July 2, 2008economicsEconomyIndiarealpolitikstrategic affairs

Dear Mr Ramachandra Guha

Patience is immoral

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Your essay (via Streetcar) arguing that India will not, and should not attempt to become a superpower is simply too long. It does deserve to be read, though, though at leisure. For now let’s examine your concluding paragraph.

To follow the Naxalites is to plunge India into decades of civil war; to follow the Hindu right is to persecute and demonise large numbers of one’s own countrymen; to follow the market fundamentalists is to intensify the divisions between the consuming and the surviving classes (and to destroy the global environment in the process). Rather than nurture or act upon these utopian fantasies, the Indian patriot must focus instead on the tasks of gradual and piecemeal reform. We need to repair, one by one, the institutions that have safeguarded our unity amidst diversity, and to forge, also one by one, the new institutions that can help us meet the fresh challenges of the 21st century. It will be hard, patient, slow work—that is to say, the only kind of work that is ever worth it. [Outlook]

From your comfortable drawing room it is easy to argue that reform must be gradual and piecemeal and that the Indian patriot must be patient.

But it is immoral to keep hundreds of millions poor, to deny them economic freedom, to deny them a chance to improve the lot of their children, and climb out of poverty in a generation. Even if the divisions between the consuming and surviving classes intensifies in the process. Even if the global environment is damaged in the process. It is immoral to plead for patience, for one extra day of poverty is one day too many.

Look around you, Mr Guha. Look at the number of countries that have managed to extract their citizens out of poverty in less than the span of one generation. It’s quite all right if you reject the notion that India must not try to be superpower (although it is unlikely that you—like Gurcharan Das—fathom that India can’t improve the lot of its citizens unless it holds its own against the world’s powers). But why should you reject the idea that Indian people should get out of poverty as fast as they can?

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