Author Sanjeev Sanyal, whose new book The Indian Renaissance: India’s Rise After a Thousand Years of Decline has just hit the stores, feels that India is at a very extraordinary turning point.
“My book is a celebration of the economic boom. For the first time in 1,000 years, we have a generation who can take on the world. We had shrunk inwards after the 11th century since crossing of the seas was banned. The inward looking socialist policies protected ourselves from the evil external world, but now there is a fundamental shift in the way we perceive ourselves,” Sanyal said.
Sanyal, who works in the Deutsche Bank, was in India to promote his new book. “My book is a plea to make Indians realise the opportunity,” Sanyal said.
India, argues Sanyal, is not a stray example. History is full of such instances. “We are not the only civilisation who removed our mind from the world. Europe did it at the end of the Roman empire in the fifth century.
“As the early Christian Church consolidated its power in the fifth century, it shut down centres of learning and persecuted scholars for being too ‘pagan’. The library of Alexandria and Plato’s academy were forced to shut down. Great voices were suppressed,” he said.
Civilisations, said Sanyal, have from time to time taken the easy route to shutting themselves off. “India did it a certain time, not because we were dominated by foreign powers but because we were closed-minded. Before the early Muslim invasion of the 10th and 11th centuries, we were open-minded. Foreign students came to study in India and we were also the safe haven where political and social refugees ran for shelter. We controlled 30 percent of the global economy,” he said.
The author uses two dates as watersheds to describe India’s rendezvous with change – 1947 and 1991. “I think 1991 is more important. In the years between 1947 and 1991, India went back to its period of revision to an ancient mistake that it made in the 11th century. It just closed up,” he said.
Sanyal felt that Nehruvian model of socialism in the first decades since independence was not the superstructure that carried the country forward. “On the very first day of Socialism, Licence Raj as a concept came into force. Even B.R. Ambedkar refused to incorporate the word socialist in the Constitution. It was like going backward,” Sanyal explained.
He illustrates his point with Kolkata as an example. “Kolkata best epitomises the thinking process. In the last 50 years, it democratically elected to go backwards and closed itself to the world, It needs to open up – and has several examples like Raja Rammohan Roy, Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda, whose ideals need to be re-ignited. If it is unable to adapt to change, then Kolkata is doomed to being a backwater,” he said.
Sanyal offers an effective model to market India – Bollywood. “Bollywood is the new spirit, but not decidedly Indian in nature. It steals ideas from others, shoots on foreign locations and is a mongrel enterprise that is happy to innovate. But it remains an Indian product. It is the best way to market India to the world,” the author held.
Sanyal foresees a shift in demographic pattern in India, which might move from primary subsistence agriculture in another four decades to urban trades.
“India will become an urban majority country with both good and bad consequences. Large-scale environmental degradation is a major risk,” Sanyal said.
He recommends state intervention to contain pollution, more investment in state generated energy and municipal governance.
“India will also become a 90 per cent literate state by 2020 and might replace China as a manufacturing hub,” he said.
Commenting on globalisation, he said nothing was good or bad about it. “It is for us to take advantage of globalisation and see it in terms of opportunities and quest for excellence.”
The author believes that the world is not flat just because technology allows us to connect to various points on the planet. Internet is just a tool to the next stage of progress.
To take advantage of the world, one needs the right attitude towards innovation, change and risk-taking because it is the key to consolidate in the new global order, he prescribed.
“Innovation is not the external manifestation of technology. The Soviet Union was a bad innovator though it had requisite technology at its disposal,” he said.
“America is also a case study. Even as it battles an economic downturn, its future as a great power will continue with openness and the ability to take risks. If it closes itself as a society, it will go into a long decline. When things go wrong, it is very easy to close yourself.
“Great civilisations are those which believe in taking risks and innovating even during times of crisis. Where the US goes in the next 50 years will be determined by how it deals with the ongoing economic crisis,” the author said.