Although the year 2021 has still not drawn to a close but outside of exceptional circumstances, one can surmise that the broad contours and events of the year have been set.
Traditionally, year end reviews focus on the hits and the misses of the year. Some other take the route of identifying the most notable events or personalities of the year. But how about the debates of the year? In the Indian context? And how has India answered them?
Over the course of the year, many debates have taken place each with an accompanying challenge posed to India and the inevitable question of whether India will be able to meet these challenges or not?
In the traditional worldview, especially those informed by 20th century Western consensus, India was poised to fail in meeting most of these challenges. But what is the reality? Let’s examine some of these debates and the challenges and how India fared.
The first big challenge posed to India, at the very beginning of the year itself, was whether India would be able to vaccinate its people or not?
The Western press in general and many Indian experts embedded in these institutions scoffed at the ability of India to vaccinate almost a billion people. As of 17 November, India has administered 1.14 billion doses — the largest in any open society in the world.
Almost the entire vaccination has been carried out using home-grown vaccines and with many world records set in between — many days crossing more than 10 million doses a day and on 17 September more than 25 million doses were administered in a single day.
India also became the first country in the world to develop a DNA vaccine and also among the very select countries to have a home-grown vaccine against Covid-19 that can be safely administered to children.
The second big challenge was whether Indian economy would revive or not and even if it will, then how fast and at by how much?
First quarter of current Indian financial year reported a GDP growth of 20.1% while keeping inflation firmly in control. All major world financial institutions are projecting a growth of 8-10% for the full 2021-22 financial year while the consensus of 2022-23 is double digit GDP growth.
Fastest growing economy
This has already made India the fastest growing major economy the world, ahead of China and US. Institutions like Jefferies are predicting 8-10 years of sustained double digit growth phase based on analysis of a host of factors such as housing uptick, low interest rates, corporate profitability, investment rates, etc.
The way India handled the initial disruption due to pandemic — choosing not to recklessly spend but rather go for targeted help to the neediest — has emerged to be the correct model as per a study by Morgan Stanley.
Prescriptions to the contrary by many self-proclaimed experts were aplenty, yet India held firm and ultimately the model chosen by Indian managers proved to be the globally most appropriate model.
The third challenge or the question posed to India was whether the reforms process that had gathered paced before the pandemic would continue or it would grind to a halt.
This question has been answered in such an emphatic manner that all such questions have ceased. From labour laws to farm laws, and from drone and space policy to Air India privatisation, the reform momentum has not just continued but actually gathered ballistic pace.
The fourth question was a continuance of the question posed in 2020 itself — at the start of the pandemic — but became more pronounced during the second wave in May-June 2021 — whether India will survive Covid-19 pandemic without a major catastrophe?
Even while their own countries were grappling with multiple times more infection and death rates, there was as if a morbid fascination in some parts of the Western press about India’s future given its vast population size. What these commentators had not bargained for was the holistic, multidimensional response from India that contained both infection rates as well as fatalities.
When the second wave struck, the commentary became virulent and even vituperative. Although a few weeks were painful during May-June 2021, but yet again the entire machinery of India mobilised again — from ramping up oxygen supply in quick time to medicines — to again contain the situation.
Even as most developed countries have grappled with third and fourth wave, despite vaccination, India has so far exhibited itself almost better than any other large country in the world. Many health experts are already contemplating whether India has reached the endemic stage?
The fifth question was about the COP26 summit held in Glasgow in November and whether India will be part of the problem or the solution? At the end of the summit, there is almost a universal acclaim of India’s progress so far and of future commitments despite the lack of movement from the developed world on their commitments.
The way India has turned around its image in multilateral negotiations — especially when it comes to the topic of Climate Change — has been remarkable and has caught world attention in positive surprise.
The sixth question posed was about India’s to emerge as the preferred Start Up destination after the way China situation has panned out. With 33 unicorns emerging in just 2021 — the highest in the world — and the IPOs of Indian tech companies getting mega openings, this question has been answered as well.
New India under Modi
Viewed in totality, despite the enormous challenges posed in 2021, primarily due to the global pandemic, India will be ending the year 2021 with a significant overhaul of its image.
No matter how grave the challenge, the Indian administrative machinery has stood up and the Indian scientists have proved themselves second to none. The handling of the Indian economy has been way better than that by its peers and the leadership shown by India in mitigating climate change has set a new global benchmark.
An overarching thread in all of these achievements is the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the policy choices he has made in real time. As 2021 draws to a close, Indians can be proud of what they have achieved both in the domestic context as well as when compared to global peers.
The very fact that such a statement can be made without fear of contradiction tells us how far India has travelled in just a few years. As Indian enters 2022, the 75th Year of its Independence, the New India under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi holds exciting new opportunities and promises.