A little white dwarf called India


The world calls us a developing country.

Because we have a low standard of living and are not significantly industrialised relative to our population.

Because we are a country in transition, moving away from our traditional ways towards the modern lifestyle begun by the Industrial Revolution.

Economists say we ought to move away from agriculture and natural resource extraction (called primary sector) and manufacturing (called secondary sector), towards what they call tertiary and quaternary sectors of the economy. Because that’s something developed countries do.

Please be patient while I explain a bit here.

The tertiary sector offers services instead of end products. It provides services to other businesses and consumers, like transport, distribution and sale of goods from producer to consumer. Restaurants and the entertainment industry also belong here.

The quaternary sector offers knowledge-based services such as education, consultation, research and development, and financial planning.

More of the last two makes a country ‘developed’. Having agriculture and manufacturing in addition to these two make a country nearly perfect, because the people in the tertiary and quaternary sectors can then rely on the people of the not-so-grand primary and secondary sectors to put food on their tables (after constructing the tables and chairs), leaving them free to concentrate on making serious money.

For this to happen, two conditions have to be satisfied: low population, and high education. This is never going to happen in our country.

So, what do we have?

  • Primary sector: We produce plenty of food – enough to feed the whole country – but let it rot in government granaries. We have plenty of natural resources too – illegal mining is always in the news.
  • Secondary sector: We manufacture just about everything, but due to insufficient quality control we’d rather buy stuff made elsewhere.
  • Tertiary sector: We have services – businesses, restaurants, the movie industry and all of that. However, most of the population has nothing to do with these.
  • Quaternary sector: We have these too, plenty of them, but mainly in cities.

Like I said before, this is from the standpoint of Economics, based on my limited understanding of the subject.

Copy of DSC02134

The way I see it, we are not a developing country even in the literal sense of the word.

Our country started developing thousands of years ago and was quite developed by the 6th century CE. For the past thousand years though, it has been disintegrating. Colonized, plundered, ravaged, brutalized – finished. A spent force.

Things don’t always get better after they get bad. Some things are terminal. Like we know that our sun will one day stop producing energy by fusion, and become a huge red giant, an incapacitated star, before it collapses inwards due to gravity. It will then be a white dwarf.

That’s what our country is now, a pale little dwarf, after the red-giant years of being battered by intruders. It exists as a dull entity, bereft of energy, each day a struggle for most of its citizens. India is not shining, and may never do so, unless we figure out who we are and what we need, and formulate an inclusive idea of ‘development’ that works for all of us. I mean all billion-plus of us.


9 thoughts on “A little white dwarf called India

  1. Quite a pessimistic point of view Dr. Shyamala! I know it seems rather bleak when we are bombarded with discouraging news everyday. To me it seems like India is passing through it’s “confused teenage” years – still so unsure about it’s identity. I do believe it’s a work in progress. Can be rather painful though!


  2. Dr. Shyamala: I live in a suburb of NY City, and have some thoughts on stages of development that is somewhat different from the 4 stages above.

    I am wondering if level of civic activity and self-governance can be used as alternate markers of development. When I initially moved to this american suburb with young children, I was shocked and amazed at the level of civic volunteerism that provides a prosperous stable atmosphere. The civic organizations included; a Fire and First Aid department providing 24/7 services free to all, various athletics, a swimming pool, a library, a senior citizens center, a garden club, a nature center. All based on citizens who give their time and efforts freely, where the rule of law, rules of traffic, zoning rules are taken seriously. Of course, there is iron-clad tax revenues to fund all this.

    Perhaps India needs to develop more of a civic society, and maybe that is the underlying mechanism that propels societies and countries forward. Niall Ferguson states this in one of his books on society and development. I saw a bit of it in Bangalore when I was there.

    Your thoughts?



    1. It’s a week since I read your comment, and I’m still thinking of an answer to your last question. ‘Developing more of a civic society’ seems like an impossibility here in Bangalore. I know that a few people are sincerely doing things to improve Bangalore, for e.g., Saahas, but it seems like a drop in the ocean. All said and done, you need conscientious people in government, not these losers who rig elections, snatch power and treat the city like a fiefdom. “…rule of law, rules of traffic, zoning laws are taken seriously”, even something this basic is not possible anywhere in India.


  3. Oh my gosh, I hope India’s workforce never turns to mostly service and retail industries! This has killed the middle class in the US, forced wages way, way down, and offers no opportunities for growth and employee promotion. The US has exported the majority of his manufacturing jobs and now is trying to bring some of them back to help people get decent jobs. But it’s way too late for that.

    Can India improve the living standards of its people? Of course, but don’t look up to the US for a model. Or look it up as something not to do. Capitalism and profits at all costs really have hurt the general US population.


  4. I am a social worker, working in the rural areas of the Himalayas…. I agree with you here… I have seen the best of volunteers and well intentioned people and programs being de-railed and demoralised by the petty politicians and bureaucrats….. for just a few pennies in their pockets… It is disheartening and in order to have a change there is a need of a drastic change…. and I don’t think this will happen gradually….


  5. Dear Dr Vatsa,
    You have looked at things from the past’s point of view towards the future. But, here I have tried the other way round; trying to look at the present from the future’s point of view.
    There seems to be a logical strategy behind wanting to move away from Primary sector and secondary sector. Though I do not agree with the idea completely, I can see why moving towards Tertiary and Quaternary sectors, is a good idea. It seems logical sound, keeping in mind what one expects the future to be!
    Providing food will drastically change in the coming future, so will manufacturing. Food will not be grown on fields or in farms; they will be cultivated artificially in big labs by using stem cells of animals and this logic extents to plants as well! It may sound too far away, but, it is not! We will be eating such food in the coming decade. It may sound bad, that we will be eating such food, but, it is a question of demand and supply. And surprisingly healthier option in so many ways! Current traditional methods of growing food simply cannot cope with the demand of increasing population of the world and our country is no exception.


    BBC HARDtalk – Mark Post – Professor of Physiology – Maastricht University (9/8/13) – YouTube

    Manufacturing sector undergoes a lot of changes because of continuously changing technology.
    Most of us still think in terms of “Metal Alloys, Wood, Plastic and Cotton or Polyester”, when it comes to the things we use on a day to day life. What we don’t realize is that, it has already begun to change we will have learn to think in terms of force fields and technologically manufactured goods with control chips in everything that gets made. Learning to think like this, is where education comes in.
    Technology has changed so drastically over the past two decades and it is going to change exponentially in the coming years as predicted by experts.
    Relying upon tertiary and Quaternary sectors seems like a safe and wise option, though one may not realize the consequences on the mindsets or psyche of the population and on different cultures.
    Lowering of the population is unlikely to happen in the entire world, let alone our country. What could be done is to possibly sustain it. And the concept of education requires revision from time to time. This revision and development in this area is yet to happen successfully in our country. It is a work in progress.

    Our country as we recognize it today did not exist in 6th century AD. There were only divided empires. India was a general term for the land of this subcontinent. No single empire ever had control of the whole of the subcontinent. Each empire had its own name and generally with each division of kingdoms, came their own capitals. Whatever we know and infer regarding any period is based on what we find in Excavations, Inscriptions and Coins and to some extent Literature of a period. There is still a lot to be known!

    One of the first few things one learns about History in general is “not to compare different time periods, but to only recognize the change from one time period to the next”. Does that mean that one shouldn’t consider the merits and disasters in those changes? Yes, historians definitely consider the merits and demerits. But, they always keep in mind that there is so much unknown that is yet to be found.

    India may still be in its main sequence. Our country may not be a yellow star, it just might be a red star, with a longer duration of main sequence….. 🙂
    The purpose of economists is to provide a structure to the transactions while maintaining the balance between earning and spending of a country. It has always been an interesting question as to what to consider as gain? Since there is only one universally accepted bar of measurement of transaction and value of currency of a country, i.e., Gold; it is still being used. Who knows? There might come another bar of measurement and value of currency! As far as I see it, economists try to improve the quality of life by providing opportunities to elevate the standard of living. They do not presume to tell the population as to how to go about one’s life once the standard of living improves by the accumulation of wealth. It is not in the job description of an economist!

    Somehow, people seem to equate standard of living with standard of quality of life they lead. Perhaps this is where one needs to pay attention. How to live a valued life while you lead a self-sustaining life….. 🙂


      1. Dear Dr Vatsa,
        I haven’t exactly been optimistic, have I?! All of what I have said is just an attempt at understanding ‘the present’. I am yet inexperienced in so many ways to come to conclusions. Also, it is safer in a way to present the facts and be done with it; leaving the process of inference of facts, to time and life experiences….. 🙂
        It is interesting how you have given the analogy of a white dwarf. The way you are viewing the present, having a measurement scale derived from past or history.
        Most of what we see or observe in the night sky is the past! The electromagnetic waves have travelled thousands of light years to reach our eyes! Meaning, they are that old! In fact, I should go on to say that everything which we sense through all our senses is the past!
        However, our decisions which decide our present actions are based on what we expect the future to be. And the prediction of future comes from our observations of the past. Our mistakes and successes of the past, decide our plan or expectancy of the future and hence our present actions are decided by the future…. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s