Manmohan Singh is not a renowned orator. He delivers his public speeches in a monotonous undertone that one associates with college lecturers and bankers — and India's prime minister has been both. But one of Singh's speeches, made exactly twenty years ago, will go down in the annals of Indian history as the one that changed India.
In his maiden budget speech as the finance minister of India, Singh presented the finances of a country that was nearly bankrupt and slayed the licence raj, thereby changing the lives of not just India's 84 crore citizens then but those of another 36 crore citizens who have been born since.
How much has India changed since then? Since 1991, India's GDP has quadrupled, its forex reserves have surged from $5.8 billion to $279 billion, and exports from $18 billion to $178 billion. But these are just numbers. The change in our lives and lifestyles is a lot more fascinating. Back in 1991, owning a Maruti 800 (Rs 1.48 lakh in Delhi) was a middle- class status symbol.
Scooters like Bajaj Chetak and Lambretta accounted for more than half of the two-wheelers sold in the country. A bottle of soft drink, be it desi versions like Gold Spot or Thums Up, cost just Rs 4.50. Today, we are one of the consumption engines of the world as we are guzzling colas, downloading music on our iPads and zipping around in our sedans. The cola market is worth about Rs 10,000 crore, up from just Rs 200 crore in 1991.
Scooters, like we knew them, are almost dead. And all of this change can be traced back to that speech that Singh made twenty years ago.
Here's a quick look at the road we have travelled since then and the milestones we have crossed. We have used 1971 data, whenever available, to demonstrate an even more radical change. 1971 was Socialist India. 2011 is India, still with many problems, a flourishing market economy.