Wednesday, August 15, 2007

60 Great years of freedom

What a great time for India to have its 60th birthday. Normally in India, 60th birthday would mark the passing of the retirement era where the old gives way to new. The day is celebrated pretty grand as a mark of recognition for the 60 great years of living. But, surprise for India it is more like a celebration of the first birthday. The nation is so young and so much of energy left in it, that the following years are going to be the most crucial and significant ones. Our basic problems like - rural decay, over dependency on Agriculture, adult illiteracy, poverty, gender inequality, inadequate buffer to face routine forces of nature like flood, cyclone and earthquake... have not changed much in the 60 years. We are still as divided as we started out with and the religious tensions have not smoldered. Thus, it will be the future that will be more significant for India than the immediate past. Most of the instrumentation to solve these colossal issues are getting available only right now.

In some aspects, we have not done bad and in fact done much more than expected. Who in the 1940's would have expected India to lead the world in Technology, software, satellite communication, etc? We are among the top 10 nations in economic size, stock market volumes, satellite capabillity, software production, super computing, nuclear generation... We would soon replace US as the country with the second most telephone connections after China and we are just couple of years behind the cutting edge technology in communication. This is a far cry from the days (just 7 to 10 years ago), when India had a place among world nations with the poorest teledensity and telephonic infrastructure. Our Television and Radio reach is complete and we have among the highest world viewers of Cable Television. We have produced some of the world's most respected educational institutions in Technology, Medicine and Management and Indian graduates go for a premium in international job markets. Tell that to someone who was sleeping for the last 20 years and he wont believe. Our film industry has matured enormously and is second only to the Hollywood in size and viewership.

There are cries of inequality and "rich-getting-richer". But, look around. How many rich people did you see in 1947 and how many do you see now? There are now atleast a 100 to 150 million credible middle class population dozens of times more than a couple of decades ago, and this class is rapidly bulging. While Indian companies were small dots in global picture, as late as 2003, now they are audacious enough to take on the world giants. Tata has gobbled our former colonial master's biggest steel maker and vying for Landrover and Jaguar, a car that transports English aristocracy. Reliance is hunting for GE's plastics division, the Pharma players are looking for big ticket acquisitions and companies like Bharat Forge and Moser Baer have reached the top in their fields. We had a handful of big corporations a decade ago. Now, you have Bharti, Infosys, Reliance, Ranbaxy, Tata Steel, Tata Motors, Wipro in every spectrum of production. Well done, India. We produce much more entrepreneurs than most other countries and our boys are there in the boardroom of every major company now. A few Giants like Vodafone and Pepsi have Indians at their very top. And this is not including Mittal who has built a world steel and energy empire almost single-handedly.

In 1940's our only rich people were the Maharajas and Zamindars who had squandered other's wealth and coasted on theis ancestors wealth generation. Now, the richest billionaire Indians - Lakshmi Mittal (Arcelor-Mittal), Ambani brothers (Reliance), Sunil Mittal (Bharti), Kushal Pal Singh (Real esate giant DLF), Azim Premji (Wipro) were almost nobodys 2 decades back, and almost built fortune with their own efforts (for Ambani brothers, a big start was provided their illustrious father). And there are thousands in the wings - just take a rough glance of the world's top B-schools and most of them have huge Indian contingent. Each huge company have a positive rippling effect on hundreds of thousands of people, and with so many huge companies thundering Indian economy never looked rosier.

Looking at the negatives, we have huge volumes of them. Take any social problem in the world, and India would rank top 10. Poverty, illiteracy, sectarian troubles, gender divides, class/caste issues, Communalism, Tuberculosis-Malaria-HIV-Polio, Corruption... our health care and primary education facilities are in great decay and rural India is almost sinking. In fact, we have come to the point where none of the major problems look very surprising. We are so used to glancing our morning newspapers where the headlines would have a major rail accident killing hundred people, terrorist gunning dozens in Assam or Kashmir, a major politician indicted in a big ticket scam and smilingly coming out of prison, floods drowning hundreds of villages or religious violence burning an entire city - these are just news points in a fast mesh of problems we face. We are now so insulated from our problems.

Thus, looking at our future, I would like to see these core problems solved before we rest on our laurels and enter the world's elite clubs. There is no use in just praising ourselves that we have IIT, IIM or AIIMS, when half of Indian kids dont go to school. There is no use in becoming a medical superpower when majority of citizens dont have access to proper health care. But, the solution to these are not more of commie stupidity or Arundati Royism, but lies in carefully planned policies that involves all the constituents - the government guiding and overseeing, corporations implementing, and the local communities working to even out the benefit spread. We would like to see the Mittals and Ambanis of Schooling, Agriculture and Medical Care and this is where India's future lie.

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