INDIA SHINING (1984 – 2004), RIP?

It is no use pretending. While the last general election brought some good news--especially, a well deserved slap to Narendra Modi's fascist face—it also brought bad news. The hugely positive global sentiment in favour of India that had prevailed until mid May has received a setback. The clearest example is the dramatic slowdown in the growth in the nation's reserves. Until the week ended May 7, reserves had been growing at the rate of US $750 million a week. This accretion to reserves had diminished to less than US $100 million a week. The rupee has also reversed its appreciating trend. Although this may, in fact, be good for exports, but the currency trend combined with the stock market crash demonstrates that sentiment has changed, and if this is not reversed quickly it will hurt new private investment in the economy, and longer term growth, competitiveness, and jobs.    


“The country with the most impressive and intelligent secularist movement is India,” wrote Christopher Hitchens in the respected journal, Daedalus, last summer. Hitchens is a public intellectual who is read and listened to with some admiration on both sides of the Atlantic. He did not explain, but I think what he meant is that Indian secularism has acquired many voices and it seems to be maturing.


It is a month since the macabre dance of death in New York and Washington and we are now in the midst of a war, but I am not sure that we understand what this is all about. People around the world are uncomfortable and insistently ask whom is America fighting? Americans are also confused. They want to know who are their enemies and why do they hate us? And hate so much that that a few young men defied the instinct to live and died for it. The trouble is that America is at war against people it doesn't know, and having gone off to war, it can't very well return without having won it.


It is more than a month since the short, macabre dance of death in New York and Washington changed the world. We are now in the midst of a war, but many are uncomfortable and ask who is America fighting? Some are confused, and insistently ask why were they made targets of the September 11 attacks? They also wonder why is America disliked? And in this case, so hated that a few young men were willing to defy the basic human instinct for survival and die for what they believed to be a worthwhile cause.


The truth is that a decade after the reforms most Indian companies are floundering. With a couple of dozen exceptions the vast majority has failed to become truly competitive. Our companies have still not acquired the confidence or the skills to succeed in the global economy. Most continue with a “factory mindset” when the industrial age is disappearing. Most sell cheap, shoddy products.  


Medha M. Kudaisya, The life and Times of G.D. Birla, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003, 434 pages, Rs

Owning a dynamic, indigenous entrepreneurial group like the Marwaris would seem to give India a competitive advantage in the world economy, yet the Marwari has never quite won the respect from Indian society that he has yearned for. Most Indians know him as the furtive shopkeeper around the corner. Like the Jew in old Europe he is the moneylender of last resort, who charges extortionate interest and dispossesses widows of their land and jewellery when the loan is not repaid. Or he is perceived as the ruthless tycoon who did not stop at anything, including the pre-empting of licences during the hypocritical forty years of the Licence Raj.


On Tuesday September 11th I was visiting my aged mother in a village in northwest India, at her guru's ashram by the banks of the river Beas, when my son called from China. “Turn on the TV,” he said, and we began to watch in stunned disbelief the barbarous tragedy unfolding on the other side of the globe. The second tower of New York's World Trade Center came down before our eyes. After the initial horror had passed, I felt like many Indians that perhaps now the world might begin to understand what we have been going through. For over a decade we have been victims of Taliban trained terrorism that has taken hundreds of innocent lives.