In his career as the founder and editor of the media house Network 18, Raghav Bahl, encountered numerous foreign investors comparing China's galloping economy with India's complex and incomprehensible policies.
In his first book, Super Power? The Amazing Race Between China's Hare and India's Tortoise, Bahl tries to decode the two countries as they move towards becoming economic super powers. The book was released at Bandra's Taj Land's End on Thursday.
In your book you say that India's main problem is that its leaders lack confidence in the abilities of its people. Why is that so?
The Indian state evolved in a very risk-averse manner. Two hundred years of being a subject state tends to make you circumspect, and our state is emerging from the shadow of that. A large number of our leaders won their spurs between the 1940s and 80s, when India was a very apologetic country, facing challenges of poverty, famines and wars.
But today 75 per cent of our people are under 38, and have known India only post-1991. We are the world's youngest country with the oldest leadership. The biggest weakness of our policy makers is their inability to be in sync with the aspirations, ambitions and confidence levels of the people outside.
What changes in leadership and governance does India need?
We need bolder, younger, entrepreneurial leaders who are confident about the decisions they make. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh bet his whole government on the nuclear bill, you saw the upsurge of celebration among people. Almost every government decision needs to be just as bold. The Indian state needs to be energised.
Today, the government needs to focus its energies on the problems of the social sectors. We need reforms on a massive scale in rural investment, agriculture, infrastructure and education. When we talk of these things, we are often dismissed as elitist. But it's the government that has been elitist – it has reformed trade and industry but not agriculture. We need to modernise our mining and land acquisition laws, giving a fair stake to those who are being dispossessed.
What does India need to learn from China?
One, the sheer ability of the state to take stronger, quicker decisions. Two, the amazing investments in physical and social infrastructure that China did to compress its economic growth into a shorter time span.
Today their agricultural productivity is much higher, and even in education and health services they are far ahead of us. What China did to modernise its cities was a decentralised effort. This is a dichotomy of sorts – India, though a democracy, is a much more centralised economy, while China is a totalitarian state but is more decentralised.