December 28th, 2013
10:31 AM ET

What India could teach the world

Watch ‘India at a Crossroads,’ a GPS special, this Sunday at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

The most important global trend of the last twenty years has been the rise of China, which has changed economics, politics, culture and geo-politics around the world. Were India to unlock its economy, its demographics alone would ensure that its rise would be the defining trend of the next twenty years. That is what’s at stake – for India and the world – in its upcoming national elections.

Will India finally live up to its potential? Many foreign observers, particularly Western businesspeople, look at India today and despair. The country simply cannot reform at the pace needed to fulfill its ambitions. Everything gets mired in political paralysis.

This is true and unfortunate. But the India we show you in our special report this Sunday is a moving picture not a snapshot. I left India thirty years ago, but have visited it every year since, and the pictures have gotten brighter, more dynamic and more hopeful. Remember, the country's economy might be sluggish now, but it has grown steadily for the last 15 years, faster than any large economy except China.

In states as disparate as Gujarat, Odisha, and Bihar, governments are aggressively promoting economic reforms.

This is not simply a story about one person – Narendra Modi, the controversial chief minister of Gujarat. That state of 60 million people has grown almost as fast as China for two decades – and with seven chief ministers at the helm, not just Modi.

Other states are growing fast as well. Twenty years of economic growth have transformed the country. The Indian middle class now numbers more than 250 million, while technology is giving the new middle class the power to make their voices heard. Nearly three-quarters of the population has mobile phones. Texting and similar methods have now become a routine way to petition government, organize protests, and raise awareness.

India will never be a China, a country where the population is homogeneous and where a ruling elite directs the nation's economic and political development. In China, the great question is whether the new president, Xi Jinping, is a reformer – he will need to order change, top-down, for that country.

In India, the questions are different: are Indians reformers? Can millions of people mobilize and petition and clamor for change? Can they persist in a way that makes reform inevitable? That is the only way change will come in a big, open, raucous democracy like India. And when that change comes, it is likely to be more integrated into the fabric of the country and thus more durable.

And were India to succeed, it could have enduring lessons for the world. China is the rare case of an efficient, pro-growth one party state, a model that is rare in history and difficult to emulate. India is a big, messy, diverse democracy. If it can make the hard choices that ensure growth and progress, then many, many countries around the world can find their own paths to success.

Frankly, if India's dysfunctional democracy can deliver, well, there might even be some lessons there for Washington, DC.

For more on this issue, read my essay for the book Reimagining India here.

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Topics: India

soundoff (471 Responses)
  1. chrissy

    @ Augustus, so we teach them! Or someone does. And i wasnt singing India praises, ive never been there. BUT im not going to sing America praises either and ive always lived in here! The last decade, particularly, has me very troubled as far as the direction WE are headed. The term that comes to my mind is "bottoms up"! And if YOU'RE not troubled at the direction we are headed you are blind!

    December 31, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  2. ug

    There is so much corruption in India...corruption by cops...politicians...sound familiar...

    December 31, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  3. chrissy

    Whatever @ JR! Why cant you keep your racial comments to yourself? Honestly, stupidity knows no bounds does it? What a post sheesh!

    December 31, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
  4. chrissy

    @ acenavigator, they abandoned THAT policy because they must've figured out they're gonna have to replenish their stock of child and slave labor! Gonna have to keep up with manufacturing products for the US ya know! People here to wise up pretty quick before that next congressional vote or we will all become obsolete! Meaningless for those who dont know what obsolete means! Although to the ultra rich corporation ceo's we already are aren't we! Wise up citizens this is no longer the country our fore fathers envisioned for We The People if we the people stay silent!!!

    December 31, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
  5. Lord Toronaga

    India can teach the Liberals that personal credentials are necessary and reasonable to have. I find it STRANGE that Zakaria said having a US voting ID was wrong .... hmmm. Guess it's ok for towel heads.

    December 31, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • L

      Towel Heads!!! (for entire India) that shows how much you know abt the rest of the world...

      January 1, 2014 at 4:22 pm |
    • bob

      Fkg Lord,
      You need to go to school and learn world cultures If indians are th you are meat head dummies

      January 4, 2014 at 11:53 pm |
  6. chrissy

    @ acenavigator excuse me? My name is made for what???

    December 31, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  7. chrissy

    Hmmm not too quick are ya? Whatever.

    December 31, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
  8. SK


    Fareed, You are absolutely Wrong. India's Democracy was actually enjoying by Duplicate/Corrupt Gandhi (Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi). Do you know how many billions $ they had looted in the name of Democracy ? Democracy is false in India. Do not think of spoil US Democracy with Corrupt India Democracy. Why Millions of Indian flown to USA ? Simply due to Corrupt Democracy which is failed completely.

    December 31, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
  9. SK

    INDIA FAILED DEMOCRACY. Actually Duplicate Gandhi Family looted in the name of Democracy. They Rig Votes and enjoying the power. and do nothing for people. Democracy actually failed in India. USA Democracy is far better and uncompilable to Indian Democracy. <<<<<<>>>>><<<<<<>>>>><<<<<>>>>>>

    December 31, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
  10. SK


    December 31, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
  11. Tony Sahansra

    Only in India where Rajiv Gandhi killers can walk free, but a Sikh born in India doesn't have the same rights. In India there are three type of laws
    1) laws for the Hindu's
    2) laws for the NRI people living abroad
    3) unfair laws for the Sikh's of Punjab

    December 31, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
    • Pretty gal

      Re: Tony

      Everything you say is a lie.

      January 1, 2014 at 4:13 pm |
    • bob

      you must be one of those run aways after indira ghangi's murder....So u may not know the present day india. I have sikh friends who are as patriotic as rest of us and are proud of india as well.

      January 4, 2014 at 11:57 pm |
    • bob

      you must be one of those run aways after indira gandi's murder....So u may not know the present day india. I have sikh friends who are as patriotic as rest of us and are proud of india as well.

      January 4, 2014 at 11:58 pm |
    • Lax

      I know you r living here in USA. Lick the ass of every other country, that's what you want to teach the rest of Sikhs in India?
      You r forgetting the root cause of hatred on Sikhs..Canada supported the khalisthan movement and brindranwallah became hero. as usual he is killing his own you know the rest of story.
      You say with turban , you can freely roam in any North America like in India? After 9/11 you are no longer walk freely..even now also. Here in USA more guns in hands, racist minds can't resist to be like indian mind. There in India you don,t see this type of hatred.
      So don,t talk about safe in your place instead for people in India. God bless you

      January 5, 2014 at 8:14 pm |
  12. chrissy

    Ya cant change the future by clinging to the past! Happy News Years!

    January 1, 2014 at 12:29 am |
    • Daniel Daronda

      Happy New Year chrissy! Cheers and let's plan and work towards a better and more peaceful tomorrow for all of us humans on Planet Earth huh???

      January 1, 2014 at 3:43 am |
  13. chrissy

    Lol @ Daniel, yes lets!!

    January 1, 2014 at 10:41 am |
  14. valeria Joseph

    This article is highly praise worthy because it gives a just and upright evaluation of India and its economy in the past few years, being the largest democracy of the world with such diversities India needs to be uplauded for its progress in all the fields and the freedom of expression , the greatest gift for every Indian citizen.

    January 1, 2014 at 2:47 pm |
  15. John Howard

    Alas, India has nothing to teach the world except the terrible economic results and poverty that result when bureaucrats try to control everything and corruption upsets the rule of law. The so-called "economic Tiger" suggested by the past growth rates reported by its government does not exist because the actual rate of growth appears not to even kept pace with the population growth – in other words, India has continued to decline. The only answer I can see at this time is to allow districts and states to totally opt out of India's laws and regulations and become unregulated free trade zones. I say that as a former investor in an Indian business who will not be back.

    January 1, 2014 at 10:37 pm |
    • Daniel Daronda

      Wow.... they were receding while they thought they were progressing......... bureaucracy coupled with corruption and overpopulation, can be quite debilitating............... story of India............... just like a nation of spoiled brats that are making more and more drugs legal for recreation, have no jobs and whose government argues in circles for decades, can be quite debilitating to former world #1 status.......... story of America............ 🙁

      January 2, 2014 at 2:00 am |
    • minnie mouse

      You "unbridled capitalism" addicts sure do hate laws and regulations. Anything that stands between you and profit. Because nothing is higher ranked in your "value system" than money. Nothing. This makes you dangerous.

      January 2, 2014 at 8:30 pm |
  16. pramodpaluri

    All this economic growth, well , seems a bit of a conundrum actually.... They talk about the fact that – every country in the world needs to keep growing and growing and growing like there is no end to it! But when you look at the cities in india for example, the economic growth has only made them disasters...The indian cities today are over-crowded, polluted, un-healthy to live in, lacking in space, where they are building real-estate at an overwhelming pace.....In the next 20 years India could be the diabetic and heart disease related capital of the world – thanks to the "8-10 percent growth" that we keep talking of!

    I don't think unbridled economic growth or unbridled population are good either for human beings or for the environment!

    God save us all, because they are projecting 9 billion humans on the planet in the next 30 years...... Talking of economic growth with that kind of a population size!!

    January 1, 2014 at 10:45 pm |
    • Daniel Daronda

      Grow and grow until you explode......... what an awesome comment......... it all started with that nutcase Scotsman named Adam Smith (in the 1700's).......... who said that growth means you produce more and more every year and that's how we all get richer and richer......... but what he forgot to tell us is that the size of our planet stays constant, and that unbridled growth is bound to collapse and that as the rich get richer they become greedy brats that control the politicians and impoverish everyone else!!! Not to mention overpopulation and human waste completely clogging up the entire system......... dooming it to failure.......... 🙁

      January 2, 2014 at 2:06 am |
  17. EA Marco Polo

    [At least one lesson: fewer prisoners than the US]

    India has 3 times population than the US, but the US government jails 2.2 million own citizens in crowded US jails, it is about half of world prisoners.

    The 2.2 US prisoners are real slaves, every low-wage labor around the world are 1000 times noble than the 2.2 million US slaves (prisoners).

    (Immoral George Washington built largest black slave country, openly slaved US citizens but no apology; his immoral statues are still there.)

    January 2, 2014 at 10:03 pm |
    • LiveFree

      Have you been in US prison? Try China's labor camp or prison, then compare.

      January 4, 2014 at 1:28 am |
      • EA Marco Polo

        Deng Xiaoping, Xi Jinping and some Professors of Peking University had worked at "Labor Education Camp" in 1970s. Of course now is far better than 1970s.

        When I studied at Peking University as international student for my master's degree, one senior professor of Peking University is my friend, he had worked at "Labor Education Camp". He said it is a training and education, because communism respects labor, it thought labor is the most holy thing.

        People after "labor education camp" are respected by the society. They become professors or head of state. Have you been in US prison or Mainland China? Could you read Chinese? Majority people in Taiwan and Hong Kong are using Chinese.

        You are cheated by immoral US media? My US friend told me, if you in US jail, you would be bullied by other prisoners seriously. After US jail, you will be difficult to find a good job (although beautiful words in the society). The US jails are far worse.

        January 4, 2014 at 9:27 pm |
  18. EA Marco Polo

    [Destroyed civilization]

    In 1770, the Mughal Empire has brilliant culture and fortune; it is advanced than Thailand. In 1770, 10 million people died by famine from the exploitation of British East India Company in East India and Bangladesh.

    In the 19th century, two strategic famines by immoral British killed 20 million people in Indian Peninsula. The immoral British wanted to extinct all outstanding people in India Peninsula except loyal slaves. India's civilization, craft industry and nationalism were destroyed by the evil British. It is biggest civilization destroy in world history.

    January 3, 2014 at 9:44 am |
    • EA Marco Polo


      In 1700, the Mughal Empire has brilliant culture and fortune; it is advanced than Thailand.

      January 3, 2014 at 8:28 pm |
  19. EA Marco Polo

    [Heroes were murdered in 1857]

    Now per capita income of India is 1/4 of Thailand. Thailand has no colonizing history. Now per capita income of Mainland China is 5 times than India, in 2029 it will be 10 times than India; because India is poisoned by the British deeply.

    It is "1857 Indian rising" not "rebellion", most violating human right animal – "Dirty Queen Opium Victoria" murdered lots of Indian heroes in 1857 and 1858; India has no hope until India knows to revenge for 1857. The rifts between ethnic groups in India were made, the rifts between India and her neighbors were also made by the immoral British.

    January 3, 2014 at 9:45 am |
    • LiveFree

      Crying! keep crying! because you are so coward to take revenge on your own, you must spread hatred and have the Indians to do that for you. Coward. Sick. You need to see a doc soon, dude.

      January 4, 2014 at 1:22 am |
    • indira

      The blame the British mantra is part of a mental disorder I've dubbed the Indian British Neurosis.

      I've met Indians who stated that India was better under the British.

      January 9, 2014 at 10:29 am |
  20. EA Marco Polo

    [History justice will come]

    However the wrong 500 years (1519-2019) is ending. Soon East Asia will be the new world center for next 500 years, and India has nice future. Possibly after 2019, each year the ranking for per capita income of India in 190 countries will advance 0.5 positions (Vietnam is one position and Mainland China is 2 positions for each year). India's global position will upgrade steadily, although China and Southeast Asia will upgrade more.

    India should organize human right groups to fight for history justice, and to assist other countries. India, Bangladesh and some suffering African countries should get an apology and compensation (US$ 28 – 150 trillion) from immoral European countries for infrastructure and education fees of children. You will win because one 1000 years dominant justice power will rise in 2039 in East Asia.

    January 3, 2014 at 10:03 am |
    • LiveFree

      You are sick man, who would pay for crimes committed for the rise of those civilization called China and India?

      January 4, 2014 at 1:15 am |
  21. askmeificare

    Very good Chinese propaganda from EA Marco Polo! Wow, really funny when a Chinese guy tries to convince the Indians to hate the Whites! You don't have to worry EA Marco Polo. The entire western world has no friggin' idea that they butts have already been soundly kicked, by Asia, and in approx 20 years they are going to be serfs, forced to migrate to China so that they can clean Chinese toilets. Meanwhile let's all sit back, relax, and watch them make more and more drugs legal for recreation, ensuring their fall to fourth world status. And let's never forget, they did it to themselves, unlike the opium wars in history.

    January 3, 2014 at 2:47 pm |
  22. Binu Zachariah

    Democracy that thrives on multi-party system (both national & regional parties) , bureaucracy that is subservient to the political leaders, pseudo -federalism and unstable government are the major inadequacies of Indian Democracy. Change is inevitable..

    January 3, 2014 at 2:49 pm |
  23. Sunny

    India may be a popular democracy but not the largest. Any one who knows a bit about India knows that elections are a formality and the people who run the country are criminals, crooks, goons and corrupt. And now it has adapted dynasty politics at New Delhi and also at state level like in UP, Bihar, TN etc. When over 70% of the voting public go on polling day and cast their vote even without knowing who their candidates are, do you call it real elections. They go as they get say a TV, or 10kgs or rice or Rs.500 or a bottle of whisky.... etc and they go an cast the vote on the emblem of the party that provide this ! And they are basically poor and they have noting to loose by voting and electing a characterless person. At the end which ever party comes to power they always go after minority votes bank and do something to please them, So there is nothing for the West or US to learn from Indian democracy or elected members. As a matter of fact almost all of the governments or elected officials in the world or ruling parties just care for themselves and no one cares for the common tax paying working class.

    January 5, 2014 at 9:22 pm |
    • indira

      India calls herself a democracy but caste mentality is fundamentally anti-democratic.
      Thanks for your post. I knew the Indian electoral process was flawed for other reasons but not that voters are motivated by material reward in the manner you described. It comes as no surprise because nothing in India works.

      January 9, 2014 at 10:26 am |
  24. Debbie

    Why don't they just focus on stopping the gang-raping of women first?

    January 6, 2014 at 12:00 am |
  25. Debbie

    Any country that poops and pees on the ground is hardly ever going to be a super power.

    January 6, 2014 at 12:01 am |
  26. indira

    By the time change might occur, India will have choked on her regurgitated population. Change cannot take place because caste culture is anti-progressive and anti-democratic. Human rights will remain stunted in India as long as caste prevails, in other words, forever. Caste is a cement straight-jacket dragging down India drowning.

    800,000 people in India lack toilets. Rural women lack essential sanitary equipment. Water is contaminated in cities and country by widespread public defecation, as India drowns in its own excrement.

    Corruption gnaws like an army of rats at the foundations of Indian society. India is hopeless.

    January 9, 2014 at 5:56 am |
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  28. Jack danial

    Thanks for the information. 🙂

    March 29, 2018 at 8:29 am |
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