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1) Insights

Issue Overview

In recent years, India has emerged as one of the fastest growing democracies in the world. This has raised aspirations within India and expectations outside, and given new hope that India will be able to lift millions of its deprived citizens from poverty over the next few years.

Two developments have threatened the India story over the past couple of years. The first is internal to India – a few cases of alleged large-scale corruption have hit the national headlines, creating a feeling of helplessness and sapping the hopes of millions of people. It is not that corruption did not exist in India before these recent incidents, but the feeling that the public servants who were allegedly corrupt were getting away without even a minor rebuke shook the faith of a large number of Indians.

The second issue is extraneous – the uncertain revival in the global economy after the 2008 financial crisis has adversely affected the momentum in the India story. Although by most accounts India has weathered the global crisis relatively well, there is no doubt it could have fared better but for this crisis in the western world.

Council Focus

The Global Agenda Council on India began discussing several important issues that affect India. Some Council members focused on issues related to economic growth while others argued that equitable and inclusive growth is the more significant issue. While recognising that corruption is a very important problem, the Council decided to reframe the issue in a positive light and instead focus on transparency as a means to address the issue of corruption. These deliberations culminated in developing the broad theme of Transparency for Inclusive Growth for the Council in 2011-2012.

The Council is currently drafting a report highlighting the three operational aspects of the theme: transparency, inclusiveness and growth. The effort is to highlight the new initiatives in India that promote these three elements, and the challenges ahead.

There are seven bills pending in the Parliament that are meant to attack corruption in public life. These include the Lokpal Bill 2011, The Electronic Delivery of Services Bill 2011 and the Whistleblowers Bill 2011. The Council report will include a brief analysis of these bills, assessing the effectiveness and potential impact of the new laws on transparency.

The report will examine inclusion at the regional level as well as at the federal government level. Many of the federal benefit programmes have to be administered by state governments. Often the two governments are not aligned on policy. As a result either the programmes fail or there is duplication of effort. India began work on inclusion many decades ago with laws that brought political empowerment to the smallest units of society. But the agenda is unfinished. The aim of the report will be to track changes and their effect on inclusion policies of the past and present.

The quality of governance in India has been increasingly questioned. The government has recognised this failing and is trying to use technology platforms to deliver services. The national identity numbering programme hopes to enrol at least 200 million people. Even after this effort about 1 billion more will need proof of identity to help receive government entitlements and services. The report will include this and other efforts to capture the changes in governance efficiency.

The report will make some critical recommendations for the consideration of policy-makers. It is expected to be finalised before the World Economic Forum on India later this year, and circulated to all participants to form the basis of discussions on these themes during the Meeting.

Council members additionally expect to engage with the formulation of the broad agenda for the World Economic Forum on India, with a view to facilitate deeper discussions on these themes by a wider group at the Meeting and beyond.

The Council also proposes to circulate the report widely among media, policy makers and other relevant stakeholders as a way to ensure dissemination and discussion of its ideas.

The India-Pakistan Conversation

This year was special in one other way – representatives of the Global Agenda Council on Pakistan and this Council held several meetings during the year to discuss ways to promote bilateral engagement. Several ideas were discussed, although it was obvious that only a couple of concrete steps may be possible during this year. Ideas discussed included a student exchange programme, the possibility of cross-border internships for young college students, and a joint op-ed piece to be written by the Chairs of the two Councils. The op-ed piece has been finalised and will be published in both countries simultaneously.

The Vice Chair of the Council Pranjal Sharma took two tangible steps to progress the Indo-Pakistani discussions. The first was a widely publicised interview with Kamal Chinoy, President of the Management Association of Pakistan. The other was a column in a leading Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar on India – Pakistan trade. Both articles can be found in the publications section of the report.

Concurrent with this discussion between the two Councils, several Young Global Leaders (YGL) from both countries have begun to create an Indo-Pakistani YGL Initiative, with the broad aim of promoting greater understanding and engagement between the two countries. As a part of this initiative, a panel discussion was organized at the Annual Meeting in Davos with important political leaders from both countries exploring ways in which the Indo-Pakistani relations could move forward. The panel included:

  •  Sachin Pilot, Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology of India
  • Jyotiraditya M. Scindia, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry of India; Member of Parliament, India
  • Hina Rabbani Khar, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan
  • Imran Khan, Chairman, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Pakistan

The panel discussion was attended by the Chairs of both the Councils.

Representatives of the Indo-Pakistani Young Global Leaders Initiative have reached out to Council Members to build on the on-going work and take specific action on themes such as cross-border trade, climate change and water sharing between the two neighbours.

Some Ideas for the Future

The Council also came up with other important ideas such as developing a state level index on governance, and creating a sense of competition among states in India to be the best governed. One concrete suggestion for the Council’s progress was that it should make formal efforts to understand what many other Global Agenda Councils would want from India and play a facilitation role.

This is an important aspect of the Council’s work. India is playing a key role in global groups such as BRICS and G20. In South Asia, India is seen as a stable anchor. Its circle of influence includes countries such as Myanmar and the Maldives where democracy is still evolving – in the case of the Maldives, democracy has been hampered by a recent military coup. India aims to invest heavily in the economic reconstruction of Myanmar, where international sanctions will be lifting soon. In Africa, India has offered a US$ 5 billion line of credit for building social infrastructure and public utilities. The Council will consider India’s role in Africa. At the Summit on the Global Agenda 2011 in Abu Dhabi, the Global Agenda Council on Latin America and the Global Agenda Council on Africa expressed a keen interest in India. They wanted deeper engagement with members of the Council. Currently the interaction of the two Councils with this Council is limited. The effort would be to methodically address the queries and interest of other regional councils.

Some former members of the Council are now members of Global Agenda Councils on industry and issues. Our council would like to establish a formal connection with these members on a sustained basis to give India-specific inputs.

This would ensure that the diverse expertise and networks of the Council members would be well utilised. It would also help the Council get new ideas on several aspects from the cutting-edge work of the other Global Agenda Councils. These are ideas that may be considered in future years.

Despite geographical distances, the varied backgrounds and interests of Council Members, and the difficulty of convening the group for consultations, the interactions were cordial and constructive in nature. The ambitious list of what the Council would have liked to do was tempered only by the lack of adequate time for many of the Council members to engage in substantially greater measure on developing some of the ideas.

Council Publications

1) Ramdas K, “Coming clean, change starts with us”. World Economic Forum, 2011

2) George A, “Getting basic services to the poor”. World Economic Forum, 2011

3) Sharma P, “Delhi is sleeping, India is slipping”. World Economic Forum, 2011

4) Sharma P, “How to encourage India-Pakistan trade”, 2012

5) Sharma P, “India and Pakistan can learn from each other”. Business World, 2012

6) Sharma P, “Trade winds blow across the border”, Business World, 2012

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual members of the Council and not of the World Economic Forum or any institutions to which they are affiliated.