Coming towards us down the narrow street was a taxi, two tuk tuks, a handcart, a cow and 3 scooters. Our driver, a man with a cheery smile, big moustache but limited English, turned to us; “driving in India you need three things: good brakes, good horn and good luck” he said and with this he accelerated down the street.
The only element that everyone was willing to give way to was the cow; somehow or other, everyone managed to screech around each other with a cool acceptance that this was just normal.
There is a colloquial Hindu-Urdu word; “jugaar” which I believe roughly translates as “muddling through” and many commentators on the economic development of India might suggest it accurately captures where they are. In this, having just returned from two weeks travelling through the country, I would wager they are wrong.
Nearly one fifth of the world population (1.33 billion) sits in India. The rapid expansion of an educated middle class is nowhere more clearly expressed than in the near doubling in number of universities in the last ten years (400 in 2007/8 to 785 today) and higher education enrolment leaping from 17.2 million to over 34 million in the same period. At the same time, the policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since election nearly three years ago are making India a far more attractive and accessible place for foreign investment. Significant spends on infrastructure, grants to alleviate rural poverty, an aggressive blitz on corruption and the introduction of a cashless economy are all making their mark. Importantly the amnesty to repatriate hidden assets coupled with the recent assault on the shadow economy by withdrawing high denomination bank notes will ultimately drive a more sizeable tax take for a country ambitious to drive growth from the current rate of 7.5% well into double digits.
The horn is sounding, the brakes are off and luck, in the form of improving commodity prices, seems to be on their side. This is an amazing country, a joy to visit and one that will dominate the world stage in the years ahead. Fasten your seat belts and make sure you are part of that journey!