When you live in India, it is almost impossible to go a single day without reading something about corruption.  Bribes, kick-backs and ‘gratuities’ are a daily part of living here.

My first official experience of this was when I was travelling in an auto-rickshaw, and the driver accidentally went the wrong way down a one-way street. Unfortunately it was one of the rare times I saw a policeman, who swiftly ordered the driver to stop.  After a brief conversation, the driver handed over Rs50 and we were on our way. I asked him whether the Rs50 was a fine, and he explained that the fine was Rs100, the Rs50 was what it cost not to get the fine. The lesson learned: Following the law is not a requirement, and actually it’s not even expected.

Just a cursory look at how people drive  here is more than enough evidence that laws either don’t exist or people pay no attention to them, and the only ones who enforce them seem to be those who do so purely to line their own pockets.  It is a rather sad state of affairs, and I suspect one of the reasons why India will never be a true “super-power”.  They have the brains and the manpower, but there is no discipline, or respect for discipline at all…. and no one seems to care!

Whilst not a matter of national importance, one simple example of this is my weekly Circuit class.  Circuit is a gym class where there are 12 stations set up and everyone starts at a different station, you then rotate through all the stations by moving one to your right every 60 seconds.  In the class I go to each week there is one guy who just does not think he has to follow the rotation, so he moves to different stations every 60 seconds, depending upon what he feels like doing next. It is irrelevant to him that there are 10 other people in the class whose entire work-out is disrupted because he intrudes on their space whenever he feels like it.  He has no discipline, has no interest in following simple routine and doesn’t care who it impacts. Sadly, our gym instructor just tolerates his behaviour and makes no attempt to correct it, so the rest of us just have to put up with it.

Yes it is a very simplified way of looking at things, but this is just one example of so many I see every single day.

Another way that India makes it harder on itself to be taken seriously is the levels of bureaucracy.  I moved to Mumbai in March and tried to register myself for a PAN card, which means I can be a law-abiding tax paying citizen.  I was not able to apply for a PAN card because I didn’t have a formal address (I have an informal rental arrangement), all my legal documentation (such as my OCI card) shows an Australian address and I don’t even have a license.  So I was unable to register.  This meant I had trouble getting work, for which I would pay tax, because I couldn’t pay tax legitimately without a PAN card. I would also have trouble getting a formal lease arrangement without a PAN card (and which I needed to get a PAN card)….. and the merry-go-round went on (I have now managed to get myself a PAN card, but it took 5 months and a ridiculous amount of paperwork).

Whilst most countries fall over themselves to make it easy for you to pay tax, India manages to find as many barriers as possible to prevent you from complying with the law.  It is actually almost easier to do something outside of the law then it is to be a law-abiding citizen. It seems all the bureaucracy is almost designed to stop India from helping itself.

So I find it amusing when I hear people talk about India being a super-power.  Yes it has the population and the brain power, but without organisation and discipline and I am not sure India can ever be a super-power.  Having high GDP purely because you have a large population doesn’t make you an economic force to be reckoned with in my opinion, true economic power comes from being able to yield it to your advantage.  Add on top of that the overwhelming fear that seems to exist in foreign policy, with foreign direct investment restricted in India.  It is almost like India wants to behave like a communist state, controlling what can come in and what people can see, but still tries to call itself a democracy.  However the only things that appear to prevail in this democracy is corruption and anarchy.

Whilst I don’t condone corruption, the anarchy and lack of discipline is a big part of what gives India its charm, life is certainly never boring.

Then you add on top of this the social issues that prevail in India.  High levels of illiteracy, poverty, lack of sanitation…. whilst many are educated, about a third of the population falls below the poverty line (that is about 400 million people, or 25% more than the entire population of the US).  With such extreme issues to deal with, and very little visible action to address them, it seems almost like one part of the population is trying to pretend that the other side exists.  Whilst I appreciate that the problem is huge and not an easy one to resolve, ignorance doesn’t make a great leader, action does.

Colourful, incredible and challenging…. yes India is all of these things… but a world super-power….I doubt we will see this in my lifetime.

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19 thoughts on “Will India ever be a "real" super-power?

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  • October 17, 2012 at 8:06 am
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    ha ha .. but I wouldn’t want India to become like the USA, USSR, China or anyone else. India should be India. We do need to remove corruption and improve law enforcement. I used to think like you but you are not seeing the forest for the trees. You speak about the individual policeman taking bribes but corruption is being rooted out at the top. There is large scale infrastructure projects to address pollution etc and these are generally being managed well. The changes will be drastic but must filter down .. and yes we do it on Indian Standard Time. For example solid waste processing plants are needed to get rid of trash .. you cannot just haul the trash away. Once these plants are in place you can implement processes and attempt to change public behavior. Grass root changes (eg not paying bribes) are easier when you have a big middle class + automation and this is also inevitable (my prediction). We will do things our own way. You cannot change that and I cannot change that. This is India.

    Reply
    • October 17, 2012 at 8:51 am
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      I don’t think our views are actually that far apart, I agree with most of what you say. I am not seeking to change India, I am just merely making observations, however small they may be.

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  • October 5, 2012 at 12:40 pm
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    You need to decode indian english a little better.

    When indians say they want india to be a “super power”, what they mean is that they don’t want to be bossed around by another country(USA), or a foreign organisation(UN) or any remaining foreign entity.

    To be such a super power means building an army that could take three countries at a time in a war. It means walking it’s own line in world political issues.

    India is okay with all the trash on its roads and its crippling bureaucracy. India does not deny that its ugly. India is a lot of things that the west can never be though the west can try multicultural imitations. I guess you can open a turkish, vietnamese and an italian restaurant one next to the other and call the country “multicultural”.

    Many people think that economic progress is here to stay but don’t realise that resources on mother earth is limited. I have a question for you Rakhee…

    Can earth handle another resource gobbler like USA?

    If it can, how? Where will the resources come from? Mars, Jupiter? As more and more countries(population) earns the purchasing potential on limited resources, many of the things that the west has been getting easily are going to become hard.

    If earth cannot deliver the resources for the upcoming ambitious population then progress will slow down. How will a population that is so used to restaurants and doing things with the assistance of electrical simplicity handle a shift back into time?

    What I’m asking is, which civilisation will outlast?
    1) The indian civilisation
    or
    2) The western civilisation

    Reply
    • October 8, 2012 at 8:51 am
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      I don’t think I have the answer to your question as there are advantages and disadvantages to both societies, and that wasn’t the point of my post.

      But I find your point about India wanting to merely stand on its own as its interesting. Thanks for your thoughts.

      Reply
      • October 11, 2012 at 12:45 am
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        Adv and disadv? No, I’m talking about sustenance of a civilisation. I was pointing at the western model of progress(prosperity through consumerism) which is logically unsustainable. In a way, the identity of western civilisation is consumerism(everything is ready made and for sale). What happens when that starts slowing down? Does the west have an alternate dream?

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        • October 12, 2012 at 9:12 am
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          Yes a very philosophical argument. Although from what I see of middle class India, I am not so sure they are much different from the west in terms of consumerism and their use of resources.

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        • August 6, 2013 at 12:54 pm
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          Yes, a lot of the supply side issues can be solved by innovating, ex: recycling, reusing etc. Also power generation through solar and wind farms, along with more efficient power appliances will result in several more generations of consumerist society. For centuries people have predicted that the human race would go extinct, because our “logically unsustainable” model of growth, but we have overcome every problem we have faced yet using humanity’s most prized weapon-innovation.

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          • August 7, 2013 at 5:16 am
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            Thanks for your thoughts. I am not sure the human race is winning at the moment though, particularly given the state of the environment, global warming etc etc

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        • August 6, 2013 at 12:56 pm
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          “The Stone Age didn’t end because humanity ran out of stones.” — Ronald Bailey

          Reply
  • September 30, 2012 at 7:14 pm
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    A Good read. How I wish every Indian/India Lover could write positive things about India.

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  • September 23, 2012 at 9:02 pm
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    India will be a superpower the day every house in this country has safe drinking water and uninterrupted power supply. Even in 2012, this is a very distant dream. BTW, Shiv Sena, MNS and Ram Sene were asking for your address for writing such an anti-national post. I told them, you admire Narender Modi.

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    • September 23, 2012 at 9:05 pm
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      Haha, I will send them your details by association if they coming knocking!

      But yes, I agree we need to get the basics for everyone first

      Reply
  • September 23, 2012 at 6:14 pm
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    Awesome. These are all known issues. Probably India is waiting for dictator to inforce descipline and ethics.

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    • September 30, 2012 at 7:13 pm
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      Hmm..I won’t say India is waiting for a ‘Dictator’ to inforce discipline and ethics but India for sure needs some basic changes in the Indian Judicial System. Moreover, It needs to incorporate more ‘federalism’ aspects within ‘Indian Democracy’

      Reply
  • September 23, 2012 at 2:08 pm
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    Spot on. I don’t even know whether being a super-power is a valid goal – it makes more sense to think about improving our own lives and those of our fellow citizens, pursue growth, and in general try to leave the world at least a bit better than how we found it. We definitely need to do a lot of work.

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    • September 23, 2012 at 8:31 pm
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      Yes I do tend to agree with you, super power may not even be the right goal when there are so many people who’s livelihood could be improved.

      Reply

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