Lee Kuan Yew needs no introduction: he single-handedly transformed Singapore. Can India follow his path and emulate Singapore? This question was put to Lee by an Indian bureaucrat during the South Asian Diaspora Convention in Singapore in 2011. In reply, Lee said India “has to work at its own speed”. Lee had hoped that India would move ahead of China. China, which was poorer than India in 1950, is over four times richer than India in per capita GDP. Why did India slip?
Lee has cited the reasons behind India’s slow rise on various occasions: he spoke to the veteran journalist, Charlie Rose, in 2009; he aired his views at diaspora conventions; he addressed the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture in 2005. No single person, he said, can change India. That drive will be impeded by India’s structural complexities and diverse cultures. Lee said that different ‘Indias’ reside in one geographical unit named India. He thought that one of the greatest hurdles lies in the multiplicity of languages. People should understand what their leader’s plans are for the country and play a role in the nation’s development. This connection, between people and leader, is a must. But building this connection is difficult in multilingual India.
Corruption in public life, stifling bureaucracy and a rigid caste system, he said, are the other shackles holding India back. He prioritized meritocracy and prescribed the formula of ‘best people for the best jobs’. Despite its many obstacles, Lee was optimistic about India’s future.
The hurdles to shared prosperity need to be removed over time. India’s path to and pace of growth may not be similar to those of other Asian nations. If India is to fulfil its potential, it must pay attention to Lee’s diagnosis of the problems that beset the nation.