The Commonwealth and cricket cannot be New Zealand’s terms of reference for India if it is to build a progressive and rewarding relationship with the sub-continent in the years ahead.
This was the message from Shri Sarjeev Sanyal, an economic adviser to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was keynote speaker at the India-NZ Business Council summit in Delhi this week.
In no uncertain terms he said his country would not entertain homilies and references to the past in future relationships as it continues to strive for economic advance.
“Instead we are looking for countries with strong geopolitical ties, ties that run deep, ties that are win-win. This is in areas like tech, finance, space, for example.”
The hard-hitting speech pulled no punches about what Sanyal expects his country to achieve, and how it will engage with the rest of the world to do so.
He confidently expected the Indian economy to experience 7% GDP growth this year, against a global average of about 2.5%.
After a decade of Modi government rule, the numbers back him up.
A broad policy of regulatory reform, a restructured banking sector, and a nationwide drive to bring a bank account to every householder all meant the Indian economy weathered the covid pandemic robustly.
A “supply side” response to covid meant funds were not handed out randomly to businesses that were made to lock down. Rather, free food was provided to 800 million people if needed.
The government also guaranteed payment for 80% of business-to-business payments in the financial pipeline to small and medium businesses, ensuring there was no cascading default through the financial system.
“As a result, we came out stronger and more confident than ever, and without the inflation spike experienced by the rest of the world,” Sanyal said.
Demographically, India is poised to flip into having the highest proportion of its population in the working age bracket of 20-59.
With 70% of its population or 600 million people aged 18-35, it now has the single largest population of millennials and Gen Zs in the word.
“Before the end of the decade we will be the world’s largest workforce,” he said.
The country is clearly making up for lost time, having observed the growth in economies endowed with less resources, such as Japan and South Korea, in the past decades.
It is doing so by leveraging off clear growth-driven policy, good regulatory reform, demographics and a government intent on improving infrastructure.
Meantime there is a strong sense of nationalism emerging as the post-colonial economy starts to hit its straps, buoyed by a hugely popular PM, and the recent moon landing.
On average India is laying down 50km a day of new road, and overhauling many cities’ rail infrastructure as it gears up for a surging workforce and a middle class expected to grow from today’s 430 million to 700 million-plus by 2030.
New Delhi, for example, now has the third longest metro system in the world.
“And they did not even have a system 14 years ago,” Sanyal said.
Mumbai, India’s second largest city, has the highest concentration of cranes in the world and is constructing 13 brand new metro rail lines.
“It will be the most heavily used metro line in the world on day one when it opens.”
Delhi’s new airport, being constructed at Noida and due for opening next year, will have four runways and be one of the largest in the world.
Sanyal said agriculture’s contribution to India’s economy is about 11% and shrinking, but it continues to employ 40% of its workforce.
“The most significant thing is to get this workforce shifted to other things.
“Going forward, we need to think about value addition [to food], as even our population growth is slowing.
“We need to change the mix of food.
“As people become urbanised, think about getting food away from more and more calories to more proteins, and better storage of that food.”