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More than democracy at stake in India

It is not often that this newspaper writes a Leader on the same subject in succession but a departure had to be made because the forthcoming general elections in India would be a turning point for the world’s largest democracy.

Although many leaders have retired from politics, spending their sunset years in quietude, they do mention their disappointment at the state of affairs of the country in private conversations.

Apart from corruption eating into the vitals of the country, a number of other issues challenge India’s status as a world power. Population continues to grow unabated, unmatched by infrastructure and public utility services.

The peak demand for electricity, outstripping supply (about 240 Gigawatts or 240,000 Megawatts) by 10%, spells an estimated loss of more than US$ 68 billion (about $80 billion) to India’s Gross Domestic Product every year. The resultant loss in productivity and power cuts do not augur well for future progress. Indian planners are well aware of the problem and according to estimates, the total installed capacity is expected to rise and fill the existing gap. However, demand for electricity almost always reaches the supply level and hence increasing capacity will be an eternal exercise.

Adequate power generation will attract establishment of more industries, both domestic and foreign-owned, strengthening India’s manufacturing base.

According to the World Bank, India’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) dropped to US$ 848 million in January 2014 from US$1.86 billion in December 2013. FDI averaged US$ 960.45 million between 1995 and 2013, reaching an all-time high of US$ 5.67 billion in 2008 and all-time low of US$ 58 million in April 2003.

The Global Financial Crisis, competition from China, Brazil and other emerging economies and the collapse of a number of multinationals and finance companies have been cited as the cause for a significant drop in FDI flow to India.

However, the general belief is that corruption and political scandals, exacerbated by poor infrastructure have been the real stumbling blocks.

Notwithstanding these, there is renewed optimism among the financial markets that a new Federation Government in Delhi will be able to turn the wheels of fortune and put in place a more robust system facilitating FDI into the country.

Indian Democracy is also plagued by some social issues including attacks on women in various parts of the country. Tougher laws would be required with offenders awarded deterrent punishment. There are a number of changes to the Indian Penal Code under consideration, which, along with an increasingly vigilant media should help in improving social and community safety.

None of these however can undermine India’s reputation as one of the greatest countries of the world, and its ability to remain united, despite some serious challenges it has faced since gaining independence 67 years ago. We do not condone graft, lawlessness and indignity towards women. The fact that despite these tumultuous developments, neither the defense forces (which are among the strongest in the world) nor divisive politics has disturbed the stability of the country is reassuring.

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