Remarks by Ambassador Dr. S. Jaishankar at the launch of the book -
"REIMAGINING INDIA: UNLOCKING THE POTENTIAL OF ASIA'S NEXT SUPER POWER"
at the Brookings Institution
on April 29, 2014
1. It is good to be back at Brookings, especially for an India event. I have great pleasure in joining you all for the Washington release of "Reimagining India". I would like to thank McKinsey, Asia Society and the Brookings Institution whose coming together has made today's function possible.
2. Those of you who had a chance of glancing through this volume would have surely appreciated the value of this collection of 62 essays. It is, of course, a full spectrum effort, spanning a wide variety of issues and challenges. But it also captures the broad array of approaches to them. While doing so, the book is both descriptive and analytical, is big picture as well as sectoral, highlighting problems as much as it does solutions. Its tone and texture are as varied as its contributors, taking the reader truly into a virtual Indian drawing room.
3. Let me first state that there could not have been a better time to discuss this collection. The issues of this book are the very debates of India's 16th general elections that are still unfolding. And if you look at what our political parties are doing, they are actually asking the voters to reimagine India, locally, regionally or nationally. So whether it is the distribution of power or the nature of growth, vision or implementation, the material or intangible, this book represents much of today's internal Indian conversation. The vote is still underway and the results are more than a fortnight away. We have seen a high turnout so far, possibly an indication that these debates do indeed resonate with the voters.
4. The overarching theme of the volume is of India's passage into modernity. Captured by the sub-title - unlocking the potential of Asia's next super-power - this is articulated in its many facets by the numerous authors. It is tempting to find a sweeping explanation for the progress, or lack of it, on that journey. I do take Yasheng Huang's very valid caution that the relationship between political systems and economic outcomes is ambiguous and indeterminate. But having lived in the USSR, USA, China, Japan, Singapore amongst others, and of course India, it is difficult to resist that temptation. My take emphasizes subjective aspects, also known as the human factor.
5. China, where I was till recently, to my mind, owes its progress most to its leadership quality. Not surprisingly, it has most serious leadership training program today. In contrast, the USSR collapsed primarily due to loss of faith. Japan's stagnation was a mix of risk aversion and lack of imagination. Singapore, on the other hand, is an extraordinary story of vision and will power. As for the United States, it is all about openness and optimism; or occasionally, the lack of it. When it comes to India, however, we are often told that our strengths are diversity and improvisation. The merits of the first are indisputable. But the downside of a 'plan B' culture is that its commitment to 'plan A' is rarely as dedicated as it should be. The magnitude of challenges brought out by this volume leaves little doubt of the need for serious and sustained responses.
6. If you are still searching for correlations, let me point out that Harsha Bhogle's essay on cricket is improbably instructive. It connects national sports and nationhood, reminding me of Frank Zappa's famous statement that all you need for a country is an airport, a beer and a football team. Substitute cricket for football and you could well get a story of modern India's evolution. And to cut a long tale short, that is one of graduating from playing safe to wanting to win. Taking risks is as much a part of going up the ladder, as is serious application.
7. Obviously, not all parts of the book are easy to accept. I can imagine the reaction of many Indians when charged with not having an open mind. Which, of course, proves the author's point. Today, it is just as important to realize our shortcomings, as it is to wake up to how the world perceives us. At the end of the day, we will be judged by how we pass the twin tests of ambition and performance, or if you prefer Kishore Mahbubani's term, of imagination.
8. Finally, if we are reimagining India, perhaps we should also reimagine the India-US relationship. It is an important factor in the future development of India. And it awaits its next quantum leap patiently. Since all successes need a sequel, in Hollywood as much as in Bollywood, McKinsey might wish to give this a thought. Thank you for your attention.