Hundreds of millions of uneducated and unemployed Indians could turn to violence

Milan Vaishnav, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, notes that despite great projections for India from McKinsey, the World Bank and IBM and many others, India’s rise is not assured. Milan wrote an article for Foreign Affairs which covers the work of Indian journalist Snigdha Poonam which shows that is a high risk that India could fail to raise up about 50-70% of its population and those people are moving towards sectarian violence.

If everything aligns perfectly with economic reform and correct political policies then India will rise to a very good future. But there is a significant risk of an unnerving dystopia: one in which the aspirations of hundreds of millions of Indians are foiled rather than fulfilled, with potentially explosive implications for the country’s social fabric.

Nextbigfuture notes that beyond economic and political challenges, India has a health challenge where there are about 500 to 600 million people have stunted growth that has caused reduced brain function.

Milan Vaishnav is the director and a senior fellow in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His primary research focus is the political economy of India, and he examines issues such as corruption and governance, state capacity, distributive politics, and electoral behavior.

Upside scenario based on urbanization and demographics

Predictions of a coming Indian golden age are typically based on two trends. The first is urbanization. Between 2010 and 2050, India’s urban population will grow by as much as 500 million—the largest projected urban population growth in world history. Historically, urbanization has been linked with rising literacy, the establishment of a middle class, economic dynamism, and increasing cosmopolitanism.

The second trend is what economists refer to as the “demographic dividend,” or the economic benefits that accrue to an economy when a massive influx of young people enter the labor force, triggering increases in both economic productivity and the savings rate. At a time when other major economies are graying, nearly one million Indians will join the workforce every month until 2030.

Failed Dreams

A grim scenario is the subject of Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing Their World, a harrowing new book by the Indian journalist Snigdha Poonam.

Today, the bulk of India’s youth bulge falls into at least one of three categories she calls the three “Es”: uneducated, unemployed, or unemployable. The problem with India’s education system is not schooling but learning. At the primary level, India is approaching universal enrollment. Yet over half of all students enrolled in the sixth grade cannot read a story suitable for second graders. One-tenth cannot even recognize the numbers one through nine.

These failures exist at every rung of the ladder. A recent assessment of Indians between the ages of 14 and 18 conducted by the nongovernmental organization Pratham produced a slew of depressing statistics: 40 percent cannot tell the time looking at an analog clock, 36 percent do not know the capital of India, and 62 percent cannot compute a ten percent discount on a given price. Higher education has become a lucrative business in India, leading to a surge in university enrollments. Between 2000 and 2015, according to the political scientist Devesh Kapur, India established almost six new colleges every single day. Barring a few isolated examples, however, these institutes are a classic case of quantity over quality.

The second crisis relates to the lack of jobs. The Indian economy needs to create roughly one million jobs each month just to keep up with the natural growth in the labor force. The government’s own estimates suggest that India is creating between 350,000 and 400,000 a month. Those who are not lucky enough to find employment in the formal sector join the growing hordes trying to make ends meet in the informal sector. A big part of the problem is that unlike its East Asian neighbors, India adopted a “precocious” economic model that leapfrogged manufacturing altogether and went straight into services.

Not every Indian can become a software engineer; establishing a robust manufacturing base is the only tried-and-true strategy for mass employment generation. Unfortunately for India, it is not only failing to industrialize, it is prematurely deindustrializing.