Why have Indians not done equally well in India

  • The author explains the malaise and why has India done badly? Do see links at the end of article.

Indians are successful the world over, literally in all fields. So people ask, why is it that they have not done equally well within their own country?

The critics recognize that India is making progress and the GDP in nominal terms has reached number five in the world, but they say that this rise is driven mainly by the very size of Indian population. India has many individuals who have made noteworthy contributions, but as nation, collectively, it hasn’t done as well.

As comparison, they mention China and South Korea, both of which, seventy years ago, were behind India in industry, technology, and education, and now they are far ahead.

India punches well below its weight: Hardly any Indian university is listed in the top tier in world rankings; Indian scholarly output lags Western nations both in quality and quantity; India does not figure at the top in international design or art scenes; and there is hardly any manufactured or software product that has been adopted worldwide.

Indian books or journalistic essays do not make waves around the world and Indian intellectuals remain tethered to the Anglo-American ecosystem in a mimetic role.

The malaise

Indian products that one sees in Western markets are either food items sold in Indian groceries, or low-technology products in department stores. When attention if called to this fact, people either blame British Raj or Nehruvian Socialism. But both these events happened long, long ago, so there must be some other reason.

Here’s a really serious example of the Indian malaise: Digital is supposed to be India’s forte. But India has no company in the Digital Top 36 (whereas Asia China, Japan, and Korea have 12), and only two companies in Digital Top 100 (China, Japan, and Korea have 30). TCS and Infosys, which are in the top 100 (at lowly 38 and 71) mostly contract out programmers or do projects for clients, so they shouldn’t even count.

China’s success is from its strategic path to develop its own search and ancillary networks. Its focus on social media has been particularly prescient for it led to local innovation related to messaging apps, sharing and tagging images, audio and video, and browser-based games, and these technologies seamlessly fit into a variety of multiparty computations, AI, transportation and eCommerce. The world’s top 11 Internet sites include 8 that are Chinese (Baidu.com as search engine, Qq.com as social media, Taobao.com for shopping, and Tmail.com for premium shopping, & others). India, on the other hand, has no real social media, search, or eCommerce presence.


Why has India done badly?

Scholars and journalists ask: Indians are brilliant as a people, why are they not doing vastly better?

Their analysis: Indian businesses rarely have a large strategic vision. At best they operate for near term profits and they are risk-averse. There are too many scams with businesses ripping off banks. Unlike Japanese CEOs, who apologize immediately and are even known to do hara-kiri, Indian CEOs evade arrest by sudden “chest pains” to get into hospital, or just flee the country. They don’t seem to have the courage to accept punishment with dignity; in this they are very different from poor farmers and other ordinary folks who show extraordinary fortitude and under extreme pressure have even given up their lives.

What’s the matter with elite businessmen in India compared to those in China or Japan?

I think it is a matter of character together with a deficit of true faith in oneself that for want of a better word one might term lack of atma-vishvas (आत्मविश्वासātma-viśvāsa).

“Every man carries with him through life a mirror, as unique and impossible to get rid of as his shadow,” said the poet W.H. Auden, and it is true of societies as well.background:white'>India’s image in the collective mirror is responsible for the loss of atma-vishvas. It is the image taught to students in school and college that emerged out of European racism and colonialism to serve the purposes and goals of British Raj, which image India has been unable to shake off or overwrite.

Repeated endlessly in schoolbooks, it has been internalized by the Anglicized elite and it informs their judgment.

The historians strove to justify British Raj on two main points: 1. India is a mosaic of castes and not a nation; 2. Indians have no science, so they needed to be guided by the West.

Much of social science curriculum in India is based on accounts of the past about “caste” for which there is no equivalent in any Indian language and as we know now, the straightjacketing of jātis into “caste” was done by the British.

It is amusing that the moralizing Europeans do not mention their own unpleasant past, including droit du seigneur, (French: “right of the lord”), a feudal right giving the lord the right to sleep the first night with the bride of any one of his vassals. Voltaire spoke of it in his Dictionnaire philosophique (1746), and he also wrote a play around it.

India is the only nation in the world where government funded education poisons the minds of the school children based on half-baked theories that were put together by biased colonial writers decades ago. Having done so, we expect the products of the schools and colleges to be different and be understanding of Indian culture.

There is a saying: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Indian school and college curricula are insane: there is not a single course on the history of Indian science!

Indian students get to internalize that at best they had primitive farming and textiles. They don’t know, for example, of India’s metallurgy, chemicals, mechanized machines, and much more.

Here’s an assessment of shipbuilding by the historian Dieter Schlingloff: “The ancient Indian merchant ships differed from the Roman merchant ships in one respect, namely in their multiple masts. While in the entire European area the ships only possessed a single mainsail (and at best a fore-and-aft sail) right up to the late Middle Ages, in India two, and later three sails were common. Of course the home territory of the Indian seafarers was not an inland sea like the Mediterranean, but the Indian Ocean. Hence they developed a sophisticated system of sails which in number of sails was only matched and surpassed by the explorers’ ships of the I5th century.”


Indians who have left the country and prospered outside routinely go through a process of self-discovery where they jettison the colonial nonsense that has held India down. And if India is making progress it is because the common person does not accept what the schoolbooks say.

Yet for advanced projects on the international stage we need the elite to find their atma-vishvas. They need to get into Yoga in the spirit of योग: कर्मसु कौशलम्, that is devotion to excellence in all action.

India’s education must embrace the best of the West and the East, and be imbued with the spirit of inquiry. But it should not be based on an untruthful account of the past. That will, at best, lead to premium mediocrity.


First published here . esamskriti has obtained permission from author to share on its platform.


Also read 

1. The Idea of India

2. The big scandal of Indology

3. What can today’s Entrepreneurs learn from India’s past

4. Caste is socio-political institution

5. Caste as Social Capital

6. Indian Science and Technology in the 18th century by Dharampalji


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