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COMPETITION OF THE WRONG KIND

One sincerely wishes to be proved wrong for being needlessly alarmist and making a wrong analysis of a ‘potentially prospering and prosperous, superpower-status aspiring’ India of the 21st century. In reality, it is a paradoxical story of India’s increasing population vis a vis the decreasing head counts of selected Western nations. Let us begin with 25-year old flashback figures, when, in 1988, the population of India was 80 crore, in which 64.6 per cent were below 30 years, against China’s 109 crore and Australia’s 1.65 crore. India’s population then stood at 655.8 persons per square mile. Unemployment was 6 per cent and 56.8 per cent of rural land was under agriculture. The exchange rate was Rs 17 against the dollar; average births per woman stood at 4.1 and the quantum of import far exceeded that of the export even then.

Today, India’s 124 crore heads are ‘competing’ to overtake China’s 135 crore population as India still produces ‘one Australia’ per annum with almost two crore births. Australia’s head count stands at over 2.18 crore. Experts feel population stabilization in India is unlikely as it is heading towards an all-time-high of 175 crore before the graph moves downhill in another 35 or 36 years.

India is surely and steadily heading towards gloomy times. Today, 58 per cent of India’s 124 crore people are below 30 years and at least 10 per cent thereof are, and are likely to remain, unemployed in the foreseeable future. Of the land, 44.7 per cent is under temporary crops and 3.9 per cent under permanent crop. One dollar can fluctuate anywhere between Rs 62 and Rs 68, and import continues to be much more expensive than before owing to the imbalance in the import-export ratio. With declining industry and increasingly loss-making agriculture, the country stares at potentially uncertain times owing to the volatility in foreign exchange reserves, an enhanced commitment to timebound debt recovery services, mounting national deficit and a fragile currency.

What would make India’s economic scenario more difficult to be tackled in the future is the fundamental mismatch between demand and supply in all spheres of the nation’s plans and programmes. From jobs to land development to agriculture to industrial production, demand continues to outstrip supply in geometrical progression, thereby giving birth to corruption, which in turn retards the growth of the Indian economy.

At least five ‘F’ factors -— food production, fire power, finance, factory output and fuel would normally make a country find its feet in a comity of nations to be counted upon as powerful and prospering. Unfortunately India, as things stand today, has stumbled, and surely does not fall under this category. Except for self-sufficiency in food, the Indian position in the rest of the four factors is untenable. Foreign exchange (under finance) is under tremendous pressure owing to mounting fuel imports, and the galloping bill of imported goods in the face of failing factories and easy availability of (and preference for) cheaper Chinese goods and other fast-moving consumer goods from the West resulting in a shrinking job market. All this is happening in the background of a ceaseless increase of two crore human heads per annum.

To make matters more complicated, there is an adverse 70:30 ratio of ‘import’ and ‘internal procurement’ of military hardware for the country’s firepower. Additionally, the ideological switchover from the traditional Indian economic wisdom of ‘saving first’ and ‘investing later’ to the Western idea of ‘investing first with or without any income’ and ‘saving once the return from the investment starts flowing’ in a broader economic scenario has created an unsatisfactory gap between the income of the State and the outflow of the income (implying expenditure), thereby creating a huge adverse financial gap affecting the job market and the over-burdened debt recovery schedules of the nation.

To top it all, the number of friendly foreign countries, which would come to attend the seventh NAM summit (more than 100) and seventh Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet (more than 40 nations) in New Delhi in 1983 during the era of Indira Gandhi no longer have the urge to stand by India in the international forum. The symptoms of this decreasing interest owes to the increasing number of Indian aspirants for foreign visas, which are sought purportedly for tourism, but make the developed West see danger. There does exist valid reasons for Western nations to act the way they do, owing to the factor of increasing/decreasing population. For instance, the United Kingdom is seeing one of the fastest population growths in Europe with non-white immigrants (especially from India’s neighbourhood) creating some serious problems.

Indians are unwanted; be it in overseas job market or in Western higher education institutions. The economic downturn and the cascading effect of rising unemployment in the West makes the entry of each and every Indian a potential threat to the Western employment market.

The West understands very well the ‘economics of employment’ for its own boys. Thus while France also faces a rising population (though not at the rate of that of the UK), its main perceived threat originates from the non-white immigrants and the connected security factors endangering the very fabric of its society. The igniting supplementary factor, however, is the rising unemployment and declining economics. So far as Indians are concerned, they are educated and skilled, in comparison with other immigrants; hence their flow needs to be checked owing to the burgeoning populace back home.

Germany is the biggest and the strongest economy in the European heartland; but its population is reducing fast. Its labour market has already rung the alarm bell and non-white immigrants are trying to fill the vacuum. Again, India looms large as a threat. In fact, all across Europe a churning process is going on.

Population explosion in a country like India and its shrinking in some developed Western nations are bound to hit all. Thus, whereas the West is fearful of the migration of (surplus) educated Indians, the Indians in turn are resentful, because of lack of opportunities within the country and loss of competitive bidding abroad. Between them come the religious zealots from Asia and Africa who want to cross over to India as well as sail across to the European mainland. In short, an overall chaos of deteriorating economics is not too far off.