India can overtake China in every way


Joachim Betz

Professor Dr. rer. soc. Joachim Betz, born in 1946, was a senior research fellow at the Institute for Asian Studies at the GIGA (German Institute of Global and Area Studies / Leibniz Institute for Global and Regional Studies) and is Prof. emeritus for Political Science at the University of Hamburg.
His specialist areas of expertise are politics and economics in South Asia, debt, raw materials policy, globalization and development finance.

Ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity shape Indian society and prevent local conflicts from spreading across the country. The proportion of the absolutely poor is falling. The caste system, deficits in health and education as well as the discrimination against women and minorities cause social problems.

Opposites, here only separated by a railway line: Mumbai, the capital of the state of Maharashtra, is the largest city in India with 12.5 million inhabitants and an important economic and financial center with luxurious hotels, theaters and galleries. At the same time, millions of people live there on the edge of the subsistence level. (& copy AP Photo / Rajanish Cockatoo)

Population and social plurality

With just under 1.3 billion inhabitants (as of 2016) India has the highest population worldwide after China, but will soon overtake and overtake the latter; it has an enormous, comparatively young and therefore employable population. This potential demographic dividend (i.e. the high proportion of employable people in the population) is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because the wealth of comparatively cheap and young workers gives India a competitive edge on the world market and makes the burdens bearable for the elderly, a curse because every year more than twelve million additional workers are waged and have to be trained and provided with health care beforehand .

In addition, there are those workers who will inevitably leave the overstaffed agriculture. The latter served as a catchment basin for a long time, as shown by the country's comparatively low rate of urbanization (only 31 percent according to the last census in 2011) and the moderate rural-urban migration, but it can hardly fulfill this function with decreasing farm sizes. The creation of sufficient jobs has therefore inevitably become a core concern of Indian politics. That this will succeed is not guaranteed and is not made easier by the so far relatively small volume of the goods-producing industry in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) and the low employment intensity of the economic growth sectors.

Factors for social cohesion

India is not wrongly viewed as a state of immense social plurality. Looking at other, split-up, multiethnic states, the question arises as to how this enormous diversity could be tamed or held together. This can be explained by the economic growth that existed even before the economic reforms, but also by the traditionally rather low concentration of income (which, however, has increased significantly in the past decade).
The democratic order and federal structures had a stabilizing effect. One can rightly say that a country with the ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity as well as the existing social fissures can only be held together in the long term in a democratic community with a certain autonomy of the more homogeneous states and guaranteed rights of the minorities.

In addition, this diversity is also stabilizing in itself: in India no ethnic group, no linguistic or religious group and no caste group have a dominant influence nationwide: Hinduism, the belief of more than 80 percent of the population, is not a uniform belief system with fixed dogmas, for example in the Christian sense. He knows an enormous number, but none of the deities that are binding for all. It is more of a way of life and as such also serves to establish and justify the caste system. But precisely because of the division of the Hindus into castes and the rather high proportion of the population of the so-called casteless (better: Dalits), the Adivasi and the Muslims, Hinduism was unable to develop any political unity for a long time. In addition, there is no uniform caste system across India, and the social situation of those belonging to the same castes and caste groups is quite different. A pan-Indian political mobilization strategy along the caste borders would therefore come up against narrow limits, which, however, did not prevent violent, mostly local, caste conflicts.

Linguistic fissures are also hardly suitable as conflict vehicles. Each union state has a dominant ethno-linguistic group, but these differ according to religion, sects, castes and a large number of socio-economic characteristics. Since the mid-1950s, when Union states were re-tailored according to linguistic boundaries, since the attempt to replace English with Hindi as the sole official language was in fact given up and the examination of applicants for civil service in the recognized regional languages, the earlier one has become Excitement clearly laid.
Violent class conflicts like those in 19th century Europe do not exist in India. This has to do with the long-term dominant state influence on the modern economic sector and the privileging of state-employed workers, the fragmentation of trade unions and employers' associations (according to party affiliation or company character) and - last but not least - with the relatively small proportion of the population of industrial workers.
The dominant occupational group to this day are the farmers, who sometimes formed militant associations and sometimes also formed protest movements. Because of their electoral weight, however, their interests could not be neglected by any party. They were granted comparatively attractive state purchase prices for their products and protection from foreign competition. Of course, the landless and marginalized peasants were able to be mobilized across the board by militant "Naxalites" or their political leadership for some time and posed a threat to social stability. This danger could be overcome by a new land law, allocations of funds to the affected parts of the country and suppression of the rebels be banned to some extent.
In political terms, India's strong social divisions and overlapping social group affiliations created a strong compulsion to compromise, to pursue a policy of federal and social equalization and to protect minorities. Exactly this policy was pursued - with reservations - by the long dominant Congress Party and later even by the Hindu nationalist BJP, which is in power today.

The Congress Party relied on the loyalty of the minorities to secure its rule; these in turn required the support and help of local congress politicians in a comparatively hostile environment. This mutual dependency is due to (not always particularly successful) efforts to protect the Adivasi from loss of land, the reservation quotas for them, the Dalits and later also the members of lower castes, as well as the maintenance of family law regulations for Muslims. As already mentioned, the Hindu nationalist BJP also bowed to this compulsion to compromise, which unexpectedly quickly met its controversial objectives in the government from 1998 (and also since 2014) (e.g. abolition of the relative autonomy of Kashmir, introduction of a uniform civil law). gave up, strengthened federalism and did not affect reservation quotas and social programs for the less privileged. Militant Hindu nationalists therefore especially let off steam in the cultural field.
One would be exaggerating if one were to describe India as an island of peace and absolute social stability, the extent of local conflicts between competing parties, high and low cast, religious groups, ethnic groups, violence against women, the underprivileged and minorities is simply too virulent for that. What is decisive, however, is that local violence has so far never turned into a social conflict that shook the entire country, no matter how unpleasant the numerous individual problems were or are.

It doesn't have to stay that way forever; In the long term, it is presumably not social diversity as such that is dangerous, but its modernization-related intensification in the direction of fewer but easily mobilized lines of conflict (e.g. between Hindus and Muslims). This can already be observed under the current government: On the one hand, it pursues a strict Hinduization of the education system by rewriting curricula and filling important positions with Hindu nationalist supporters. On the other hand, it enforces Hindu ideas of purity (such as the ban on slaughtering cows) in those Union states that are ruled by it. The exclusion of Muslims, after all 14 percent of the population, is consciously accepted.