I have been on the international conference circuit these past few weeks. One question has been asked of me at every place: When will India return to the trajectory of growth? It was not “will” India return, but “when”. Underlying this question has been disappointment and hope. There is the perception that India’s current economic woes are of its own making. This disappoints, because India did so well to withstand the Great Recession of 2008. There is also the view, however, that these problems can be remedied with stronger leadership. The hope is that this leadership will be forthcoming and that a resurgent India will counter an ambitious China. There were, of course, supplementary questions—is corruption an endemic feature of our polity? Who will best whom in the presidential tussle between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi? What is the nature and consequence of the strengthening tide of federalism?—but they all flowed from this interest in the future prospects of the economy.
I am glad I was subjected to these queries. It helped refine my thinking. Most of us who live in large cities and circle the opinion formers in government, politics and journalism tend to get bogged down in the minutiae of anecdotal analysis. We assert views on the basis of personal experience, oped commentaries and drawing-room chatter. We focus on the trees and lose sight of the forest. The challenge of responding to interested, non-partisan and well-meaning critics of the India story on foreign soil compels analytical realignment. I have never been comfortable critiquing India at a public forum abroad, and as such it has never been easy walking the tight rope between this sentiment and intellectual honesty. But this time, I had no difficulty because I am persuaded that, subject to one overriding caveat, we will in time look back at the period of 2010 to 2012 as an unfortunate and wholly avoidable interregnum in a period of strong economic growth. The caveat is obvious. The 70 million-odd new voters in May 2014 must vote into power a politically strong and decisive government.
My belief is built on three pillars. First, the travails of the Indian economy are the result of a combination of policy mistakes and poor governance. They are not because of structural factors. The slippage in the growth rate from an average 8% from 2003 to 2010 to less than 5% today, the hike in the consumer