When I was in school at Delhi, I remember reading in Civics or Geography about India's challenges for the millennium. It was drilled into my head, and probably yours too, that one of the most important issues facing us was our population. I don't know about you, but the perception I got was as if the poor Indian's were uninformed, uneducated folk who used no contraception, hence procreated like rabbits to result in such a huge unplanned population explosion. What a shame! We all had to spread "awareness" and control our growth rate else we were surely headed for doom. All I heard was that China had put forth its "one-child" plan, and we needed to do something similar, albeit less drastic. The fact that India would overtake China's population was often a sense of great mirth among my friends and myself. No foresight, no analysis, no discussion - population growth was bad. End of issue.
Well, its been 10 years since I finished schooling, and the world order is undergoing a paradigm shift. What is China trying to do today? Increase its population. What is the number one problem faced by Japan? Lack of people. What is happening in much of Europe? Lack of people. People are being asked to procreate. Immigration reforms are the top priority. What did Vladimir Putin announce in his State of the Union Address? That the demographic shift of Russia would be their number one problem, and that mothers would get $110 for their second child. And what is India saying? That even though China is way ahead in terms of its growth, foreign investment and infrastructure growth, India will overtake China purely because of its one crucial advantage - its population.
That's right, India's strength is its population. Our middle class alone is more than the population of the entire United States. Organizations that were thinking of India in terms of cost benefits are now drooling about India as a pure market. Take the example of the telecom industry. India's rate of mobile subscribers grew by 47% in 2005, we have somewhere around 75 million mobile subscribers and this is expected to increase to 280 million in 2010. That means around a quarter of India will be linked through mobile phones. More importantly, 3/4 of India will still remain untapped. Can you imagine the opportunities for telecommunication companies?
Further, the demographic shift is such that India is set to have the most number of young people as compared to any other country in the world for the near future. This directly translates into India having a more eligible workforce [although whether they will be qualified is another issue altogether]. Simultaneously, population is decreasing in China, and in most of the developed countries. The UN estimates that the population of the developed countries will decrease by 10 million by 2050. So much so, that China will have the exact opposite problem - dealing with the world's oldest population.
Now, its obvious that sheer numbers are not enough. We need to improve the quality of life for the 800 million poor, not just focus on the gains of the 350 million middle class. Around 25% of our population is estimated to be mired in really really bad living conditions. There is another issue of religion that we need to address too. India has the highest number of Muslims after Indonesia. While that is something to be proud of, the fact that 40% of those Muslims are in poverty as compared to the 22% Hindus is definitely not something to brag about. Numbers cannot lie, so obviously there are some issues that we need to address here. As the country grows, one sign that we are in the right track is when the middle class keeps swelling.
It has been forecast that China will overtake the US economy somewhere around 2035, with India taking over China around 2050. So while China faces issues due to ageing, India faces issues relating to the quality of our workforce. Just because we have a million college graduates does not mean that they will all be productive. But the good news is that increasing quality is an achievable, although an admittedly difficult, task. I'm sure everyone realizes that its better to have a workforce and try to fix it, rather than not having one at all. The efforts need to stem from the education system, it needs to start from our schools and colleges, where students are taught to think critically and logically...can you imagine being taught that India's population needs to be reduced if we ever need to become developed or something silly like that....oh wait....
Not really related to the context of this post, but I came across another video from BharatBala that depicts how India is overcoming the rest of the world (remember the Vande Mataram video with Rehman?). Does the video depict the true India? Probably not. Does it make you feel kinda happy? Hell yeah!.