India has gained worldwide attention as one of the fastest growing markets and a respected, responsible democracy. In recognition of the country's emergence as the next big business market, Asia Society -- an organisation that educates Americans about Asia -- has organised a conference in Mumbai on March 18-20.
To be inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the conference will include business and government leaders to explore Asia's economic future in the context of India's role as a growing economy. The participants include Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, Frank Wisner, former US ambassador to India, Biocon's Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Ratan Tata among many other delegates from China, Japan, Pakistan and Singapore.
Asia Society President Vishakha Desai chats about India's rise and the work the Society has done to strengthen Indo-US ties. Chat transcript follows:
Vishakha Desai says, Hi, this is Vishakha here! Let's chat.
ShaunSkariah asked, Greetings Mrs. Desai, congratulations on opening the Mumbai Center and thank you for joining us, it truly is a pleasure. Please inform Sanjeev that he is missed. One can say India is a stubborn country, very weary of foreign influence and change. But one could also argue that India's civilizational depth insulates its thinking and forces it to pursue change in small steady steps but especially when forced to do so (responding to crisis). Please explain how the Asia Society in India, as well as internationally, can be an outlet of Indian ideas but more importantly an inlet.
Vishakha Desai answers, I agree with you that India is often seen as insular and weary of foreign influence and that indeed changes in India often come incrementally. It would be wrong of me to presume that any one organisation, including Asia Society, can actually change a cultural ethos completely. However, one of our main goals in establishing the India Centre is to bring ideas from especilly other parts of Asia into an Indian dialogue. I would hope that that would be the kind of input that Asia Society could bring in the Indian atmosphere.
tptnani asked, What are the main reasons for India to become a global economic pivot?
Vishakha Desai answers, Today India is recognised as having a tremendous potential for becoming a global economic player. Partly this is due to the recognition that India is able to achieve a sustained economic growth and that the government is finally implementing the kind of reforms that are necessary for India to become a strong economy. But it is fair to say that this is relatively new for India and if some of the changes are not sustained, once again outsiders will lose confidence in India.
ramananda asked, Maam, what can Mumbai look forward to with the opening of this center here?
Vishakha Desai answers, First of all, let me emphasise that the Centre is here to serve all of India and not just Mumbai. But I do hope that Mumbaikars who pride themselves in being cosmopolitan will enjoy learning about other Asian countries through programmes in arts and culture, policy and business and education field. many of our programmes will be public and available to all. So if you are interested in learning more about us, you may want to join and become a member. you can go to our web site www.asiasociety.org
Asian asked, what is it that is going to break the myth that asia is not only a sleeping giant but something of a force to reckon with?
Vishakha Desai answers, I think that already on the world stage and amongst knowledgeable people, there is an awareness that economic rise of China and India is here to stay and that Asia will be a force to reckon with in the 21st century.
kishore asked, What according to you are the biggest changes that have happened in India as far as growth is concerned?
Vishakha Desai answers, I think this question can only be answered if you decide what is your benchmark. Since 1991, with the liberalisation of the economic policies, one is very aware of tremendous changes in the car industry as well as appliances. I think the most important change that I can see is in the level of confidence that one sees in all sectors in India.
Ajay asked, Do you think that excitement about India is really about its potential rather than present reality.. What are the chances that India will realize this potential? What are the major risks that might derail its progress?
Vishakha Desai answers, I think at the moment there is a sense of the potential since the reality is still very young. But one can sense that India is not about to revert to an older, closed social model. The major risks to India's economic potential-cum-growth are definitely in the inability to transform the infrastructure issues and lack of education across the different levels of society.
ashaiq1 asked, hi ,Good afternoon madam, i am a young enterprenuer from Jammu & kashmir as their is not much growth of anything E.g take industry,it and other sectors what do u think the best way that we can emerge and make investors of other countries to invest here and help us eradicate unemployment from society.?
Vishakha Desai answers, I am glad to hear from you from Jammu and Kashmir and I can sympathise with your somewhat pessimistic outlook about economic developments in the region. I do believe that the only way others will come to your troubled region will be when we can assure safety of visitors and when we can guarantee that politics will not overwhelm economic necessities.
Kazakh asked, Hello from Kazakhstan! What is the Asia Society dealing with the improving Sino-Indian relations?
Vishakha Desai answers, I am delighted to hear from you. We actually have developed programmes in Kazakhstan. One of the things that Asia Society is very committed to is a three-way dialogue among Indians, Chinese and American leaders. We hope to develop a special programme that will encourage greater inter-connection among these three great powers.
oneninesevenzero asked, What is the role of Indians in the world in future? As we all know that US is ruling the world. Can a day wil come when India will rule the WORLD? After how many years that day will come? Kuntak Nag.
Vishakha Desai answers, Historically, there have been times when India and China had the largest share of world GDP. There will be a time again in this century when India and China will be the dominant players.
shreenivas asked, While the world finds it really tough to fight and remove religious bigotry esp. from the middle east and pakistan, how will india deal with its further petty identities of caste, sub-castes and creed to become an integrated world power, Ms.Desai?
Vishakha Desai answers, As you rightly point out one of the biggest obstacles to world peace today is religious intolerance. I think India has the potential to celebrate its multipolar identities and serve as a beacon for other less tolerant countries.
whythefuss asked, Ms Desai, why must we bend over backwards to inspire confidence in the world (read United States)?
Vishakha Desai answers, I think in your question, there is an implication of negating the outside world. I believe it is in India's interest to connect withthe outside world in the context of globalisation. It is not a question of India bending over backwards to suit somebody else.
Cyril asked, Good day to you, Vishakha. When the western nations say that India must accelerate the reform process, what do they mean exactly? Will not too rapid a change be harmful to a society which still resides mostly in the villages and is still far away from big economic growth?
Vishakha Desai answers, When the outsiders ask for accelerated reform process they clearly are thinking of reform of rules and regulations and bureaucratic nightmares. On the other hand, it is assumed that higher growth rate bringing in more direct FDI will be helpful.
Parag asked, Good afternoon, Vishakha Desai, is the global interest in India only because of its huge market and rising purchasing power of its people, or is there something more to it?
Vishakha Desai answers, For the Asia Society, the interest in India goes back to last 50 years. It's possible that the larger global interest is based on its huge market potential. However, the important message should be that India also has an opportunity to use this moment to play an increasingly global role.
sarathy asked, why we talk of global economic prowess, when 60 percent of people dont get a square meal. When the best cities have bad roads. Where power fails every day, isn't the basis itself weak
Vishakha Desai answers, It is fair to say that India has enormous problems especially in the areas of poverty. However, there is also an opportunity to truly address once intractible problems.
jayan asked, India still depends on monsoons and our growth rate may slip if the god's are not with us. Much talked about IT sector and BPO sector makes just less than 5% of the global market. And we have that, so called edge in IT because of the english language skills. China is aware and are catching up fast, including much attention on pronounciation which we are not really good at. What distinctive competitive advantage india got to out perform the world in future apart from providing multinationals with a huge market?
Vishakha Desai answers, I believe one of the most important lessons one learn from the Indian experiment is that democracy allows for smaller skirmishes to be taken care of without overt violence. I believe that is the distinctive quality of the Indian social climate.
sunilparekh asked, The debate is that India is not changing fast enough to catch up with China in order to compete in the international market what are your views on that Ms Desai?
Vishakha Desai answers, It used to be the case that in the international circles, one believed that India was not changing fast enough compared to China but today there is an awareness that perhaps slow growth of India has also made it possible to be sustainable over a long time.
ramananda asked, Mrs Desai, what do you think is the single most important factor for India's sudden visibility on the world stage? Did the nuclear tests in 1998 have anything to do with it, or is just economics?
Vishakha Desai answers, I think India's visibility in the world stage is based on a combination of factors. Indeed the nuclear tests of 1998 made the outsiders sit up and take notice. Another element would be the appearance of the Indian Diaspora in many parts of the West and the economic prowess of India.
ramananda asked, IF you could change one thing about India, what would it be?
Vishakha Desai answers, Roads and airports!
Vishakha Desai says, Thank you. It was very nice chatting with you.