Opinion

Why aren’t we prouder of India?

RAJKAMAL RAO | Updated on January 11, 2018

Let’s celebrate All the good things   -  R_V_Moorthy

Many western nations see our rise as an economic threat, hence the tightening of visa policies in the US, the UK and Australia

Indians have a legacy of looking up to others but not tooting their own horn — a trait distinct from what prevails in the West. The habit is bred into us growing up and it’s a culture that is hard to shed. That’s not altogether bad because it motivates us to think about what is possible and get there, one step at a time.

But occasionally, we should act like people in the West and at least pause to look at what we have achieved as a nation over the last 30 years, regardless of which government was in power. Because even an extremely critical mind would give India high marks, especially if our performance is measured against other peer countries in the class.

The bar is raised

In an engaging memoir of how he was imprisoned and tortured covering the 2009 Iranian elections, Maziar Bahari, a Canadian journalist of Iranian origin, describes a country whose supreme leader allegedly engineered a presidential election — through brute force — in favour of one candidate, against the voters’ will. Such a sleight of hand would be unthinkable in India, only two borders away.

Pakistan — a country which is as old as our own — has had three successful coups and numerous unsuccessful attempts, with the military ruling it for nearly half of its existence. In contrast, for a nation of India’s size, ethnic diversity and population, our elections are remarkably free and fair, and transfer of power has been universally non-controversial. The result? Pakistan’s headaches (terrorism, distrust in government, dependence upon foreign nations for aid, excessive faith in religious propaganda, lack of economic growth) are so much starker than our own problems.

When it comes to governance we are on to something ambitious, although no one knows how it will pan out. The goods and services tax rewrite is the single-most consequential change in tax policy since our country’s founding. For the first time, the Government is driving a hard message to keep India clean, e-tising everyone’s identity through fingerprint and retina scans, linking government benefits to such identities, and funding life insurance policies for the masses, all while moving the country towards cleaner, unlimited solar power. Our flawless launch of a communications satellite not only asserts our capabilities in space but also shows our South Asian neighbours that we care, not just with talk, but with action.

An honest leader

That our current Prime Minister is seen by a majority of the country as an honest leader in the war on corruption — despite the numerous short-term problems suffered by people during his bold demonetisation experiment — is a welcome departure from the experience in so many countries.

Just two years ago, in Malaysia, nearly $700 million of state funds were reported in the personal bank account of Prime Minister Najib Razak. Meanwhile, Brazil’s corruption scandal continues after its president fell victim to it weeks before the Rio Olympics, now ensnaring eight cabinet ministers. It is also spreading to other Latin American countries, including Peru and Colombia. Consider how India has adapted to the global economy — engage when it’s in our interest, disengage when it’s not. India’s conservative real estate lending policies spared us a generation of misery while the PIIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain), fully backed by the European Central Bank, are still trying to recover from the 2008 global financial crisis — perpetually in debt, and demanding concessions and handouts.

And our success is not just because of leadership in the IT/BPO services sector, one of the world’s largest. The Financial Times said recently that India makes more motorcycles than any other country and exported 2.5 million two- and three-wheelers in 2016, from Bogotá to Jakarta and Cairo to Addis Ababa. BMW, the venerable German maker of motorcycles, now contracts some of its manufacturing out to India’s TVS for BMW-branded exports worldwide.

India is now the fifth largest maker of automobiles, ahead of South Korea. Mahindra is the world’s largest tractor manufacturer. Bollywood produces more movies than anywhere else and is a cultural icon in dozens of countries. This month, Time magazine put out its annual ‘Top 100 Most Influential People’ edition. Two Indians — Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Paytm’s founder — made the distinguished list. One could go on and on.

Problems and naysayers

To be sure, there are many real problems to be still solved (population growth, environment, urban sprawl, poverty, child welfare, women’s health, security) but there is little doubt that India is doing better than a host of other countries across multiple dimensions. This is reflected not only on booming Dalal Street but also in the strengthening of the rupee. India’s human capital is now perceived as an economic threat to western nations — just look at changing high tech visa policies in the US, the UK and Australia, largely aimed at thwarting India’s rise.

And also true, there are a few Indian naysayers who are good at making mountains out of molehills. In the last two years, more than 150 artists, academics and scientists have returned awards, after the shine on them wore off, protesting against what they call an environment of religious intolerance.

In his 175-word Time sketch, journalist Pankaj Mishra, unknown to most people before this month, is harshly critical of Modi for the same reason. Hewing to the same old tired line of the world’s elites, he accuses Modi of prospering because of his “political seduction” skills. So, political seduction won Narendra Modi a landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh which is 20 per cent Muslim? Oh, please. Mishra had a great opportunity to positively describe to the world a leader that many in the Indian diaspora rave about. Instead, he chose to be dark, gloomy and inaccurate.

Which brings us to our vibrancy as a nation because we celebrate dissent, pen to pen, but never sword to pen, or sword to sword. This is another reason why countries from Syria to Afghanistan and Sudan to Libya, not to mention numerous other African nations, would gladly trade their current situations with ours.

So, go ahead. Pat yourself and the person next to you on the back. We all deserve it.

The writer is MD of Rao Advisors LLC

Published on May 07, 2017

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