India: A Story of Contrast



India has the 5th largest economy in the world, yet 25% of the population lives below the poverty line. India’s universities produce an educated elite that competes with the best in the world, while more than a quarter of the country remains illiterate. Economic opportunity abounds for the upper class and men, while the lower classes and most women live a narrow existence. Join Active Minds as we explore these and other contrasts as we seek to understand India and how it fits into the global community.

Key Lecture Points

  • India has the world’s 5th largest economy. It is the 3rd largest economy in Asia behind China and Japan. India has leveraged its large number of well-educated people, proficient in English, to become a major exporter of software and business processs services. Whereas the 20th century saw the economic rise of the US, Germany and Japan, observers are heralding the 21st century as the era in which India and China will dominate the global economy.
  • India’s 20th-century experience with socialist economics parallels that of China’s. Like China, India was an ally of the Soviet Union during the Cold War and put in place those governmental economic controls characteristic of ‘command’ economies. A currency crisis in 1991 spurred reform of the Indian economy to a more market-based model. ‘Structural adjustment’ mandated by the World Bank led to the liberalization of markets, fostering rapid but uneven growth and India’s growing economic linkages to the rest of the world. Both China and India are now experiencing high rates of economic growth. To sustain this level of growth, India has the advantages of a younger and more rapidly growing population, a middle class that is expected to reach 547 million people by 2025, and growth in high value export products like industrial machinery and cars. Both countries have the potential to surpass the US economy. This has implications for the global economy and foreign relations.
  • In order to continue its rapid economic growth, India must address its inadequate infrastructure, rampant corruption and lack of primary education. A series of high profile scandals and the resulting demonstrations led by activist Anna Hazare have focused public attention on the need to address corruption. Pending legislation to create an ombudsman agency is a first step.
  • India’s relations with the US in the 2nd half of the 20th century were tense because India was an ally of the Soviet Union. Since 1991, trade between the two countries has expanded and the US has increased its investments in India. The relationship between the two countries will continue to evolve as India becomes increasingly important on the global stage.

Exploration Questions

  • What do you see as the biggest challenges to India’s economy? How can India’s leadership face those challenges? What are the major strengths of its economy?
  • What are the differences and similarities between the rapid economic growth of India and China?

Reflective Questions

  • Have you ever traveled to India? If so, what was your experience.
  • Are there elements of the Indian civilization that intrigue you? The food? The dress? The architecture?
  • Have you seen or personally experienced the effects of “outsourcing”? Tell your story.
  • Do you think India will surpass the US as a superpower? What will this mean to the US?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • French, Patrick. India: A Portrait. Knopf, 2011. 416 pages. French discusses India’s political, social and economic complexities.
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  • Luce, Edward. In spite of the Gods: the Rise of Modern India (paperback). Anchor, 2008. 416 pages. Luces work traces India’s emergence as a global peconomic presence.
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  • Giridharadas, Anand. India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking. Times Books, 2011. 288 pages. Reversing his parents’ immigrant path, a young Indian-American returns to India.
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