Pivoting to the future

2020 and 2021 are clearly going to be lost years. Delhi Reopens a Crack Amid Gloomy Economic Forecast for India:

The Indian capital, which just weeks ago suffered the devastating force of the coronavirus, with tens of thousands of new infections daily and funeral pyres that burned day and night, is taking its first steps back toward normalcy.

Officials on Monday reopened manufacturing and construction activity, allowing workers in those industries to return to their jobs after six weeks of staying at home to avoid infection. The move came after a sharp drop in new infections, at least by the official numbers, and as hospital wards emptied and the strain on medicine and supplies has eased.

Life on the streets of Delhi is not expected to return to normal immediately. Schools and most businesses are still closed. The Delhi Metro system, which reopened after last year’s nationwide lockdown, has suspended service again.

But everyone has to focus on the future. So what’s going on? How’s Modi’s going to supercharge the economy? I’m not Indian, I’m American. A strong India is good for America. An economically vibrant India is good for humanity.

53 thoughts on “Pivoting to the future”

  1. Good questions.

    The way I read BJP rule under Modi is a one of trying to pull India kicking and screaming into a 21st century economy while clinging to age old cultural norms and prejudices. Modi, a man in a hurry to make up for lost time, especially to bind together the nation in a “Hindu” identity.

    Modi’s attempts to apply the Gujarat model to India has had mixed results because of the sheer scale of India. Demonetization was a shock to the system that many strata of society did not quite recover from. The introduction of a Goods and Services Tax was two steps forward and one step back. Social programs such as the building toilets and free cooking gas cylinders OTOH were big successes. On the domestic front his policies have led to polarization between Hindus and non-Hindus.

    Modi took decisive action on the Kashmir issue to try and break the logjam of 79 years. Let’s see if this yields any results. On the foreign policy front after attempting to come t an understanding with China, Modi seems to have sought closer alignment with the US, Japan and Australia.

    But the most significant event under Modi’s rule has been the pandemic. Modi and the BJP’s hubris is declaring victory over the virus and positioning India as the world’s savior – in terms of providing vaccines – has become an embarrassment. Modi and India were caught with their pants down. Modi’s popularity amongst the middle class – an important constituency of the BJP – has been shaken with so many not being able to get treatment because of a lack of oxygen. The focus on suppressing dissent has peeved many who were otherwise ardent Modi supporters. Modi is viewed by many as yet another politician. Personally incorruptible, but increasingly surrounded by a coterie of bigoted advisors who embrace non-scientific beliefs. All of this has resulted in the mishandling of the pandemic in India.

    I think Modi’s India plan has gone off the rails. There needs to be some radical rethinking and assessment on his part. Perhaps a house cleaning of closest advisers. If this does not happen, dark times are ahead for India, since the opposition does not have its act together either!

    1. The one big expectation I have from Modi at this point is divestments, sell the likes of Air India and even BP, IOCL,HAL, BHEL, BEML, SAIL, ONGC, NTPC…

      I have no faith in a bureaucracy that can’t manage logistics of oxygen to compete with the likes of Singapore Airlines or Siemens.

  2. A lot of people in general and on this blog (whether pro or anti Hindutva) care too much about Modi. It’s not about one man but the entire Indian political, social and economic structure which will determine the course of its post COVID future!

    India’s governance problems from corruption to poor quality of public goods, and so forth are well known to everyone.

    But the solution to its problems lie within how a leader works within the overall system. Modi found that governing a country of 1.3 billion people is much harder than governing a state of 60 million.

    Razib, regardless of your own personal desire to see India become a superpower in a decade or two, do you believe India will be able to reach developed status by 2050? Or even semi developed Malaysian status by then? Have the events of the last decade not shown the problems of the Indian system when culture warring and poorly implemented policies like demonetisation take a back seat to solving the fundamental problems of India?

    Before we start thinking about better schools or roads, or faster internet, tackling India’s enormous corruption and competence issues within its own government at all three levels must be the fixed or at least alleviated!

    I don’t know how that’s gonna be resolved, I don’t even know if these issues are solvable if I’m being honest. Look at Punjab, it is one of India’s wealthiest states and yet its young including its best and brightest are divided between those who are living overseas in cities like Toronto and those who want to live in Toronto (or Vancouver!).

    Unless every second Indian moves to London, SF or Toronto soon after graduating college or high school, it’s quite clear that the Indian economy is not generating enough high paying jobs, and the average quality of life in many Indian cities is not near developed level standards.

    Endless debates here between the pro and anti Modi commentators here seem to obscure the fact that while India has made indisputable progress in the last 30 years post Singh’s reforms unless it manages to massively improve the quality of life for ordinary people over the next 30 years, it will simply become a giant school to train programmers, engineers, lawyers and doctors operating elsewhere.

    In my opinion the farming reforms shouldn’t have happened, they caused a massive polarisation between sikhs and Hindus particularly in the diaspora that far outweighed any benefits the reforms may have brought to the economy.

    But at the end of the day, that’s India’s problem. There are 1001 interest groups that will stop India from developing, you wanna reduce corruption in construction? The building mafia is gonna make your life hell. You wanna end or even reduce caste reservations in University admissions? Good luck!

    Tharman shanmugaratnam once said that he knew of no other country in the world where the gap between its potential and performance was as large as in India. The huge gap between how many Indians perform outside of India and what happens when they’re back in India should be a clue that the system has big issues beyond Modi Ji!

    These are not my original thoughts but have been developed by talking to someone else who’s well informed on Indian affairs, and combining them with my own thoughts, I think they need to be out there though.

    1. Farming reforms didn’t work becauss of a zamindar caste agitation supported by big NRI funds. By HDI Punjab does well but its GDP per capita has become quite middling. It is not among the richest anymore. But yes the Khalistani elements of the diaspora involved themselves heavily in fueling the middle man and elite zamindar farmer protests to protect their rent seeking interests. Opportunists of the same caste but diff religion like Tikait then hijacked it, a good thing thing actually because that stopped some of the small but building momentum for Khalistan movement 2.0.

      Punjab is streotyped more with rap music and drugs than anything else becauseof bad anti industrialization policies. The top talent, in average, does not come from Punjab anymore in India. Generally, even in its heyday, the state did well because of guaranteed good farm and army employment. Talent potential is there like everywhere but the leaders kept it an agrarian ecologic time bomb. People leave not because of supreme talent but because of chain migration and good known Punjabi Sikh, largelt Jatt, cultural and social support systems present in places like Canada.

      Its ok, dalits and BIMARU migrants will still do the heavy lifting in the fields and money will ne guaranteed by failed socialist basically zamindar welfare scheme. When the water table dries up and Punjab is a desert, most of the zamindar class will be in Canada anyway. Then they will say the fall of Punjab was because they left…
      Interest groups suck yes. But BJP is the closest thing to uniting many people that India has seen for awhile. Hindu supremacism is not good. But it is definitely the more economic right wing party, willing to do bolder things. For that reason, I would support it.

      Btw, Narsimhan Rao had the same pushback with 1991 reforms. He didn’t back down. Modi cannot back down either. India needs critical labor and farming reforms.

      1. Basic problem in Indian economic discourse is the automatic assumption that neoliberalism = good. Take the much-vaunted “labour reforms” dogma. There just isn’t much empirical evidence that it is a major impediment in India. Capitalists will always whine becaus many of them are motivated by endless greed, but we should be careful in not taking their greed as gospel.

  3. Is there a basic explanation for why India’s second wave is now in retreat? Did people start getting cautious again and thereby reduce transmission, or did it run out of new vulnerable people to infect, or what?

    At least we now seem to know, from the experience of other countries, that mass vaccination really does work.

    1. I am guessing we ran out of vulnerable people. Almost everyone got it and hundreds of thousands have died.

      1. If it’s true that almost everyone got it, then millions died, not hundreds of thousands.

        Regardless, hopefully the vaccine rollout continues at a faster clip and India can put the covid pandemic behind it.

  4. The bad:
    From a macro-economic perspective, the last 7 years have not been great.

    Demonetization and botched GST (generalised sales tax) didn’t help.

    GST collections had been increasing before lockdowns happened so I am hoping that the flaws in the system will be ironed out in the medium term.

    But GST does take away some of the economic levers that the states had. So I am not sure about the long term unintended effects of GST.

    The good:

    Stock markets are at an all time high and there’s a lot of venture capital flowing into India.

    IMO one of Modi’s greatest economic legacy is going to be the expansion of basic necessities to people in BIMARU and beyond:
    1. Electrification of the country that had been stuck for almost 10 years under Congress.
    2. Building highways that had been stuck for ages
    3. Clean drinking water in the homes of poor

    As an example, it used to take 8 to 12 hours to travel from Patna to my ancestral village in Mithila. Now it takes 3 to 4 hours.

    Over the long term, this will expand market access to the poor and the underserved. You’ll see more people buying consumer electronics like TV or fridge because they finally have electricity at home and can have these things delivered easily due to the financial, telecom, and physical infra that’s been built.

    Overall I think India will continue to teeter forward at a Hindutva rate of growth unless we focus on improving human capital and reform our bureaucracy.
    One very important variable is energy. Will be interesting to see how we manage the transition to a post-oil world.

    1. Regardless of whoever is in power, India will see both political and economic Hindutva, in the foreseeable future. The new Hindu rate of growth is 5-6 percent.

      India will neither reach double digit growth (regardless of economic reforms) , nor will it recede to 2-3 percent as much as the opposition thinks the BJP;s economic missteps would cause. We will remain an middle income country. So eventually we will never compete or able to compete with China, but we will not be a push-over either. So we will be to China, what Pakistan is to us.

      1. We will remain an middle income country. So eventually we will never compete or able to compete with China, but we will not be a push-over either. So we will be to China, what Pakistan is to us.

        Indians, irrespective of religion or ideology or class, value stability over everything else. Rapid industrialization requires a society to make sacrifices. We do not have the appetite for that.

        This is why the whole ‘Vishwaguru’ rhetoric seemed very discordant. We are not willing to pay the price for our ambitions even if uncles will forward WhatsApp messages hyping petty achievements.

        As a country, we have had a very soft landing post-partition. None of that cultural revolution or great leap forward or anything. China experimented a lot before figuring out what works for them. West did it as well but a century earlier. We just go with the flow. Hindutva is nothing when compared the radical ideologies that have been tried in other countries.

        I used to be annoyed at it earlier but I’ve made my peace with it now. One can do what one can at the individual level. You can’t change the fundamental nature of a people. Perhaps this is all for the good in the long run.

      2. Regardless of whoever is in power, India will see both political and economic Hindutva, in the foreseeable future. The new Hindu rate of growth is 5-6 percent.

        I agree with you somewhat but policies still matter. Marginal difference can have a big compounding effect.
        6.5% for 20 years will give you a per capita GDP or $ 7k vs 5k for 5%

        1. Well you would be optimistic if u think india will grow 6.5 for next 20 years. We can always have a bad year like last one. And to recover it might take 2 or more years.

          Also one cannot rule out coming together of all state parties + congress who are all commies and socialist of different hues who just need their pound of flesh. Once that happens we would see even higher increase in social spending without any increase on revenue side. Already we are toying with urban MNREGA and NYAY before the pandemic.

          1. The exact numbers don’t matter. There’s a base rate that the economy will grow at regardless unless we absolutely fuck up.
            Marginal difference does matter. You can have 4.5 vs 5.5 and the difference would still be stark.

          2. What exactly are you saying? That economic policies matter, yeah it matters. Marginal difference matters. Yeah it matters. Not a sooth sayer, so cant pinpoint to the dot where each year India’s economic growth rate would rest. So gave a ball park figure.

            The only thing i am sure of is that devoid of BJP there is no poltical party which has any intrest on ‘economic policies’ at least the ones which grows the revenue or the GDP. All the rest are low to high commies who have only ideas on redistribution, so yeah this debate about 5.5 vs 6.5 is useless once they come to power. Since there will be no economic polices to debate on , but on social policies.

            The BJP on its worst commie day is still right of centre to all the rest combined, economically.

  5. The people who are saying stuff like “corruption”, “competence”, “middle-income”, “governance”, “quality of public goods”, “training school for engineers”, “stability” should remember that in 1998, the Indian advisors in WTO, WB and a host of other industry leaders were forecasting that –

    India should become a manufacturing and agro-processing hub in order to reach a GDP of 1 Trillion USD by 2015 because they did not believe that Services could thrive in a system plagued by inefficiency, low educational skills and lack of public goods. They believed that Services could only be a developed economy’s game.

    There were a few protesting voices. But the majority opinion was that only forward path was to loosen trade barriers and open up every sector. People like NRN, Azim Premji or FC Kohli simply did not read the views of these economists/top caliber analysts. Very simply put, if I went back in time and told all those economists/big brain people that India would be nearing a 3T GDP in 2021 (even after Covid) – they would classify it as a very low probability event. This is including the effects of dollar inflation.

    You should never bring your “extrapolation” mindset to an exponential game.

    I see a very different cultural problem – the aspirants from backward Indian regions climb the ladder by developing excessive educational skills and transfer them into regular jobs, public policy making and economic research.

    There is this saying – if a crow shits in Raisina Hill, it will fall on the head of a Bengali economist. The whole economic decision making machinery of India is filled choc-a-bloc with West Bengal experts on economy and policy. The very same big brains who now claim that BD has surpassed India on a few metrics.

    Whereas high achievers from the economically dynamic regions of India push the curve beyond what these economists even dream off. So all that pessimism and ambiguity is coming from people who haven’t broken the system. They now preach moroseness to others.

    If you ever feel like entertaining doubts – read Rakesh Jhunjhunwala on sectoral forecasts. This man has more knowledge than a college educated economist. He is even willing to bet on it.

    1. “There is this saying – if a crow shits in Raisina Hill, it will fall on the head of a Bengali economist. The whole economic decision making machinery of India is filled choc-a-bloc with West Bengal experts on economy and policy. The very same big brains who now claim that BD has surpassed India on a few metrics.”

      LOL. Though i sometimes marvel on the degree of cognitive dissonance of being from one of the commie states holding forth on free markets reforms. It like having a Gujju guiding Cuba’s economic policies.

  6. So over the last year I have been hiring a lot people for small jobs from online hiring platforms from various countries.

    Some observations on South Asian countries:

    1. Pakistan – Cheaper than BD and India on average. Some underpriced talent for complex work in 2nd tier pakistani cities. Sometimes I have been astonished with the quality for the price from Pakistan.

    2. India – Better english skills on avg. than Pakistan or Bangladesh. The scene there seems more mature, more large agencies involved. Some good talent in the mix in India as well.

    3. Bangladesh – More likely to speak up if something is wrong compared to Indians and Pakistanis who tend to be more sycophantic. Every guy seems to be named “Md. something”, initially I thought they were all falsely claiming to be medical doctors for some reason.

    Some other stuff:

    There are a decent amount of south asian women on these platforms able to earn an income from home.

    Only mild- moderate correlation between quality and price, have paid as little as $3.5 an hour (data entry) to $200 an hour (legal work).

    One time this Indian guy changed his last name to match mine, wonder if this was caste related. Like if he thought I would be nicer to him if we had the same last name.

    1. Some underpriced talent for complex work in 2nd tier pakistani cities.

      I have only ever used platforms like Fiverr to get some whiteboard videos made. But this was my observation as well.

      There seem to be a lot of Pakistanis there and a substantial number of them women. I guess this is a pretty convenient way of making money while following cultural norms.

      Generally Pakistanis charge less and have better English for voice overs than folks from Philippines or Vietnam kind of places. So I preferred them.

  7. The basic ingredient to rapid growth is human capital. The East Asian miracles were all preceded by significant investments at the basic/primary educational level, which boosted the literacy rates of the masses (not just elites). This, coupled with radical land and agricultural reforms, is what made their miracles possible.

    Neither of these two events happened in India. The Indian educational system was captured by the elite – often tinged by caste – early on, hence why India had top-tier IITs in the 50s and 60s when China had nothing comparable. But China was smarter in investing in the masses first, and only then focusing on the elites. Agricultural reform in India was haphazard and largely abandoned after meeting fierce resistance. I have more sympathy for this, as the recent farm protests show that it is a hellish task (and what Modi is attempting is a much milder version of what was required back when India became independent). Perhaps this wouldn’t even be possible in a democracy given how many powerful landlords and caste interests you’d have to bulldoze.

    Given these legacies, it was never realistic for India to match these East Asian economies. Nevertheless, India has not been a failure. It continues to plug away at a decent clip. However, elite bias in its economic model has persisted (IT, pharma). Even in manufacturing, India exports more sophisticated goods than you’d expect given its income level. This means Indian exports are highly capital-intensive and thus less employment-generating. Arvind Subramanian has written a lot about this. The result is that Indian growth doesn’t generate much jobs even when growth is high. Bangladesh has, by contrast, aligned its economic model with mass employment. So has Vietnam and so did Korea, Taiwan, China during previous decades. This is the most important challenge for India, to generate sufficient jobs at a low-skilled basis because we’re talking hundreds of millions of people who are underemployed.

    One area where India deserves massive praise is that it is developing in a much more green fashion. It is one of the few countries on track to meet the Paris climate targets. Modi personally has invested a lot of political capital to boost renewable energy and has pushed to aggressive increase Indian emissions standards far above most developing countries. I wish it got more recognition for its leadership in this area, because it is critical for all of humanity and India is pulling its weight – and then some-

    1. On the contrary, the mass export driven model of East Asia and Bangladesh might reflect elite dominance. The average farmer wants to increase his income by getting better and assured returns for his produce, and wants his children to work in an office, not slave away in a factory.

      India has managed to become food exporting while utilizing a fraction of the fertilizer and pesticide inputs China used, and China is still food deficient.

  8. Leftist policies have destroyed India. We need a strong right of center leader. Instead, we have a moderately weak centrist. Sadly, the only other options are terrible leftists.

  9. “But everyone has to focus on the future. So what’s going on?”
    1) Expect to see many more educated Indians emigrating to a town near you – covid mismanagement and accelerated evolution of Indian cities to urban hellscapes are two quick reasons that come to mind

    2) Covid might be the catalyst for greater use of blockchains by the government

    Question to those better informed than me – could you point me to an economic analysis of why the UPA govt’s gave much higher GDP growths over the present gov’t 2014 onwards? (covid notwithstanding).

    1. Prior government didn’t attempt any reforms with short term pains but long term gains. They took only low hanging fruit but kept the same long term disastrous structural paradigm. Current government is bolder and less afraid of short term loss. Now COVID19 has confounded shit way too much.

    2. There is no economic analysis because there isn’t one. There was no economic policies which UPA implemented in 10 years, and most of NDA1 and UPA1 winged it riding the wave of 90s liberalization. And comparing UPA 2 and Modi 1.0, i don’t see any discernable difference b/w aggerate growth rate.

      This below of UPA reforms listed by their own finance minister, and you can count what qualifies as economic reforms


      1. Thanks Saurav.

        I was looking for something less political and more non partisan but this was interesting nonetheless. And I don’t see anything wrong with PC’s argument that a better set of reforms are those that lead to higher GDP growth, though that may not be looking at the full picture as per Vikram’s point.

        I wonder how many BJP supporters here (not looking at you specifically) really care about the ‘reforms’ and economy as much as they do the culture-war aspects (Ram Mandir, CAA, anti-Lutyens, etc). I suspect that many (and this seems to be higher among recent NRI’s, ironically) would continue to support the BJP even if it abandoned reforms and goes full LW

        1. If PC case was that it was the reforms were what led to UPA’s growth, than the ‘best’ reform they did was nation wide farm loan waiver right before 2009 elections, which led to high growth rates of 2009 and 2010. And every govt after that should have just waived off farm loans to acheive higher growth each year.

          On your 2nd point, i think that in the foreseeable future there is a chance that BJP might turn LW if it sees that reforms doesnt help them politically. Right now the BJP does the least Left wing thing possible just to keep its flank covered, but one never knows. Though i feel the impact of cultural issues on voting are exaggerated. It;s mostly a trope by left wing folks opposed to BJP who can’t decipher BJPs victories. “Since the economy is fucked, must be mandir which wins them elections, this gullible poor N-Indians”. LOL. It doesnt work that way.

    3. “why the UPA govt’s gave much higher GDP growths over the present gov’t 2014 onwards?”

      I think a better variable to look at the difference between India’s gdp growth and the world average. This is because our economic growth is reliant on service and labor exports. The NDA actually comes out a bit ahead of the UPA on this metric.

      While our low value merchandise exports havent grown like those of Bangladesh and Vietnam (and I dont think they ever will), FDI and agro exports have trended upwards under the NDA.

      1. Thanks Vikram, that’s an interesting angle.

        Regarding low value merch exports, I’m aware that the former strongholds of textile manufacturing like say Tirupur aren’t competitive with the likes of Bangladesh or Vietnam any more because TN is no longer a low cost of labor state. Any reason why these units can’t be established in poorer East India? Is it down to labour laws, low literacy or low female labour participation?

        1. “Any reason why these units can’t be established in poorer East India? Is it down to labour laws, low literacy or low female labour participation ?”

          In a capitalist system, investment accrues to places that are in the best position to receive them, not necessarily the places that need the money the most. East India is poor and could do with industrial investment, but the best places for setting up factories in India are TN, MH, GJ and HR. These states have consistent power supply, better quality of labor at managerial levels and transport connections to global markets.

          Now, one could try the China model and have a system where migrant laborers from poorer regions move to work in the more developed regions. I have a suspicion that this will not work in India, mainly because East India is poor, not desperately poor. It is unlikely that families will compromise on child care and tradition to let women travel and work in cities leaving children behind.

          The likely scenario is that some factories will be established in India’s already industrial areas, and women from poorer backgrounds will work there temporarily before marriage or low level service jobs. One hopes that this is enough to offset our import needs and lead to some exports. But India is not likely to become the goods export powerhouse that East Asia is.

          More here: https://tinyurl.com/5f36w429
          “consider workers in Foxconn’s iPhone assembly plant in Andhra, who were profiled in a recent Forbes magazine article. The pay of Foxconn’s Indian workers (around Rs. 9000) was nearly half the average salary of a maid in Delhi (Rs. 14462). The workers also don’t see the factory jobs as a long-term vocation, with the job not providing any job security or patronage benefits.”

  10. Given the conviction the government has recently shown on trying to do the “right” thing (major divestments, GST, farm laws), the only thing that will prevent Indian growth is the number of roadblocks others put in the way. They are in a car moving down the road but every move, gear change, gas pedal press, and steering turn has to be debated in the parliament, 4th estate op eds, and diaspora interference. Note the irony: deep down no one actually disputes they are on the right road. Everyone just wants their rightful snack along the way when they are late for the destination.

    I’ll leave GDP predictions to the astrologers.

  11. India’s gonna do well. It won’t be anything like China but a clear no 3 by 2050 and just about high-income/first world (similar to some of the richer East European or South American countries now).

    Per capita income of $10-14k ($25-30k PPP). GDP of around $17-$22 trillion. These are in 2021 $s.

    HDI between. 0.8-0.84

    Mind you this is over 1.6 billionish people. The South will be bonafide first world with hi tech innovation (with per capita incomes closer to $20k nominal and $40k PPP with HDIs close to 0.9) etc and BIMARU will have decent standard of living if not high up on innovation and cutting edge tech.

    Ofc nothing like China (although the gap should decrease). China will be a proper first world country (and all through, not just some areas – which already are first world). HDI of 0.9+. Per capita income in the 38-42k range.

    But there will be a clear gap between India and whoever is no 4 (Japan/Indonesia).

    1. The best India (and South Asia in general) can hope for in terms of development is that of southern Europe. A relatively high standard of living, but little economic dynamism outside of a few pockets (South India, Bangladesh, maybe Sri Lanka). Emigration will continue to be relatively high compared to the East Asian countries. The absolute best India can hope for is that the gap between them and China doesn’t grow much larger. They have no hope of narrowing it, let alone closing it.

  12. NjDoes anyone think that sticking to English as the language of governance keeps the growth elite-centric? Huge proportion of population drops out of school or is not able to take advantage of IT/Pharma growth etc because they did not have the money to go to decent schools especially in rural areas. I do think that this reliance on English holds India back in a big way. Our maids spent all their salary paying an English medium school fees for their children, not in anything productive that would have improved their lives. It still did not help and children were more likely to drop out because they did not have extra tutoring help. Rural areas do not even have those english medium schools. I am not advocating a common link language. Just that each state would have doctors and nurses who had gone to their state language schools or kids who were doing IT work and developing apps in their own languages. When I had gone to India, our driver could not use his cell phone for directions as he did not know how to use maps etc. I think it is the biggest stumbling block to India’s growth. When a Riksha puller’s child scores big in all India exams, it is headline news, not the norm. Should we not question why?
    Do we know of any recent folks within last 10 years, not older), who have come out of rural areas and made it big, even anecdotically- from local schools, not english medium ones? Gap has widened now- it was least at the time of independence. Govt schools were norm.

    1. I agree but at this point I think it’s too late to turn back the tides of English language education (network effects).

      It does give rich families a higher leg up because they can send their kids to private schools where the medium of instruction is English.

      There was a moment post independence where there was a chance at adopting a national language. But India is too linguistically diverse.

      Perhaps the pragmatic approach is to offer something like school choice to parents.

      1. “I agree but at this point I think it’s too late to turn back the tides of English language education (network effects).”
        I think there is an even more urgency to do this. Not everyone needs to be involved with networks. If China can teach network in mandarin to their entire population- so can we. English can be introduced at college level or there can be a bridge learning year between high school and college. At least it will have the masses “not” drop out of school midway and they can at least read and write in their own language. They can read local newspapers. Even though I went to English medium school, for a long time I just learnt by rote as I did not acquire proficiency till much later – more likely high school onwards. I see no hope for the rural poor. Which urban educated doctor will go to villages to practice? At least, in medical field you need to empower the poor by letting them learn in their own language.

      2. @Sumit,

        My previous reply got stuck in spam, I think. I will try and remember to write similar reply.
        I think that with the gap between rich and poor increasing and India’s population increasing at such levels, it becomes even more imperative to do this and fast. The rural poor can only do manual labor. India keeps harping about the age advantage but unless it trains this youth, it is going to be useless and fit only for manual labor job. Even if the government does not want to do business in local languages, at least medical field should start training in local languages. What urban educated doctor wants to go back to the village to practice? Only the rural poor will stay back.
        Re- linguistically diverse- Europe is linguistically diverse too but it does not stop them from trading with each other. We do not need a national language. When people need to communicate with others- they will learn it. Look at TN- in-spite of all out efforts to prevent it- Hindi has already made inroads.
        It was common for folks 70-80 years ago to know 2 or 3 Indian languages. Even my mom could read and write Gurmukhi. My uncle in Punjab who spoke heavily accented English could read and write Hindi, Urdu and Gurmukhi. Very few can do so now. Learning English takes too much energy. Most north Indian languages have very similar roots and are easy to pick up. I hear the same about Dravidian language.

    2. @Rohini
      Having read your string of comments, tend to agree with you. Wanted to add that, when it comes to english and social development, people tend to invert the causality. English didn’t make the blind see, and if our native languages can’t convey higher thought in translation then they are beyond useless. English has been a smart strategy on a personal level because it puts one in proximity of the social elite, not due to inherent characteristics of the language. Once proficiency on the national level goes beyond 15% or whatever it will take on characteristics of the rude culture that people think they are escaping and the patois will become dominant. I’m already seeing this in Bangalore, the english of the downwardly mobile take root. Its parallel is the phenomenon of engineering degrees, which were remarkably presitigious when they were scarce. The lower class doesn’t realize the cruel joke of of sending their kid to a 4th-tier institution.

      1. Its parallel is the phenomenon of engineering degrees, which were remarkably presitigious when they were scarce.

        This is a pretty good point.

        I think we are stuck in a local minima when it comes to the language of instruction question.

        The whole country will never become an English speaking one and as English usage expands, people will just start to talk in creoles that are further and further from the language of formal education. As a result, we’ll always underperform in things that matter.
        Unless we standardise these creoles themselves, which won’t happen this century.

        Even large proportions of upper middle class kids in big cities do not really understand everything in their text books and mug up answers.

        On the other hand, overhauling this system will have significant costs of its own. There’s no way the elites are going to send their kids to local language schools, something which not even communists did in Bengal even as they banned the teaching of English. The system will always be rigged to favour English and Indian economy is very much English language driven for now. So this will only lead to more inequality.

        Only way to realistically change this is a top-down change coming from within the elites. I don’t see that happening AT ALL. At least not in the Hindi belt that I am familiar with.

        1. @prats
          > Even large proportions of upper middle class kids in big cities do not really understand everything in their text books and mug up answers.
          Yes, a few years a go I was chatting with a bright young guy who was studying philosophy at st. stephens, I was really surprised by how low the bar was for reading primary sources. In terms of high-value cultural output in english, gaining exposure abroad (finishing ones education in the uk ect) is almost necessary, even for the indian elite. For all the STEM focus on BP, one must consider that markets are culturally mediated. If you are a cultural-linguistic serf, then you can’t participate in the higher echelons of the value chain, so this stuff matters. Your culture is your economy’s brand, keep it real

          1. In terms of high-value cultural output in english, gaining exposure abroad (finishing ones education in the uk ect) is almost necessary, even for the indian elite.

            I think people who are serious about academia know this. Quite a few humanities folks I know actually did go to the UK even if for a year.

            For all the STEM focus on BP, one must consider that markets are culturally mediated. If you are a cultural-linguistic serf, then you can’t participate in the higher echelons of the value chain, so this stuff matters. Your culture is your economy’s brand, keep it real

            I have belatedly started to come around to this view. I think it works the other way too. The fact that a lot of Delhi based folks can’t speak Hindi properly severely reduces the total addressable market for their ideas.

            As an example, I have a friend who researches working conditions of waste collectors. She presents her work at fancy conferences abroad but her findings don’t properly really reach the people who are being affected or can help.

            This has other effects as well like bad app and website design in local languages, which has quite real consequences now.

            I don’t know if this is exclusively a problem of the north. I have seen Tamil folks reading Tamil books.

  13. the issue is not english medium but the lack of accountability of govt. schools. two years ago Karnataka govt converted some schools to english medium. following fall of incomes, there is s rush for seats in these schools now.
    I feel the new education policy is a right mix of mother tongue and english and will be a success.

  14. @Rohini
    The problem isn’t too much English, but too little.

    More English language schools will allow a bridge for lower and upwardly mobile to understand what the elite level thinking is, and feed back up and down accordingly. People don’t forget their mother tongue just because they go to English schools, as seen by the trilingual people on this message board.

    True knowledge focused education reform is needed, but not going to happen.

    1. @V,

      I feel that we are so colonized that we cannot even think that the world can move without English language despite our giant neighbor offering proof that it is possible to do so. The only reason BJP wins the hindi heartland is because the English language failed. I see big correlation between being able to read English with giving up and even hatred towards Indian culture. I see similar thoughts by urduwallahs who cannot think that any other language can be sophisticated as Urdu! (Eye roll here). I see state governments trying to push English as early as possible now. Solution might just be so simple. Such wastage of resources in trying to learn something that is so alien to India. Instead of teaching masses English- ensure that teaching is in their own language and have them finish school at least. Another one- https://www.news18.com/news/india/failing-to-understand-english-classes-and-worried-about-fathers-loan-kolkata-nursing-student-kills-self-2389227.html

      1. “The only reason BJP wins the hindi heartland is because the English language failed.”



        The BJP’s leaders are politicians in a democratic setup who are attuned to the people’s needs. The difference between rich India and poor India is access to the sea and English. Otherwise, on many indicators like land redistribution and empowerment of lower castes, North India has done better than other regions.

        1. “Otherwise, on many indicators like land redistribution and empowerment of lower castes, North India has done better than other regions”

          @Vikram- Shekhar Gupta has just done an analysis of Niti Ayog’s comparative report. North India is way worse than south Indian states.

          I think we have a great example from South America- a country that has given up its language and culture completely. Nothing of ancient cultures remain- only Spanish and Portuguese are the languages left. Maybe a smattering of local dialects in some pockets. This is what can be India if it gives up its languages – which is already happening by adopting more English and sooner.

          We have a country that is neither proficient in English language because our use of it is only functional and utilitarian and miss out on reading it for pleasure. Our language of the heart is the native tongue but we do not acquire proficiency in it as we focus on reading and writing English alone. In the end, we have no decent literature in our own languages and that reflects in our media be it cinema, literature etc.

          Yogi etc. think that providing access to English at earlier levels will have the poor compete with the elite. Why can he not have elite compete with the poor by changing the game altogether? If the entrance to IIT’s/ Med Schools’ would be conducted in native languages alone, I bet very few from the English medium would make it. 80% of India does not export or has any international connection. Masses just need to be literate. They can be literate in their own language and if need be can be provided an intense English coaching as an adult for a year before they join college. This is what used to happen in my grandparents time. By pushing English at an even earlier level, these governments will just ensure a higher drop out rate from government schools at primary level instead of the current secondary school level.

  15. @Rohini
    I’m a huge proponent of education in local language (which isn’t always the mother tongue). When I said the problem in India is too little English the motivation is that we need sufficient people coming from the “masses” (whatever that means) who can understand the policies. English at an administrative level is just the reality that cannot be wished away. Consider the following:
    Although about 1 in 10 people can understand English, most have not formally studied in it and only muddle through it. Those that are formally educated are likely an order of magnitude smaller in numbers, and these come largely from privileged backgrounds. We need to get this number to about 5 – 10% who formally learn it – by the sheer numbers you will have more people from other classes of society learning English. This will force them to truly understand their peers and as they grow up hopefully act to bridge the gap. Remember, I’m still saying 90%+ should be local languages.

    Let’s not conflate the language of instruction with the curriculum. The latter is where decolonization needs to take place. I get that issue is complex though and hence what I am proposing will not happen, so you can sleep easy if you disagree. (;

    1. @V, not sure I understand the nuances of what you are saying. “we need sufficient people coming from the “masses” (whatever that means) who can understand the policies”
      Which policies? Why do we need English to understand the policies? Can the policies not be translated in other languages?

      “This will force them to truly understand their peers and as they grow up hopefully act to bridge the gap.?? Why do they need to understand their peers? Can the peers not make an effort to understand them? Which gap needs to bridged?

      “Let’s not conflate the language of instruction with the curriculum.” You are referring to decolonization. I am trying to say that focusing on a foreign language keeps the “masses” illiterate or semi-literate. They need basic literacy for their economic upliftment and participation in democracy. Decolonization can come later. If they are literate, they can decolonize themselves pretty easily by reading for themselves. I think the English speakers are more colonized than the native language speakers. If your sole language is English, you tend to think more highly of it and tend to imbibe literature that is in English alone.

  16. “Huge proportion of population drops out of school or is not able to take advantage of IT/Pharma growth etc because they did not have the money to go to decent schools especially in rural areas.”

    You are exaggerating the extent of dropouts, and also misattributing the reason for poorer education outcomes to medium of instruction.

    First off, the extent of children dropping out from schools has reduced dramatically with mid-day meals and SSA. As a consequence, the proportion of children reaching and completing college has nearly tripled since the 1990s.

    Our rural schools are not great because the country is in general poor, and there isnt enough money for many things, including great schools. Richer states like MH, KE and Delhi tend to have better schooling outcomes, regardless of their language of instruction.

    For example, the ratio of Hindi to English medium government schools in about even, but the overall pass percentage is close to a 100%. This is a clear illustration that it is the level of investment into education that determines outcomes not the medium of education.

  17. “Its parallel is the phenomenon of engineering degrees, which were remarkably presitigious when they were scarce.”

    They were remarkably prestigious when the country in general was extremely poor, and engineering skills were extremely valued in a command economy fixated on giant infrastructure projects. As the economy has grown, more value is created in other sectors such as finance, media and health. Its not that engineers earn any less than they did before, its that other professions now offer more competitive compensation.

    Even in the US, the classical engineering degrees (civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical) do not even figure in the top 30 highest paying professions.

Comments are closed.

Brown Pundits