With $85 trillion, how India can become world's largest economy - The Economic Times The writer Minhaz Merchant is the Chairman, Merchant Media Ltd According to a study by US banking group Citi, India will be the world's largest economy within 39 years. Indian GDP in 2050, measured by purchasing power parity (PPP), will be $85.97 trillion. China, in second place, will have a GDP of $ 80.02 trillion and the US $ 39.07 trillion (see chart). With an estimated population in 2050 of 1.63 billion, India will thus have a per capita income of over $53,000 - in the range of today's wealthiest countries like Switzerland and Norway. Sounds too good to be true? Of course it is. On paper - mathematically - Indian poverty should disappear by 2050. The reason it won't is that huge inequalities in income will persist unless we rapidly implement second-generation economic reforms which deliver real benefits to the bottom of India's socio-economic pyramid. The first chart in our three-chart collage shows the ranking of the top five countries by GDP in 2050 as per Citi's projections. Indian GDP in 2011 is estimated at $4.45 trillion (PPP). To reach $85.97 trillion in 2050, the Indian economy will have to grow at an average annual rate of 8.1% a year for the next 39 years. Optimistic? Perhaps, but not overly so. The Citi study relies heavily on India's two dividends - demographic and democratic. The demographic dividend will ensure that India has the largest number of working-age people in the world (over 800 million) between 2015 and 2035 before tapering off as our population reaches a plateau of just over 1.60 billion and starts ageing (as China's already is). Fertility rates of increasingly educated urban and rural Indian women will dip from today's 2.6 to 1.7, which is when a country's birth and death rates equalise. A large number of working-age Indians between 18 and 60, however, will be less than optimally productive if they remain poorly educated and are therefore unemployable. To gain from our 20-year demographic sweet spot, education reform must clearly top the government's agenda. Infosys mentor N R Narayana Murthy was partly right when he said that the standard of IIT students has fallen. It has. Too many are rote-learners, spewed out by coaching classes, not creative thinkers. Education reform must start with government-run primary schools. Shockingly, in some villages, primary schools have no teachers, no students and an empty shed that serves as a classroom. The government spends 52,000 crore on education every year. That is less than it spends on fertiliser subsidy alone ( 55,000 crore). The second dividend Citi banks on to project India's rise to the top of the GDP rankings in 2050 - especially in comparison with China - is democracy. China's autocratic government, the argument goes, can command 10% GDP growth, build superhighways and create gleaming infrastructure. But beneath the towers and the maglev bullet train tracks of Shanghai lurks social tension. As China's per capita income rises, its 1.34 billion people will increasingly yearn for real freedom: a free press, an open Internet and, most crucially, democracy. If the Chinese government can't deliver on these, a "Chinese Spring" a decade hence cannot be ruled out. That could plunge China into years of uncertainty. Throughout history, as countries grew richer, they grew freer. Will China prove an exception? Unlikely. By that token, India's democracy is a double-edge scimitar. Our raucous, open society takes us two steps forward economically and then one step backwards. But if governance reforms - land, electoral, judicial and police - are implemented quickly, the stage could be set for second-generation economic reforms that will turn our democratic institutions into assets for long-term economic and social growth. We will then move from a culture of high subsidies leaked to corrupt middlemen to a culture of high productivity. Second-generation economic reforms were stuck in UPA-I because of the Left's ideological opposition and have been derailed in UPA-II because of muddle-headed opposition from within the fractious UPA coalition itself. It is time to cast off the fetters. We must allow FDI in retail, introduce hybrid agricultural technology to double crop yields within a decade, modernise infrastructure, make land acquisition fairer to farmers, improve healthcare, pass enabling legislation to unleash the entrepreneurial energy of small and medium enterprises - the backbone of our economy - and implement tough, effective regulation to clean up business practice. India is set to become the world's third largest economy in the world in 2011 largely because Japan's GDP will shrink by around 2% to $4.42 trillion following the devastating earthquake and tsunami. But if a growing GDP is not to become a cruel irony for India's 445 million still-desperately poor people, the government must begin the second stage of economic liberalisation without losing any further time. Examine our second and third charts. The one on top is pyramid-shaped, split into three sections. It reflects India's current household income structure: a large base of the poor and relatively poor of over 860 million, a narrow intermediate section of the middle-class around 280 million and a tiny tip of the reasonably well-off of 70 million. The chart below it is diamond-shaped and reflects the shape of things to come in 2050 if political and economic reforms have their desired effect. The bottom section comprises around 330 million of the poor and relatively poor (down from 860 million today), the top section comprises the well-off, around 300 million, up from 70 million today and the intermediate bulge comprises the expanded middle-class of nearly one billion, up from 280 million today. That is the future. We must lay its foundation today.