What's Next for India?

McKinsey & Co. looks at the future of the world's largest democracy.

Sikh devotees gather to pay obeisance at a temple on the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh, Sikhism’s tenth and last Guru, on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, in Jammu, India.

Can the world's largest democracy confront its problems?

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With more than one-sixth of the world's population, India has enormous potential for further growth but faces great political and social challenges. A new book from global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, "Reimagining India: Unlocking the Potential of Asia's Next Superpower," examines the country's politics, business, culture and other issues through essays by more than 60 contributors, including Bill Gates, Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria and journalist Fareed Zakaria. Adil Zainulbhai, the book's co-editor and the former chairman of McKinsey India, recently spoke with U.S. News about the nation's future and lessons the rest of the world can take away from India's growing pains. Excerpts:

How did this book come about?

We felt that over the last year the India story had gone from euphoria to depression. I think people were going a lot by the headlines and were wondering what had happened. We just wanted to change the debate and discussion on India. The essays are eminently readable by a wide range of people. This is not a book for policy wonks only.

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Where does India stand today?

In the top 10 economies of the world. It's a trillion-plus economy. People are excited about it both from an economic perspective and a human development perspective. This is a very heterogeneous country that yet has a stable democracy and has been able to grow pretty well and take a lot of people out of poverty at the same time. That's sort of the broad theme around which people then have populated different ideas.

What are some of those ideas?

One of the big ideas that people raise is that with the prices of [mobile] devices coming down, with the ability to do health care remotely, with the ability to do education on broadband, and with the ability to provide government services directly, India is in a great position to leapfrog its development using technology. Those are essays written by the CEO of Cisco, the [executive chairman] of Google. Because of the availability of technology, you can just skip a generation rather than do it the same way that it was done in other countries. A second theme that comes out: [India] has 28 states, many of which are growing as fast as China did for 10 years. The competition between those states is good for India, so that's how ideas are getting spread. Rather than just worry about the central government, we should look at what's happening in the states. A third theme: India is among the youngest nations in the world. The influence of this very large group of young people will be quite profound.

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What lessons can the United States learn from India about education?

There are huge challenges in India around education in terms of improving literacy. But what India has got quite right in some areas is that the best schools in India and the best colleges in India turn out to be the great mobility engine in the country. They've created a system that takes people with incredible raw intelligence and drive, from any walk of life, and gives them a very, very, very good education at very low prices. Then those kids go out and they challenge the world. Everyone wants to improve. There is this drive to get better because they know that their entire lives will get better if they do better in education, and so they are finding any and all means to do it.

What else do you hope readers take away?

We wanted people to understand that India is an incredibly diverse place – it has incredibly different kinds of people, challenges, languages – and therefore development within a democracy is the right way to do it. The questions everyone asks are … shouldn't India be more like China? Is an autocracy better for development rather than a democracy at this stage of growth? There are good democracies, bad democracies, good autocracies, bad autocracies. A diverse nation like India has a stable democracy, and a stable democracy and growth can be synonymous.