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India shining or India whining?

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November 25, 2003 12:23 IST

I've been dropping in early and working late nights at the office all of last week, thanks to my mother-in-law having popped in to visit. And when you are in the office all that time, what better way to pass the time than read all the newspapers?

It's no surprise, then, that I know very well that India is good news, it has finally made it to the global top ten, it's the latest happening thing on the international stock market circuit.

The government says the country is shining, Goldman Sachs says our economy will be larger than Japan's in thirty years, professors at MIT and Harvard say that not only are we tomorrow's superpowers, but that we'll be a stronger superpower than China.

Note that these glowing tributes are being paid not by some Swadeshi Jagran Manch lunatic, but by authentic phoren voices, gora log who are not only making a beeline for these shores but are also putting their money where their mouths are and flooding the country with dollars.

When these signs and portents are bolstered by ad gurus proclaiming the emergence of an India Power Brand, when every visitor to the country proclaims that he sees an upsurge of tremendous confidence in everybody here, and when the economy is going to grow at 7 per cent, who are we to argue with them?

And yet, almost before the ink could dry on the article written by the Goldman Sachs economists, the whining began. Is the recovery sustainable? Aren't the market inflows the result of too much money being printed in America? What happens if the FIIs leave?

Won't the rising rupee hurt our exports? How come unemployment isn't coming down? When they can't find anything else to whine about, they bring up, of all things, the fiscal deficit.

The problem, of course, is that these people don't have a positive attitude. As Kumaramangalam Birla pointed out at the Ad Asia Summit, there's a deplorable tendency to focus on the negatives and ignore our success.

Consider, for instance, how they are treating this whole business of Biharis getting killed in Assam or getting bashed up in Mumbai. The real issue lies in the fact that seventy four lakh unemployed people applied for twenty thousand Class D jobs in the Railways.

A sign of how difficult it is to get work, you will whine? Now consider it from a positive point of view. The very fact that there are so many people applying for so few jobs is a sign that this country has almost limitless labour supplies to draw upon as she progresses.

As GDP rises, more and more people can be drawn into employment, without wages rising. Which means that India can continue to be a low-cost destination for call centres and IT services for decades to come.

All we have to do is to teach these guys English or software engineering. Or get them a PhD, if they are to find work in the dozens of R&D centres springing up all over the country. Going by current standards, if it takes Rs 500,000 to buy the question papers for the IIM entrance exams, the cost of buying a PhD should be well within the average guy's budget.

Besides, the banks can always finance you in purchasing one -- it'll probably be called an educational loan. This is what a market economy is all about. Consider also how mobile our labour has become, when these guys come all the way from Bihar to Mumbai for jobs.

Heck, our brothers from Punjab even go to Europe in airtight freight containers. What a tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit, what a paean to globalisation.

Or consider Parkash Singh Badal's assets, allegedly Rs 4,326 crore (Rs 43.26 billion), with overseas assets valued at Rs 3,825 crore (Rs 38.25 billion). Some would whine about corruption in high places, but have you thought about what it means for the country?

Assuming that a large percentage of politicians and businessmen have this kind of wealth, a not unreasonable assumption considering that Telgi alone is supposed to have siphoned off Rs 39,000 crore (Rs 390 billion) at the latest count, then India is a far richer country than we all thought it was. Worried about the fiscal deficit? Why, these guys could wipe it out overnight if they wanted to.

Trouble with the balance of payments? All we need is for these guys to repatriate their foreign assets. Capital account convertibility? They've had it for a long time now. To cut a long story short, these foreigners are right and the whiners are wrong: all the negatives can, with time and patience, become positives. I can sense the feel-good factor all around me. Even mothers-in-law go home. Mine left yesterday.

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Manas Chakravarty