Saturday, September 16, 2006

why i'm an 'india basher'

India's inevitable rise, increasing in pace, is the hot story. Unquestionably, most things are getting better, business-wise. But that doesn't mean India doesn't have any problems, or that the problems that do exist no longer merit our attention because trickle-down economics will eventually solve them. Mention that there are grays and browns out there when you take off the rose-colored glasses, however, and you risk being attacked as an India basher.

Recently, India scored poorly in a survey of managers rating business climates around the world, signaling that while red tape has been reduced there's more to be done. Infrastructure, though improving, may not be improving fast enough, as places like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Gurgaon et al readily demonstrate to residents, who face worsening traffic problems, airport congestion, etc. Electricity and water supply, too, is problematic--even for relatively affluent residents like myself.

More importantly, the problems faced by the poor aren't being solved at anywhere close to the same rate as the economy is growing. Polio infections continue, and now India is exporting the "eradicated" disease to other countries. Poverty reduction is coming, but at the expense of rising inequality. Caste discrimination remains an unpleasant reality. Sanitation is a joke and environmental degradation a big problem.

Thankfully, here on the ground, India bashers are alive and well. Hence, it's Indian publications that break the story of declining standards in engineering education and other "off-message" stories. But many NRIs--apparently charmed by malls and multiplexes on their brief, selective visits--seem to have forgotten that all India's problems aren't going away easily--if at all. I say, come back and have a look--and not just at the big malls and mummy-daddy's servant-filled house. Rent your own apartment and you'll soon see why the Gurgaon palaces with water and power backup are so popular. Yes, things are a lot better. That's what we keep writing about -- see every business article on India published over the past two years. Apart from "yes, but" comparisons to China, India receives a resounding thumbs up. However, it doesn't mean everything is perfect. Nor will pointing out some of the ways in which India has a frontier atmosphere--where hardships as well as opportunities abound--make the story of the country's rise any less real.

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