Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why India Is Not Going Anywhere Fast

This article is penned not to bash India, but to remind Indians that glossing over their country's problems is not going to help India in any fashion, but would hinder their progress.

Last year a work colleague of mine was quite happy about an upcoming trip. He was scheduled to go to Goa, India. For the life of me, I could not understand why he was so excited about a business trip to India.

"It's quite exotic and they are the new world power and think of the business opportunities and ..."

To the majority of people in the West, India was suddenly their new darling. Obama invited the Indians as his first State Dinner guests. Everyone does business with the Chinese, but no one likes them. India is "democratic" and so they are our new best friend. As for me, I had always maintained the impression that while India may, in some distant future, perhaps be a world power, right now they are a third world country.

Why? If you really boil down to specifics, Indians are no different breed of people than Bangladeshis, and Bangladesh is going nowhere fast. The problems of Bangladesh are the same problems Indians face.

Consider the latest Commonwealth Games (2010) fiasco. The Games may be doomed, writes Biswas. The athlete village that the organizing committee chief touted as being better than Beijing Olympics is "unfit for human habitation", according to team delegates. Construction delays, corruption, dangue fever, toilets backed up all do not point to a first world powerful country. At first, I thought it was just Western elites complaining about a pan system toilet but on second reading, their concerns seem justified. If you are holding a world class event your facilities should be world class. Apparently, the definition of "world class" in India is not the same as elsewhere, not to mention their shoddy construction standards which has seen a bridge collapse days before the event.

Why am I bringing up the Commonwealth Games? It's because it's a symptom of what ails India in general. Corruption. The same vice that is the reason for Bangladesh's backwardness is the reason for India's lag. India cannot even considering moving towards being a world power until its corruption bug is nipped out.

Consider the Indian Premier League (IPL) of cricket. When it was announced with such dizzy heights and the ridiculous sums of money, I was amazed. Can India, with 42% of population below poverty line cope with IPL? In three years, the IPL was exposed as a den of corruption with few individuals alleged to own shares in every team, laws being re-written so that conflicts of interest were overlooked (with the secretary of BCCI which makes rules also owning a team in the IPL) and so on. It only came to a head last year when the IPL fell foul of a government minister. And anyone who follows cricket knows that in the current, as well as past match fixing controversies, the trail of bookies ultimately end up in India.

Does corruption exist in the West? In the so-called "first world"? Sure it does. It may even involve very large sums of money. However the institutions in those countries, the laws, the court system etc. are remarkably powerful and free from this vice. When caught, you can expect all hell to break loose. In India, the BJP led rallies to destroy the Babri mosque resulting in riots that killed thousands of people and their leader became the Prime Minister and was never charged. In Gujarat, Muslims were slaughtered just a few years ago while the governing party and police stood by. After the murder of Indira Gandhi, thousands of Sikhs were butchered in the streets of India. Till now, the culprits are yet to face justice.

One does not have to go far to see India is far from being a perfect democracy with perfect freedom of speech. Last year, Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood superstar, expressed a view on Pakistani cricketers. Such was the ire of one political leader, Bal Thakaray, that his followers ransacked cinema houses, set fire to posters, vandalized stores with the police unable to do much. In the past, Thakaray has threatened cricket superstar Tendulkar and Bollywood supremo Amitabh Bachchan. Meekly, these people had to recant and make their peace while Thakaray goes unpunished. In a Western system, such a person would have been arrested as a goon, or charged as a terrorist.

Therefore, to any person who thinks India is now a world power, they are dreaming. I say this as someone who wants India and the surrounding countries to succeed, as they have a lot to offer the world. However, India has lots of problems, starting with corruption, female infanticide, a blind hatred of Pakistan etc. to name a few. India is no where close to being a world power. It is just like Bangladesh, except with a bigger army.


history_lover said...

All true unfortunately.
It gets a good press because it is a democracy and because of it's sheer size - both area and population so despite poverty, the size of consumer market is still huge. Indian americans from IITs have done well in Corporate america (specially in information technology) and some of that sheen has rubbed on to India.
I agree that it has still a long way to go.

Lat said...

I read in today's paper that India's PM is to have an unrgent meeting with the Chief of Games Federation whether to stay with the current dates,postpone the event or cancel it! We were rather dissapointed with the ongoing construction fiasco,as you aptly said it.

I wondered why India even petitioned to hold the event in the 1st place.To tell you the truth we didn't have that confidence at all.Without a good infrastructure how the country hoped to do this,I had no idea.Unlike China,India had time and again has shown her inablity to solve domestic problems.And what's more the verdict on the desputed place of the Babri mosque is coming up!One can imagine the outburst and choas that's to erupt.Which athlete will feel safe to do his utmost in the games?

It's really sad actually.

Nadia said...

So why does this fancy [the superpower delusion] persist? There is a fantastic urge within the middle-class for upward mobility. For status. This is fueled equally by the expatriate Indian cousins when they visit or hold ‘India’ days. It is a dangerous fantasy because it is taken as manifest destiny. Bear in mind that a lot can still go wrong in the India story. If the middle-class insulates itself in the superpower ivory tower, it will invite reactions.” Shiv Vishwanathan, a sociologist.

Sadly, what you mention in your post are all true.

Abu Pokemon said...

Additionally there are all those problems with respect to competition for resources in the future. Lets hope that South Asians make it.

Anonymous said...

"I say this as someone who wants India and the surrounding countries to succeed, as they have a lot to offer the world. "

No you don't want India. Like almost all Pakistanis and Bangladesis you only want to skim off India. Bdesh has about 30 million illegal immigrants in India. In Delhi and surrounding area they have taken a big portion of rickshaw drivers and housemaid jobs

India is same as Pak and Bangladesh when it comes to inept govt. But India is not same as Pak/BD when it comes to quality of human resource. It is order of magnitude superior to both of them put together which is reflected in India's huge strides in knowledge based economy where from IT, Legal, Finance and medical sector, they have a big presence. Pak/BD are close to zero.
The number of companies which are directly opening up R&D centers in India is growing at a steady place.
For Pakistanis and Bangladesis, who grew up with smug superiority that muslims are superior to Indians, this is quite a shock.

In 1989 Jack Welch, then CEO of GE visited India and was unimpressed by its infrastructure. However he, within few days, was damn impressed with the people he met in Bangalore (later on named as Welch Center R&D). He said "India is a developing country with an already developed intellectual capability".
How long it will take for Pakis and Bangladesis to reach the same level

Anonymous said...

Fact is, whites feel welcome in India and that's why they love going there. If they go to Pak or Bangladesh, well another Daniel Pearl.

"Hollywood actor John Travolta [ Images ], who is on a two-day visit to India [ Images ], said that he was excited to be in India and glad to have availed this opportunity.

"Things are wonderful in India, and as I said earlier, I feel very welcome here and it's a very warm feeling, feeling a family. And, I even brought my family because I think everyone wants to come to India, except that you wait for the special invitation, you wait for a special opportunity and I just feel that finally I have this chance to be here and it's very exciting," said Travolta.

Travolta further added that the impression of Bollywood industry in front of the world is crucial, as it has got very talented filmmakers.

"You know the impression of Bollywood is you have an industry here which has very important filmmakers and very important contribution to the film, the world of films. So, I feel that it's also comfortable because my industry is here as well," said Travolta.

Travolta, who flew down to India in his private jet, was accompanied by his daughter Ella."

mezba said...

@history_lover, welcome to the blog.

I think Narashima Rao started this liberalization process in India which has done them good. Their size has meant a considerable market for Western goods, and you are right - democracy means they are portrayed far positively in the media than China.

@Lat, the games should be an embarrasment. The Indian media has rightly named it Shame Games. Every contractor and politician around Delhi seems to have gotten rich with nothing much done! And to top it all, today a snake was found in the South African athelete's place! How stereotypical!

The timing of the Ayodha verdict is unfortunate as well. God knows why they postponed it.

@Nadia, that's a very interesting comment. I also find it that amongst many of my peers who are educated and enjoying the 'good' of India are out of touch with the poverty and problems of 'normal' India.

@Abu Pokemon, true and with China buying up mines left and right India is getting behind in the resources game.

mezba said...

@Anon, first of all where do you get your "30 million illegal Bangladeshi immigrants" fact? The largest number EVER mentioned was 20 million by then Defense Minister George Fernandes in 2003 which could not be substantiated. (Source)

Assam spent Rs. 1.7 billion between January 2001 and September 2006, which resulted in identification of 9,149 foreigners, only 1,864 could be deported back to Bangladesh.

Only 1,864. (Source)

Second, you mention:
For Pakistanis and Bangladesis, who grew up with smug superiority that muslims are superior to Indians, this is quite a shock.

Where did Hindu/Muslim come into this? This just proves what I say, when I added in my last paragraph that one of India's problems is a "a blind hatred of Pakistan".

@Anon, "whites" have been in Bangladesh for a long time. No foreign journalist has been attacked in Bangladesh, nor any foreign visitors unlike the Taiwanese tourists in Delhi.

I am sure Travolta must have also seen Slumdog Millionaire, which is closer to the real face of rural India than people like you try to ignore at India's peril.

Again, rather than fix India's problems which hinder India from being a global power, you irrationally hate the neighbouring countries.

mezba said...

More interesting info.

What Pakistan can learn from Bangladesh" - The Wall Street Journal

TManiac said...

oh and btw, ur not gonna belive this but THEY'VE HIRED SECURITY MONKEYS AT THE INDIA COMMONWEALTH GAMES TO PROTECT ATHLETES!!! http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/29/monkeys-deployed-to-guard-indian-games/

TManiac said...


mezba said...

@Taha, haha... actually come to think of it, that's pretty smart.

Sana said...

I really agree with anonymous comments, he/ she may be blunt but actually saying the truth, we have to deal with the illegal bangladeshi immigrants on a day to day basis, well most of the filth and dirt is spread by them (illegal slums were always a problem but they are like the icing on the cake (not), excess auto rickshaw drivers and prostitutes. Again illegal.) India is corrupt but these people are taking full advantage of it.
You may accuse us of hating the neighboring countries , but we are blunt and in your face, but look at you. You are doing the same but in a more passive aggressive manner. Very diplomatic!

mezba said...


Get used to the fact that India, for all its good, has warts.