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An Uncertain Glory: the economic and social condition of modern India


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Speaker(s): Professor Amartya Sen
Chair: Professor Craig Calhoun

Recorded on 26 June 2013 in Old Theatre, Old Building.

When India became independent in 1947 after two centuries of colonial subjugation, it immediately adopted a firmly democratic political system, with multiple parties, freedom of speech and extensive political rights. The famines that had been so common in the colonial era disappeared, and steady economic growth replaced the almost complete stagnation characteristic of the long rule of the Raj. The growth of the Indian economy, which has quickened over the last three decades, became the second fastest in the world. Despite a recent dip, it is still one of the highest among nations.

Maintaining rapid as well as environmentally sustainable growth remains an important and achievable goal for India. In this lecture, based on his new book written with Professor Jean Drèze, An Uncertain Glory, Sen will argue that the country's main problems lie elsewhere, particularly in the lack of attention that is paid to the essential needs of the people, especially the poor. One of the biggest failures has been the very inadequate use of the public resources generated by economic growth to expand India's lagging physical and social infrastructure (in sharp contrast, for example, to what China has done): there is a continued inadequacy both of social services such as schooling, medical care and immunization, and of physical services such as the provision of safe water, electricity, drainage and sanitation. Even as India has overtaken other countries in its rate of growth, because of these inadequacies it has, the book shows, fallen behind many of the same countries - often very poor ones - in quality of life.

Because of the importance of democracy in India, addressing these failures will require not only significant policy rethinking by the government, but also a better public understanding of the abysmal extent of social and economic deprivations. The deep inequalities in Indian society tend to constrict public discussion in India's vibrant media to the lives and concerns of the relatively affluent. Dreze and Sen argue that if there is to be more effective democratic practice, there has to be a clearer understanding of the severity of human deprivations in India.

Amartya Sen is Lamont University Professor, professor of Philosophy and professor of Economics, at Harvard University. He is an honorary fellow of LSE. Amartya won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998 and was master of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1998-2004. His many books include Development as Freedom, Rationality and Freedom, The Argumentative Indian, Identity and Violence and The Idea of Justice.

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