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What’s Troubling India?

CAMBRIDGE – India’s recent fall from macroeconomic grace is a lamentable turn of events. After many years of outperformance, GDP growth has slowed sharply. Annual output will most likely rise by less than 5% this year, down from 6.8% in 2011 and 10.1% in 2010.

Reform has stalled amid profound political paralysis. All of the major emerging economies face weakening external demand, but India’s slowdown has been exacerbated by a drop in investment that reflects a deeper loss of official direction and business confidence. Even the International Monetary Fund’s forecast of a modest improvement in 2013 is predicated on the government’s ability to breathe life into a spate of stalled economic reforms.

India’s recent torpor has underpinned a remarkable shift in global opinion. Just a couple of years ago, India was developing a reputation as the cool place to invest. Heads of state tripped over one another to meet business leaders in Mumbai, hoping to pave the way for a significant expansion of trade and investment. Now their interest has faded, along with the macroeconomic numbers.

And yet changes currently afoot might just turn things around. India’s octogenarian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has recently awakened to the desperate need for renewed momentum. Economists around the world have taken note of the arrival of Raghuram Rajan as chief economist in the finance ministry. Rajan is a superstar academic researcher, a brilliant writer on political economy, and a former chief economist for the IMF. But it is far from obvious that Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress and the country’s most powerful politician, shares Singh’s reform agenda.