G20: Of Vishwaguru pretensions, a record population and record unemployment

How can a government that disses its own data on employment and joblessness be taken seriously?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at G20 Indonesia 2022, ahead of India taking over the presidency and hosting
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at G20 Indonesia 2022, ahead of India taking over the presidency and hosting

Aakar Patel

The mother of democracy hosted her children at the G20 foreign ministers's meet on 1–2 March 2023.

There were some stepchildren in attendance too, like our nameless neighbour on the east, and the Gulf states, who are not democratic, and some others like Russia and Turkey, which are democratic only in name.

A few questions come to mind when thinking about our position in the grand scheme of things.

The first is our demand that the international order be modified and we be given our rightful place on the United Nations Security Council. This demand was repeated again and, of course, finds place in the ruling party’s manifestos. But why does a nation that is already ‘Vishwaguru’ (leader of the world) need to be on the Security Council?

The answer is not known possibly because the question has not been asked before, but we have to consider it seriously since the claim is serious, just as the claim that we have been elected head of the G20 is serious.

Also, if we are Vishwaguru, why not just take the place on the Council rather than ask for it? Who dares stop the Vishwaguru?

The other thing related to this issue is what happened at the G20 meeting in Delhi. It was a meeting of foreign ministers and The Hindu reported the event under the headline ‘G20 foreign ministers meeting: Divisions between Western countries, Russia–China derail joint statement’.

The context was the war in Ukraine, which also derailed the joint statement last year in Bali (when Indonesia was G20 president, though it was not Vishwaguru).

The question that occurs is simple: Can our presidency not produce anything different from Indonesia’s or anyone else’s, and if it cannot, then what is the point of all the song and dance?

This is a rhetorical question.

The next thing that happened this week is that India, Vishwaguru and mother of democracy, also became the world’s most populous nation.

This news came to Vishwaguru from the outside.

The World Population Review database says that on Friday, 3 March, our population was 142 crore and 80 lakh people, while China’s was 142 crore and 50 lakh people.

When this becomes official, there will be a lot of song and dance, but remember that it is the second time India is ahead of China. The first time was all those years before 1947 when, if you assume a united India, it was the most populous part of the world.

Why do I say the news came to us from outside?

That is because we have not conducted the scheduled census for the first time in over a century and we do not know when it will happen next.

The second last thing on this subject is that, along with becoming the world’s populous nation, our fertility rate has been falling. It stands at 2.0, which is right at the point of replacement and it continues to fall. Meaning that in a few years, our population will start to decline.

There is something to be said here against those people who keep scaremongering on the basis of faith, but this is not the place to discuss that. However, we should, and this is the last thing, consider that a few years ago we began our demographic bulge, when the number of working-age people in the population began to maximise.

However, this is also the period when our labour force participation rate and unemployment rose, according to government figures. A record population and record unemployment—we’ll see what that combination brings.

The last item in this column deals with the Union budget. The prime minister this week referred to it as the Amrit Kaal budget. The first point of Amrit Kaal, according to him, is that by or in 2047, India would become ‘developed’.

Now, if we go by the growth rate we’ve managed since 2014, which is an average of 5.7 per cent per year, where will we be in 2047? The answer is at $8,800 per capita, which is $4,000 less than China’s today, less than a fourth of Japan’s current per capita and about a ninth of America’s current per capita GDP.

If we will call ourselves ‘developed’, are we going to do so by changing the definition of development? Or do we expect the others to come down? Or do we expect to grow faster than we have since 2014?

If we expect to grow faster, what are we doing or will do that is different from what we’ve done since 2014?

This is again a rhetorical question because there are no answers.

Our solutions lie in acronyms, slogans, coining new words and phrases and pretending to be something we are not and are not about to be.

Getting great powers to agree to something against their will requires either hard power or at the very least great moral authority, neither of which, truth be told, we have. A government that cannot count its own people, cannot count its own record of growth and extrapolate it, that does not acknowledge its own data on employment and joblessness will not be taken seriously.

On the positive side, nobody can stop us from preening, from bombast and from pretending.

And so we can expect that to continue.


This article was first published in March 2023

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Published: 05 Mar 2023, 4:29 PM