Wealthy Indians, Indian politicians and Indian’s living in the diaspora love to boast about the size of India’s economy. They say it’s the seventh largest in the world if measured by nominal GDP and the third largest in the world if measured by purchasing power parity (PPP). India, they argue, will one day rule the world.
Such statistics are a source of great pride and they often come up in conversations aimed at slamming Pakistan – with India positioned as the successful post-colonial state and Pakistan the failure.
India’s economic prowess is used as a way to assert the country’s new found status as a super power and to brag about how it no longer needs to answer to Britain, it’s former colonial ruler (a questionable conclusion).
Recent discussions around Brexit and Britain strengthening its ties with its former colonies brought this discussion back into the mainstream with MP and author Shashi Tharoor declaring:
When a British prime minister is travelling to India seeking investment from here, we’re seeing the tables being turned
Indians living in Britain lapped these statements up. Anytime it’s announced that India’s economy is growing quickly or that, as was the case in December 2016, India’s economy had surpassed Britain’s in absolute terms, people post about it on social media as if the achievement was a great source of personal pride.
Why? Well much of it is to do with power. Indians traditionally lacked power on the global sphere, seeing their booming economy dismantled by Britain followed by two centuries of decline. It is thus easy to see why on the face of things, Indian’s might now proclaim themselves to be great once again – mirroring the nationalism of Britain.
But in measuring India’s current status by its raw economic progress alone, the country is hardly moving out from beneath Britain’s grasp, or decolonising the sub-continent (not that this is even remotely possible).
Whilst many boast of India’s new economic might, it’s important to ask ourselves, what does this even mean? The way people speak about it you’d imagine that every guy in the village was driving around in a Bentley and sipping on bottles of champagne.
The reality though, is that whilst the Indian 1% may live lives somewhat like this, for most people life is not very different from the period of economic malaise during colonialism. As is always the case under conditions of capitalism the vast majority of people are unable to share in the spoils of India’s new economic prowess.
As of November 2016 the nation was deemed the second most unequal country in the world with 1% of the population owning 58% of the nation’s wealth, whilst the richest 10% own around 80% of the nation’s wealth.
So whilst the economy is booming for some, it’s clearly not working for the majority of Indians. What’s the point boasting about India’s economy when the majority of people have not seen their material conditions improve in this new era?
India’s so called booming economy is nothing to boast about. If anything it should be the source of shame and embarrassment given that so many people are suffering whilst just a handful of people are reaping the rewards.
When people who are traditionally not power holders boast about new found wealth we must always ground such changes in their context; that being that for some to prosper the system requires many to suffer. The fact that India is home to 83 billionaires doesn’t exactly offer up much comfort to the millions living in poverty.
In short, capitalism is an unfair system and it is crass to be proud of its manifestations in India when so many people are forced to struggle because of the great wealth of the country’s minority. There is no such thing – nor has there ever been such a thing – as ethical capitalism.
If India had really wanted to break with its colonial past it would have chosen to trod a different path rather than follow in the footsteps of Britain’s unfair capitalist system, as this will never lead to the emancipation of almost one billion Indians.
In this regard, the words of Black Panther Fred Hampton ring true:
We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight capitalism with socialism.
There have always been, even as far back as the colonial era, wealthy and powerful people of colour, but this won’t ever lead to emancipation or decolonization, nor will embracing crass nationalisms. Indians glorifying their economic status would do well to remember this and to have some empathy for all of those suffering because of unfair nature of global capitalism that many of them benefit from.