Will India ever be a “real” super-power?

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.