During my time in India I often read Vir Sanghvi’s editorials and when I found out he would be the guest speaker at this month’s London School of Economics Alumni Mixer in Delhi I made it a point to attend.

Mr. Sanghvi is an engaging speaker and since I’m most familiar with his writings on cuisine I definitely didn’t expect for him to be delivering a political analysis about India’s major challenges. While he succinctly detailed 5 hurdles India faces he was unable to offer the audience any clear answers as to how India should go about tackling these hurdles.

India’s 5 Major Challenges:

  1. Inclusive Growth
  2. Center vs. State
  3. Terrorism
  4. Kashmir
  5. Challenge of Pakistan

Inclusive Growth: While there is a lot of talk about India’s economic growth no one can deny that this nation is ridden with poverty. I believe 1/3 of the nation lives on less than 12 rupees a day—there is an India “out there” that no one is really paying attention to. Sanghvi touched on how the benefits of economic growth seem to be restricted to individuals like those of us at the talk at the Ashoka hotel’s F Bar Lounge! He pointed out how when the BJP lost their election to Congress the slogan they used was “India’s Shining” and in many ways they neglected the masses who went to the polls and voted Congress. The consequences of a free market system are that the poor don’t really benefit. While Manmohan Singh is undoubtedly more of a traditional capitalist there is a strong contrary view in the Congress party. The only way to tackle the problem of un-inclusive growth is to write off farm loans and employ direct transfers and rural employment guarantees (Singh is opposed to this).

Center vs. State: India is diverse and much more like Europe than the US and many have held that the States should have more power but the problem is States elect irresponsible leadership like Lalu and Mayawati etc. When people are left to their own in the States the tendency is toward corrupt leaders. Perhaps there should be more power in the hands of the Central government.

Terrorism: Radicalization of religion is a major problem. India has the world’s second largest Islamic population and if even ½ of 1% of that population becomes fundamentalist the nation has a huge problem in her hands. While Indian Muslims are traditionally peaceful what will happen with a domestic, homegrown radicalization of religion among the Muslim minority?

Kashmir: Sanghvi detailed specific points regarding Kashmir—1. Accession of Kashmir is a problem different from other states. 2. Kashmir is disputed according to the rest of the world. 3. Average Kahmiri Muslims sees himself as a Kashmiri not as an Indian or a Pakistani. 4. Kashmir has 3 parts, Ladakh and Jammu are relatively safe (they are, I’ve been to both!) but Kashmir Valley is the area under contention. 5. In 1990 the worst ethnic cleansing in the part of the world occurred where Kashmiri Pandits were essentially thrown out. The younger generation of Kashmiris’ have grown up in the shadow of violence, they have never even met Hindus, Hindus are “the other.” Young Kashmiris want and Islamic state under Sharia law. 8. Pakistan is passionate about Kashmir, they will not budge on this! Secessionism is inevitable in a country like India (Sikhs, Mizos, Tamils) but throughout the years these problems have been handled with money and a certain degree of violence and for her 63 year history India has a fairly good record with handling secession EXCEPT Kashmir. 9. Indian public opinion is intractable on Kashmir.

Challenge of Pakistan: There are three approaches—1. The Indira Gandhi approach where you accept that the best ay forward is to break up Pakistan and make it so weak that it cannot give India problems. 2. A strong and stable Pakistan is in India’s best interest. 3. Use the China model and improve relations so it can’t be wrecked with a border dispute but this isn’t possible as long as India won’t budge on Kashmir.

After detailing these 5 major challenges Sanghvi entertained questions. The questions that were asked shed light on just how serious the problems India faces are. Sanghvi stated that focusing on education and the legal system could determine India’s future. He also mentioned that Gandhi’s village system has been romanticized, it is not the solution and there needs to be more power from the Center. Sanghvi spoke about the character flaw many Indians have with not helping others once they reach the top and the lack of philanthropy and charity in this country. Wealthy Indians may build temples but giving back to society in more tangible, effective ways is far from the norm. He encouraged young Indians to commit to India through politics in order to change the system. As long as corrupt leaders are elected it will be challenging to make any real change.

Sitting at the F Bar listening to him speak I couldn’t help but feel conflicted because I am overwhelmed by the immense challenges this country faces and longed to go back to the US where even among all of its failings I do feel strong sense of efficacy. Now that it is so clear in my heart that it is time to go home to the US at the end of this fifth and final year of living in India the fact that I am American and this is not my country continuously hits home.

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