model India should chose.
The debate between Gandhi and Nehru centered on decentralized village growth versus industrial, urban emulation of the West. Nehru chose the latter and though now it's fashionable to say he was wrong it seemed the logical choice back then. It's also hard to see how Gandhian village development can work for a whole subcontinent. There are too many imponderables (i.e. population) it fails to take into account.
India has done remarkable things, but the bill is now coming due and it will take more than a Green Revolution to solve. Opening up the country to foreign competition may indeed help large segments of the economy. But it may doom others to misery and backwardness. Sheer numbers of people dictate the need for other choices, or, rather, for a new pattern of development and growth that is a typically Indian hybrid between India's own genius and traditions and the best that the upstart West has to offer. The choices and the answers are not obvious and will not be easy.