Image: Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Growing-up anxiety is a characteristic of adolescence. It’s a decade that begins with the anxieties of adolescence and ends with the confidence of adulthood and hope for the future. Yet that is not how the second decade of the 21st century will be remembered. Back home in India, the decade began with hope. It ends in despair. Overall, the decade began with hope for a new dawn in the East and a new balance of power, with the western sun seen as setting, but it ends with lingering concerns about a global geopolitical imbalance. and an economic downturn.
As the world entered 2010, the shadow of 2008-09 loomed large. Yet India seemed to have insulated itself from the worst impact of what has been described as the “global financial crisis”, albeit largely of transatlantic origin. It is not only India, but Asia as a whole that seems to have survived this crisis, thanks to the rise of what was then considered a “new engine of global growth”: China . The return to power of a coalition government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which had won global recognition for India’s strategic nuclear capability, cemented the narrative of a rising India. Across the developing world, new hope arose as Africa also began to rise and Latin America put its 20th century problems behind it. Neither the African promise nor the Latin American resurgence has materialized.
India’s history is built on four simple numbers: From 1900 to 1950, India’s average annual economic growth rate was close to 0% per year. From 1950 to 1980, the Indian economy grew at an average rate of 3.5% per year. This figure rose to 5.5% between 1980 and 2000 and to 7.5% thereafter. But the second half of the first decade saw a dramatic acceleration in growth. For the first time in recorded history, the Indian economy grew at over 8% annually between 2003 and 2010.
Even a long-time India skeptic like Lee Kuan Yew from Singapore has started to see India through the same lens he saw China and Asia rising to the East of India. Writing in his regular column in Forbes, Mr. Lee hopes that India and China “will usher Asia into an era of dynamic growth. The inevitable surprises will happen, but China and India are well on their way to a revival of their glorious civilizations. By 2050, the global economic center of gravity will shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Indian oceans.
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The rise of Asia and the relative decline of the West are two historic trends that will continue unabated, but the confidence with which many Asians saw this shift in power as inevitable has been tempered by the uncertainties and anxieties of the last decade. Not only is the West fighting back, with all kinds of diabolical trade and immigration policies, but even within the rest – led by the so-called BRICS nations – there is growing uncertainty about the dubious impact of their policies. interior.
Three long-term global challenges preoccupy most nations: climate change, terrorism and human migration. While the war against the threat of jihadist terrorism has won impressive battles, the sources of radicalism that feed this threat have not disappeared. The decade is ending with a continued stalemate on climate change, an impasse in multilateral trade negotiations and no hope for the millions who wish to migrate in search of a better life.
To compound this dismal scenario, political leaders around the world have resorted to various forms of nationalism to keep dissent in check at home and to appoint external enemies. In Russia, that enemy is the West. In the West, it’s Russia, China and radical Islam, not necessarily in that order. In China, an economic slowdown and the challenge posed by the trade war unleashed by the United States have combined to make the Communist Party leadership more assertive and authoritarian. An outwardly aggressive China that finally abandoned its Deng Xiaoping-era policy of “peaceful rise” and began to “dream” of replacing the United States as the world’s dominant power in the 21st century has raised alarm bells in its neighborhood.
“Many old-school conglomerates will exit the Nifty in this decade”
The wave of nationalism that has gripped the world, from Donald Trump’s America to Xi Jinping’s China and which has echoed across Europe and the Islamic world, has echoed in India. Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power promising good governance and faster development, riding the wave of anger over the corruption and incompetence of the second United Progressive Alliance government. Modi’s rise defined a shift in the power structure and framework of politics which he defined as the hallmark of a ‘New India’. By the middle of the decade Modi was seen as a messiah, by the end of the decade we see him creating a mess.
The demonetization of high-value currencies and the incompetent management of economic and fiscal challenges have caused such a mess. Mismanagement of intermunicipal relations and regional and linguistic sensitivities created another. Modi’s emphasis on development gave hope for a New India. His party’s obsession with a sectarian political agenda created new grounds for desperation. While government spokespeople say the economy has bottomed out, few are willing to bet that India will be a $5 trillion economy by the mid-2020s.
The wave of nationalism in the world and at home has been fueled by a multitude of resentments. One of them, which ran through both developed and developing economies, was the muted anger of a poor and marginalized middle class against the arrogant lifestyles of the wealthy. Thomas Piketty’s 2013 book Capital brought global attention to the problem of economic and social inequality. It is the unwillingness or inability of governments to address this issue in any meaningful way that has, in large part, contributed to the rise of right-wing nationalism.
On the positive side, however, the second decade of the century also witnessed the onward march of human ingenuity with new technologies and new solutions to old problems pointing the way forward. From solar power to 5G technology, from 3D printing to new life-saving medical technologies, the creative genius of the human mind has not been left behind. If this past decade were to be viewed in future years in positive terms, despite the many social, economic and political challenges it has posed to humanity, it would be thanks to the good work of scientists and technologists, writers, composers and artists and their relentless pursuit of creativity. Like a lotus flower blooming in muddy water, human creativity in the past decade has also flourished in the murky waters of bigotry and prejudice disguised as nationalism and patriotism.
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(This story appears in the January 17, 2020 issue of Forbes India. To visit our archive, click here.)