India is often likened to the big & slow-moving elephant. The beast is now being led to the dance floor. We don’t know how long it will take, whether it will be a vibrant dance and if the dance will energize the country & people to higher standards of living.
Why will the cagey beast dance at all? India is undergoing many positive changes. But, lets look at just 2 prime movers.
Engaged urban citizens. Historically, urban (big city) voters were not sizeable. Many didn’t vote. Most were cynical or indifferent to politics and government policies & actions. Political parties spent their time wooing the rural (and less educated) voters, who provided more bang for their buck. But that situation is changing fast. Presently, approx 1 in 3 indians live in urban areas, and 1 in 3 voters are urbanites. With increasing rural to urban migration, the urban population & voters are set to grow fast. And increasingly, urbanites, whether they vote or not, are proving to be vocal citizens. The last decade has seen vibrant citizen engagement in all big cities. RTI & PILs have empowered many individuals and groups. Central & State governments can no longer afford to ignore urbanites. Even though rural voters still outnumber urban voters, political parties have been forced to deck themselves up as a modern bride to appeal to the urbanites. Urban citizen engagement is growing manifold. We now have a multitude of individual volunteers, NGOs, civic groups, social activists, political activists and so on. Almost every social cause – child welfare, garbage disposal, pollution etc. – are being taken up by engaged urban citizens. Politicians & governments simply cannot afford to ignore them.
Business. The ‘invisible hand’ or enlightened corporate self-interest has transformed many countries over the last 2 centuries. The industrial revolution helped raise the standard of living in the US & European countries. The ongoing digital revolution is changing our lives in many ways. In India, telecom & banking are good examples of sectors which have seen drastic changes in the last decade. Governments & regulators have had to change their mindsets, and the way they work to accommodate the demands of these two sectors. Citizens consuming a mobile service or transacting with a bank have become more demanding. Telecom operators & banks face tough competition to attract & retain customers. As these services become essential, government policies & actions are forced to be both supportive and visionary. Startups and new disruptive businesses have emerged, providing better products & services, and also challenging governments, regulators & traditional businesses. Ola, Uber and other such new-age transportation services are potential positive change agents. Such change agents can be seen in almost all business sectors and are almost unstoppable in a free market.
Engaged urbanites & businesses alone are sufficient to make the Indian elephant dance. But, while a dancing elephant can be a wonderful sight, it can turn ghastly as well.
We need a consummate dancing elephant.