Pundits and forecasters have India and China locked in a race to see which will be the next economic superpower. The money, quite literally, seems to be on China, but in a recent publication, Reimagining India: Unlocking the Potential of Asia’s Next Superpower, the strategic consultancy company McKinsey & Co has created a compelling case for India eclipsing China by 2030.
The book, edited by Clay Chandler and Adil Zainulbhai, unfolds as a collection of 64 essays from 82 contributors representing the views of global giants such as Coca Cola, Google, Reliance Industries, Microsoft, Cisco, Vedanta Resources, Starbucks and IDFC.
Although much of the focus is on corporate India, culture and the humanities also get a look in. Bill Gates, discussing polio eradication, and influential lawyer Zia Mody rub shoulders with five-time World Professional Billiards champion Geet Sethi. Eric Schmidt is in conference with the dean of Harvard Business School Nitin Nohria, while Howard Schultz from Starbucks shares the pages with Viswanathan Anand – India’s first chess grandmaster.
They all bring with them convincing data that includes India’s growing market of 1.2 billion people, half of whom are under 25; an economy capable of generating a GDP of 8.5%; and a middle class of 250 million people who are transcending the country’s infamous caste system.
The topics range from the strengths and weaknesses of India’s political system; competitiveness of Indian firms; Indian foreign policy; and the power of new technologies to transform healthcare, education and competitiveness. There is also space for India’s “softer” industries – the arts, cuisine and India’s prospects for gold at the Olympics. The result is a well-rounded picture of what matters when considering India’s socio-economic future.
Throughout the essays the words potential, innovation and competition come up time and time again. Mukesh Ambani, CEO of Reliance Industries and a member of the Indian Prime Minister’s Council on Trade and Industry, explains how India started unleashing its potential. For him, the stripping back of India’s system of tariffs and regulations – known as Licence Raj – in 1991 was crucial. “These sanctions created immense difficulties, they created an artificial scarcity for everything a business needed to succeed. The reforms were compelled by a financial crisis, but nevertheless they were visionary and bold. The performance of Reliance shows an amazing trend when mapped against time. The inflection point was 1991. We grew exponentially, eventually becoming India’s biggest private enterprise, on the basis of the freedom to compete against the best in the world.”
The complexity of India is picked up by Coca Cola’s Muhtar Kent, the son of a diplomat who spent his formative years in India. “If you come to India with some grand, predetermined strategy or master plan, prepare to be distracted, deterred, and even demoralized.” If that sounds daunting, he proceeds with optimism by detailing a plan for success: focus on training and talent recruitment, and source products from within India to deepen ties to the market. Among his stories is that of the 5by20 initiative, “which seeks to bring additional business training, finance opportunities, and mentoring to five million women entrepreneurs across our global value chain by 2020. Indian women make up a significant focus of this program.”
There is no doubt from reading these essays of the passion that this country invokes in those who do business there. As Dominic Barton, the global managing director of McKinsey & Co, says: “India, with its wildly pluralistic society, fractious democratic political system, and boisterous independent media, has the potential to show the world’s other emerging markets that ethnic homogeneity and authoritarianism aren’t the only – or even the best – path to successful economic development.”
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Author: Sheridan Jobbins is a journalist and screenwriter.
Image: A flower seller is seen walking a a seafront in Mumbai REUTERS/Arko Datta.