India has been the I that has held the BRIC together. Phonetically, it is the only vowel in the abbreviation that represents the growing importance of emerging economies. But the I in BRIC also has represented the fastest growing emerging market democracy that was India.
Now the I seems to be crumbling. Corroded by corruption, weakened by policy inaction and slowed by a falling growth rate, India may no longer be the favourite to represent the I in the BRIC.
A private session at the World Economic Forum on India grappled with this issue at the beginning of the meeting in Gurgaon in the National Capital Region.
Why is the I crumbling? Can this be stemmed? What needs to be done to energize India?
The answer perhaps lies in the numbers that define India these days. The country is ranked 95th on the Corruption Perception Index and it is 132nd on the Ease of Doing Business study done by the World Bank Group.
Not surprisingly, the growth rate of India has also plummeted from nearly 10% to about 6%.
There seems to be a strong correlation between transparency and growth. The discussion produced several constructive ideas on tackling the issues of corruption that are already dominating headlines.
Before targeting graft in government, it is important that industry leaders confront corruption within the corporate world. The eagerness of companies to bend, break or create their own rules in connivance with policy-makers is often at the core of corruption.
The discretion of government officials must be reduced by using transparent processes that also include the will of civil society. The inclusion of civil society in the policy-making process is not yet enshrined in the central and local government rules.
Technology is being used to create transparent platforms so that society can participate. Citizens can benefit from electronic delivery of services. But the effort has been undermined by a lack of capability of local governments and a weak will, as the report by the Global Agenda Council on India has emphasized.
Another thought was to create and nurture watchdogs of civil society that would keep a check on the nexus between government and industry. This thought arose as it was expressed that the media in India has not done a good job of fair reporting. Some of the media appears to be compromised. The concern was that the ownership of media by industrial houses would prevent fair reporting on issues affecting the business interest of the parent company.
Transparency in process, inclusion of citizens and simpler rules can improve governance that is critical for reviving India.
While big ticket reforms are important, India needs thousands of small reforms to remain the relevant I of the BRIC.
Author: Pranjal Sharma, is Consulting Editor at Business World, India and a member of the Global Agenda Council on India.
Image: Photograph of a man walking past a signage decoration for the BRICS summit outside Sheraton Hotel in Sanya REUTERS/Jason Lee