India watchers know that the country's explosive economic growth after it ended its daft autarkic policies and rolled back the License Raj lifted nearly 300 million people out of poverty. The country's IT sector became the global outsourcing hub. And Indians started harboring delusions of grandeur, talking loosely about India becoming the next
That was then.
Now, the country's growth has plummeted to a mere 4 percent, raising fears that India might be headed back to the days of the dreaded Hindu rate of growth of 2 percent. Given that every one percent drop in GPD growth consigns millions of Indians to poverty – defined as living on $1.25 a day —jumpstarting India's economic miracle is not merely an academic question but a vital human issue.
Given such stakes, it is no overstatement that national elections this spring are the country's most momentous since Independence in 1947. The Congress Party, that formed a coalition government in 2004, is facing a serious challenge from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Narenda Modi. Although tainted by his failure to prevent a massacre of the minority Muslim population in 2002 in the state of Gujarat, where he remains chief minister, Modi's promise to fix India's abysmal infrastructure, tackle its hidebound bureaucracy, attract foreign investment and end affirmative action has made him the darling of business.
But a new threat emerged in the form of the Aam Adami Party (literally: Ordinary Man's Party) in the state assembly elections in December. AAP's leader, Arvind Kejriwal, a political neophyte, ran a populist campaign promising relief from inflation and rampant corruption of the established parties, riding to victory in New Delhi.
But do any of the parties or candidates have what it takes to reignite India's economy? Are they campaigning on the right issues? Will this election produce a government that can fix India's broken governing institutions and restart its economic miracle? Will any party gain the moral authority to enact the next wave of liberalization? Or will the elections produce more political fragmentation with no political party obtaining a clear mandate to enact a bold reform agenda?
These are the questions that Reason Foundation plans to address at a panel it is co-sponsoring with Asia Society and the South Asian Journalists Association on Feb. 4, Tuesday, 6.30 p.m., at the Asia Society's Park Avenue premises. I'll moderate a stellar lineup that includes American Enterprise Insitute's Sadanand Dhume, a Wall Street Journal columnist, Arvind Panagariya, a Columbia University economist who has co-authored several books with the inimitable Jagdish Bhagwati (and Amartarya Sen's nemesis) whom reason.tv interviewed here, and Carnegie Endowment's Milan Vaishnav.
Reason still has a few complimentary tickets to give away that you can get if you rush to this website and register now.