By Anjum Altaf
In this post, I will continue to use data from international games to weave another narrative that employs this particular lens to locate India on the global map. We have already used results from the Asian and Commonwealth Games to establish the fact that India’s performance has been improving steadily and it has been moving up in the rankings. We have also shown that the contribution of women has become a significant contributor to this progress.
We will now use data from the Olympic Games to put this progress in context. The following table shows the performance of India, Pakistan and China, respectively in the Olympic Games competition from 1984 to 2008. The starting point is chosen as it was the year China first participated in the Games.
|Year||Total Number of Medals|
One look at table makes the central argument quite apparent: While India has been moving up at the regional level (and Pakistan moving down), at the global level India has barely registered its presence. As far as global standards are concerned, India is very far behind and has a long way to go.
We can flesh out this narrative now. If we look at the total medals obtained by various countries in the 2006 Asian Games, we will see the following ranking (with the number of medals in parentheses): China (294); Japan (191); Korea (181); Kazakhstan (78); Thailand (53); India (51). Thus, in the world of sports, India does not even rank as an Asian power. At this time, it is the dominant South Asian power having clearly moved way beyond its peer countries in its immediate neighborhood.
At the global level, India remains behind countries with much smaller populations. The 2008 Olympic Games medals table shows some of the countries performing better than India (with total number of medals in parentheses): Kenya (14); Kazakhstan (13); Jamaica (11); Turkey (8); Azerbaijan (7); Uzbekistan (6); Zimbabwe (4); Thailand (4); Mongolia (4).
The point of these comparisons is limited. One cannot extrapolate these rankings to make arguments about political importance. The very size of India’s population and its economic potential puts it into a special political category. The point of the narrative is to drive home the point that India has not even begun to leverage its vast human potential. (In this context it is of interest to record that India had two medals as far back as the 1952 Olympic Games and Pakistan had two in 1960.)
One can leave aside countries like China or Cuba that proactively employ sports as indicators of national pride and status, an attitude that I am not a fan of. But one can still make the point that from the perspective of leveraging its human capital, India is effectively a small country at par with countries of the demographic size of Thailand and Turkey.
The reason for this smallness is also quite obvious. Despite the recent growth in the size of its middle class that has enabled India to outpace its South Asian neighbors, the majority of the Indian population still remains outside the modern economy. And while its middle class is giving India the local edge in sheer numbers, the standards attained by it still remain way behind the global benchmarks.
At one level, this is a narrative of neglect; at another, one of latent potential. The message seems quite clear. There is need to be more inclusive; at the same time, the full potential of the included has to be realized.
An economist would conclude that India is operating well within its production possibility frontier. The future can be so bright that perhaps we have been unable to grasp its limits. There are no doubts about what is possible. The only question pertains to how the possible is to be transformed into the actual.
The question for discussion is the following: What social and economic policies need to be pursued to realize the human potential that remains available to be tapped? Alternatively, can India realize its global potential without investing sufficiently in its people? If not, what would this investment comprise of?