Reclaiming our Glory- Part I: How did we lose our global trade share?

This is the first of a three-part series, analysing India’s demographics, education system and youth empowerment with a view to reclaiming India’s golden age
 Sangeeth Varghese
Throughout the recorded history, much before the industrial revolution, starting from the Maurya Empire in 200 BC until the 1700s, Indians have mastered the unique art of higher per capita productivity. Every percentage of Indian population contributed a higher proportion to our share of world GDP. Indeed, this is a remarkable achievement considering the fact that an equally ancient civilisation, China, though it always stood neck to neck with India in population, could never get to acquire the skills required for achieving higher productivity until the late 1500s – a delay of almost two millennia compared to India.

Unfortunately, this trend was put into the reverse gear starting from the late 18th century. However, India lost its significance, not as a result of any natural phenomenon - neither the rough tumbles of time nor a twist of fate took the toll, but rather a deliberate and conscious effort broke this great nation’s growth story. We were irreversibly harmed by a double blow during the industrial revolution. First, though India dominated the global cotton textile markets, the reluctance of the British to expose us to the new technologies crippled us. Second, Britain restricted textile imports from India by establishing restrictive tariffs. It aggressively pushed our nation into a deindustrialisation mode. As the Western world woke up to the fruits of industrialisation, India regressed into a pre-historic agrarian mode. We even replaced our food crops with cotton to satiate Britain’s new-found hunger for raw materials. As India bled on the wayside suffering from hunger and poverty, Britain built its great shining industrial empire on our ruins.
During the dawn of our independence, our impoverished economy continued to cast its dark and long skeletal shadows on our country. Once a giant among the nations, carrying almost two-thirds of the weight of the global economy, India now resembled a nightmare, accounting for a miniscule 4%. From then on, unfortunately, we were abandoned in despair for another half a century. Though initially China also exhibited similar restraints in terms of its economy, it eventually galloped ahead of us on the back of its leader Deng Xiaoping’s foresight and policies. As luck would have it, during the last few years, India has managed to redeem itself to an extent. We now have hope and our bruised egos are being attended to. However, it is still not yet time for us to rejoice or hang up our boots. We account for 17% of the world’s population but languish at a mere 7% of the world GDP. From a historical 1% population accounting for more than 1% GDP of the world, we are now at 2.5% population accounting for 1% GDP.
It took our predators a mere couple of hundred years to bring down what we had built as a nation during the last several millennia. Indians who were accounted for more than one-third of world produce is now less than a tenth. We are on the path to recovery, but far from being at the pink of our health. As we know, there are no quick-fix solutions, but dissecting and analysing a key but well aware of demographic trend might reveal some interesting insights. We shall discuss that in the next part.
(The writer is an acknowledged leadership thinker from the Harvard and LSE. He was a contributing editor for Forbes and Economic Times)