January 25, 2020
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What If We Had Embraced America?

Try as I might, I can't think how India would have lost on any dimension if it had taken the right turn in the early '60s. India's destiny is to be a world power, alongside China and America.

What If We Had Embraced America?
What If We Had Embraced America?
In 1947, India gained independence from the colonisers who had ruled us for over a hundred years. While Jawaharlal Nehru’s love affair with the British was touching—and psychologists can help explain this obsession—it is still a mystery as to why he did not take to the economic policies of the master. Instead, he somersaulted to the exact opposite of what the masters believed in and embraced the economic framework of Russia. Why, if we bought the political freedom (democracy) line from the British, and loved them for imparting this freedom to us, did we also not buy the notion of economic freedom from them? Instead, almost literally, we bought the Russian/Stalinist model of deep and mindless control over economic freedom.

Not being a psychologist, but observing what happened from Nehru onwards, this ignoble act was undertaken in order to satisfy the urge to control. In that important sense, Nehru was not at all the great liberal he is mythologised to be by the cadre of so-called Nehruvian liberals, and India has paid a heavy price for it.

The liberals claim that if the British economic freedom model had been followed, we would have been "lackeys" of the leader of the free world, the US, and hence that path was not worth undertaking. I have never understood how being a Russian lackey, supporting the complete suppression of political and economic freedom, and supporting the invasion of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan somehow made us "independent" of Russia. Nor did the world understand this hypocrisy, especially when it was accompanied by the non-proverbial begging bowl. In diplomatic circles, even today, India is reminded of its rather dubious role as a "non-aligned" leader. It is certain (as the recent Iraq experience has shown) that America would have graciously accepted our criticism of their role in Vietnam, and certainly accepted it more than the complete non-acceptance of any criticism by Russia.

But a far heavier price was paid by India in terms of its most important obligation—the removal of absolute poverty or the shirt on every back that Nehru so poetically talked about. While admittedly a counter-factual forecast, it’s likely India’s per capita growth between 1960-’80 would have been at least 4.5 per cent per annum, rather than the stingy 1 per cent annual Hindu rate that was delivered to us by the Nehru-Stalin economic policies of control. Now one can quibble about the exact magnitude, but recall that India itself, between 1950 and 1960, registered an annual per capita growth rate of 2.6 per cent; Pakistan (a US ally) growth rate during this period was almost 3 per cent; Korea was 5.4 per cent; Taiwan close to 6 per cent. China has followed the US model since 1978 and its per capita growth rate has averaged close to 8 per cent. Today, our per capita growth rate is close to 4.5 per cent.

By the early ’80s, we would have eliminated absolute poverty and our present population growth rate of 1.6 per cent per annum would have been observed that much earlier. And we would have easily grown at 6.5 per cent, per capita, for the last 20 years—our target for the next twenty. Which means India’s per capita income today would have been $10,000, about 20 times higher than what we observe, and about 10 times higher than China’s today. That is the price unsuspecting Indians have paid because of its leaders’ indulgence for the Soviet, rather than the US, model of economic development.

There are several additional reasons why the "liberal" path to hell was so wrong. Most importantly, the Russians were least like us; the one society that closely resembles ours is America. We are just as aggressive, arrogant, ugly, confident, entrepreneurial, greedy and capitalistic as any American. And we speak better English than the natives. Ask any of our Sikhs and our Patels and our Jains and our Reddys and our Chettiyars on this planet and you will know what I mean. We pride ourselves in being secular and heterogeneous; the Americans, like us, believe that religion is a private affair and heterogeneity is the spice of life, and a good economy and an even better polity. We strongly believe in democracy; the Americans showed to the world that democracy could work. We strongly believe in fairness as the Americans do; because of the Russian-scarcity model, we are all corrupt and even the judiciary needs a code of governance.

Would adoption of the American model have been without its attendant problems of "cultural imperialism"? What about India being flooded by beef-eating McDonald’s, junk food, pizzas, Coca-Cola, Hollywood, rock and roll, jazz, MTV, blue jeans, American beer, computers and windows? Indian, especially tandoori chicken and dosas, and Chinese food is more universal than McDonald’s. The latest food-fad-rage in the world is another Indian export: vegetarianism. India loves blue jeans so much that it soon will be its biggest maker. India soon will have the largest collection of software firms in the world. Every Indian loves a pizza, and loves it even more when guzzling it down with Kingfishers and blaming the Americans for their imperialism. And with all our Russian alignment, we still prefer our Scotch to their vodka.

But wouldn’t baseball have replaced cricket? Ahh, spare a thought for the detractors. Did adoption of the Russian no-freedom model mean we got converted into expert pole-vaulting gymnasts? Is ice-hockey a sport even known to the sports-loving editors of this magazine, let alone a billion other people in India? The more likely scenario is that America would have adopted cricket sooner, and made our cricket board even richer. And our cricketers would have won more games, perhaps even some finals, because the money would have been more merit-oriented!

Try as I might, I can’t think how India would have lost on any dimension if it had taken the right turn in the early ’60s. India’s destiny is to be a world power, alongside China and America. Perhaps us going the wayward Russian way was a cia strategy which actually succeeded!

Surjit Bhalla is the author of Imagine There’s no Country.

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