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Modi taking a selfie with Chinese premier Li Keqiang. Photo: Shahbaz Khan/PTI
Modi taking a selfie with Chinese premier Li Keqiang. Photo: Shahbaz Khan/PTI

Book Review: Super Economics

Media head honcho Raghav Bahl believes our prime minister will push India to the centre of a new world order

The age of superpowers, says Raghav Bahl in Super Economies: America, India, China & The Future Of The World, has given way to the age of super economies. What exactly is a super economy? It’s not enough just to have a high standard of living to qualify as one. To get the “super" tag, an economy not only has to be “prosperous or prospering" and large, but it must also use its “economic leadership to effect change in the world".

The US, of course, has long been a super economy. Bahl thinks Europe could have been a candidate, but its sclerotic growth, its low birth rates, the inability of its countries to speak with one voice and its lamentable addiction to welfare scuttles its bid. Along with an ageing and moribund Japan, it is classified as a “fading super economy". He then goes through a long list of countries in order to spot the super ones, but all of them fall unceremoniously by the wayside, except China. China has had super-high growth rates till recently, its gross domestic product adjusted for purchasing power parity is now higher than that of the US and its military might is not to be sneezed at.

Bahl’s third candidate for supereconomydom is India, although it’s still a “sleeper supereconomy". The “sleeper" label is a reference to Napoleon Bonaparte’s quip on China, “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world." Napoleon turns out to have been remarkably prescient on China. Let’s hope Bahl is similarly prophetic on India.

India has plenty of potential, economic as well as geopolitical, although it doesn’t have much to show for itself at the moment. But it has a young population and its growth rates have started to overtake China’s. True, China is much better placed than India at present, but then its rise has ruffled quite a few feathers. Its actions have often been brash and boorish, unbecoming of a super economy. Witness its shenanigans in the South China Sea. That’s where this book’s thesis comes in: India is uniquely placed to partner the US in containing China. If India is able to realize its economic potential then, says Bahl, “a tighter US-India alliance will help stabilize Asia and provide a counterweight" to China. Such an outcome will be win-win not just for the US and India, but for the world, because “the balance of power remains democratic: free, fair and open to all".

Of course, it’s not just a simple matter of the US and India ganging up against China. Economies are now much more integrated and competing countries have to perform a delicate dance around each other, balancing their economic and political interests. Writes Bahl, “...countries are so economically interdependent that no trading partner can be ignored, isolated or quashed—no matter how aggressive or defiant it may be—without wreaking major havoc on the entire global order." Bahl also points to one area where the US, Indian and Chinese interests coalesce: the war against terrorism.

If things go according to plan, what will the world be like in 2050? The author makes five concrete predictions. The first is a Pacific Treaty Organisation, a military alliance on the lines of Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), led by the US, with India playing Europe’s role of regional anchor. Its economic counterpart will be a Pacific Nafta, or a free trade agreement on the lines of the Nafta (North American Free Trade Agreement), with the US and India among its members. The intent behind these pacts is to contain both China and Russia.

The next prediction is that India will grow at an average rate of 8-9% per annum in the three decades to 2050. That will ensure that the US and India together will offset China’s clout. The other forecasts are that China will take over Taiwan and embrace a kind of democracy, while India, China and the US will together combat Islamic terrorism.

But while Bahl wears rose-coloured glasses, he isn’t blind to the difficulties in the way of India becoming a super economy. He laments India’s crony capitalism, its lack of manufacturing jobs to absorb its poverty-stricken millions, the challenges of doing business in India. He knows, as do all of us, there’s plenty that is wrong with India. But India is on the cusp of an opportunity and we must, in the words of Chairman Mao, “Seize the day/seize the hour." Who will do the seizing? Bahl believes that it will be Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Bahl writes about his vast experience as chief minister of Gujarat, about how Modi wowed the Indian diaspora at Madison Square Gardens, how the Indian economy has already started to mend and of Modi’s chemistry with Obama. Bahl sums it up succinctly: “It all depends on Modi."

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