Misplaced Views of Ruchir Sharma about India’s Northern States

Ruchir Sharma in the chapter on India’s economy of his widely acclaimed book ‘Breakout Nationsopines,’The centre of economic dynamism is shifting from the south and parts of the west to the major population centres of the central and northern heartland.’

“In the 1980s, when India first began to reform, economic growth increased from 3 per cent to 5.5 per cent, propelled mainly by the emergence of technology and outsourcing industries in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Back in 1981, incomes in the most-developed states were 26 per cent higher than those in undeveloped states, and that gap had grown to 86 per cent by 2008. Predictably, this produced a certain arrogance in the southern states…. Southerners saw themselves as harder working, better educated, and more ready to compete in the world. Bihar became the butt of southern jokes that India could end its running territorial dispute with Pakistan by giving up Kashmir, so long as Pakistan took Bihar too.

Soon thereafter things began to change, and in recent years the north has been growing faster than the south. Between 2007 and 2010, the average economic growth rate of the southern states decelerated from 7 per cent to 6.5 per cent, while that of the northern states accelerated from 4.5 per cent to 6.8 per cent.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar stormed into office in 2005. Bihar started to function, then to fly. Now its economy is growing at 11 per cent, the second fastest in India, and Nitish is lauded as a model of what a straight leader can accomplish in a crooked state.
….. the formerly dynamic southern states seemed to a hit a wall of complacency. The economy in six Indian states grew faster than 10 per cent in 2010, but none of them were in the south.

Even when India’s growth dipped to 6.9 per cent in the fiscal year ended March 2012, the northern states as a whole showed a slight year-on-year acceleration, with the bulk of the deceleration attributable to the west and the south.

(Interestingly,) India’s southern states still have a per capita income only slightly above the national average of $1,400.
Literacy rates are rising faster in the north than the south, evidence that the new leadership is taking advantage of their demographic potential: half of India’s under-15 population resides in just five underdeveloped states—Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa.”

While the Ruchir Sharma’s statistics might be right, I don’t find the Northern states coming up anywhere near to the Southern states. And my main skeptism is due to poor standard of education that can certainly not only be gauged by the increasing literacy or demographic potential.

The standard of primary and secondary education in the Northern states that is much less urbanized than the south remains extremely poor. It’s more so because of the quality of teachers and the absence of any measure to make them accountable or motivated.

The GER in higher education is dismal with gross neglect in creating intake capacity over the years for quality higher education, particularly in professional courses such as engineering and medicine or specialized science and financial subjects. The states have hardly taken any significant step to improve the learning atmosphere in the colleges at large that admit students for pass course humanity and science courses but do hardly ensure regular teaching by quality teachers to complete the curricula. All the thrust is still on making the students pass examinations by any means, even the unfair ones knowing fully-well the uselessness of such certificates for becoming employable or helping anyway in self employment.

While in US I get more and more convinced that the explosion of professional colleges in thousands in Southern states not only catered to the students of the northern states but also provided the manpower requirement of the developed countries such as US and UK. Majority of the NRIs among the doctors, engineers, bankers and other professionals are from the Southern states. Even the list of distinguished American Indians in any field of activities consists of the persons with origin in Southern states.
Northern states and particularly their politicians must do better than what Southern states have achieved in higher education to compete and get into the category of developed states. (Andhra Pradesh, which has 705 engineering colleges with the capacity of 3,04,200 students.)

For India, the cost of illiteracy is $53.56 Billion. Can someone estimate the potential GDP rise with enrolment ratio of the students getting into higher education going up to 50%? It is anything between 12 to 20 percent, as the data appearing in media keep on giving different figure. Is my expectation very high? The US has already a ratio of 84%.

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