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Sunday, January 30, 2011

The India story is losing its plot

By Swapan Dasgupta

Over the past few days, many have remarked on the curious spectacle of TV anchors in colourful woollies talking to Indian notables in their cashmere overcoats about Indian issues amid idyllic snow-covered surroundings. Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong in interrogating Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Kamal Nath or, for that matter, Rahul Bajaj and Uday Kotak on the Indian economy and the "governance deficit". But why not do it in Delhi and Mumbai? Must we literally reduce the annual World Economic Forum jamboree in Davos to an 'India adda'?

These are not the envious and insolent gripes of someone who has never had the privilege of visiting Davos during the Rich List season. There is a larger issue. The WEF meet in Davos isn't by any reckoning an India seminar. While India isn't the incidental footnote it was in the early-1990s, global investors don't also see it as the obsession it was in 1492 when Columbus embarked on his search for the elusive western sea-route from Europe. "Amongst the delegates", wrote stockbroker Paul Fletcher in a blog from Davos, "there is a feeling that if we hear another session on demographics or China versus India we may protest."

Such a forthright disregard for the so-called 'India story' may understandably offend nationalist sentiments and bring on the West versus Rest polarisation that keeps many public intellectuals in business. But the harsh truth is that India has been sold, re-sold and re-re-sold in so many samosa and Sula evenings that it has lost novelty. The Davos lot is aware and excited by India's potential—who wouldn't be at the thought of a 91 million strong middle class by 2030? They are also aware but a little less moved by the realisation that calculating opportunity costs aren't among the inherited attributes of the timeless "ancient civilisation, new nation" (India's self-description in the billboards of Davos).

The irritation at the mismatch between words and deeds has begun to show: the latest report by the Reserve Bank of India shows that foreign direct investment in India declined by 36 per cent between April and September 2010 compared to the same period in 2009. This decline coincides with FDI growth of 17 per cent in non-Arab Asia. Whispers from North Block suggest that thanks to a rampaging Minister of Environment the story for the next six months may be equally discouraging. As talk of a "governance deficit" becomes all-pervasive, "India inclusive"—another promotional line in Davos—is increasingly being seen as the eyewash for 'India elusive'.

It is not as if those quizzed by the Indian media on the 2G licences and uncompetitive interest rates are unaware of the emerging wrinkles on the face of Bharat Mata. It is an open secret that the mood in Indian business circles is distinctly downbeat. They know that the 'India story' is meandering.

Yet, Davos 2011 has an India story, but a hidden one. On the face of it the CII is putting on a brave face, hosting the 'India adda'(which, incidentally, in colloquial Bangla, implies a convivial but purposeless interaction) and doggedly selling India as a worthwhile alternative to both China and the troubled West. As a collective, Indian business is doing its patriotic bit. At the level of the corporation, however, its Davos mission is different. The networking of corporate big-wigs is guided by a sharp eye for opportunities outside India, not least, in the West. India Inc is hedging its bets.

The trend is unmistakable. According to a Columbia University study, Indian companies invested more than $75 billion overseas between 2000 and 2010. This included some $14 billion invested by the Tata group in the United Kingdom. Indian companies are now the second largest investors in UK, the third largest in Germany and their investments in Indonesia may touch $15 billion. RBI figures reveal that Indian FDI in British Virgin Islands rose 102 per cent to touch $542 million in 2010; and in the Channel Islands it amounted to $516 million in 2010 against a modest $44 million in 2009. And these are just the 'white', kosher investments.

The reasons why Indian business is exploring alternatives to India are well known. For the past few years, the business environment has become increasingly wayward and unfriendly. From growing infrastructural bottlenecks to red-tape and corruption, the cost of business is becoming too expensive and troublesome. The larger stability needed for sustained growth has been replaced by social tension and political venality. Against these hassles, even the high-cost West seems tempting.

Global capitalism has a sharp antenna. Its stalwarts may leave Davos and its adda with a quirky poser: the future could belong to Indians but does it belong to India?

Sunday Times of India, January 30, 2011


Anonymous said...

Pretty rare & refreshingly bold are such writeups from Indians busting the bloated ego of India.

The following profound observations of Hitler posted by another equally plucky politically incorrect Indian Editor are worth pondering over.

Hitler's words sum up Indian parliament , its members & the tenor of vacuous discussions by several Indian TV anchors , Indian think tank mulishly oblivious to stark realities.

" ‘A year of such quiet observation from within Parliament was sufficient to transform and destroy my former convictions as to the character of this parliamentary institution’


Anonymous said...


Hitler's observations:-

" ‘The intellectual level of the debate was abysmally low ...A turbulent mass of people, all gesticulating and bawling against one another, with a pathetic old man shaking his bell and making frantic efforts to call the House to a sense of dignity, by friendly appeals, exhortations and grave warnings’

‘The aspect that made the most striking impression and made me reflect seriously was the manifest lack of any individual responsibility in the representative body. Parliament passes some act or decree which may have the most devastating consequences, yet nobody can be called to account. Can the principle of responsibility mean anything else than the responsibility of a definite person?’

‘Is it at all possible actually to call to account the leaders of a parliamentary government for any kind of action which originated in the wishes of the whole multitude of members and was carried out under their orders or sanction? Instead of developing constructive ideas and plans, does the business of a statesman consist in the art of making a whole pack of blockheads understand his projects? Is it his business to entreat and coax them so that they will grant him their generous consent? If he does not succeed, shall he purchase that consent for some sort of consideration?

‘Does it really prove that a statesman is incompetent if he should fail to win over a majority of votes to support his policy in an assembly which has been called together as the chance result of an electoral system that is not always honestly administered?

‘Having thus degraded oneself to the level of a political jobber, will a member not feel the itch to ‘play politics’, seeing that the final responsibility will never rest with him personally but with an anonymous mass which can never be called to account? Indeed, no responsibility remains in this parliamentary assembly of empty talkers’

‘The devastating influence of the parliamentary system is that this institution is primarily responsible for the crowded inrush of mediocre people into politics. Confronted by such a phenomenon, a man with real qualities of leadership and talent will refrain ... If someone were to say ‘Gentlemen, I dont know what we are talking about’, such outspoken honesty would not be understood and he would be deemed an honourable ass, rather a spoiler of the game. Here honesty is taken as an index of stupidity. A man of real political ability will refuse to be the beadle for a bevy of footling cacklers. Such a system that demands capacity for bargaining and huckstering will appeal only to small minds and will attract them accordingly’

‘There is a better chance of seeing a camel pass through the eye of a needle than of seeing a really great man ‘discovered’ through an election. So here five hundred persons of less than modest intellectual qualities pass judgement on the most important problems affecting the nation. Measures of momentous importance for the future existence of the State are framed and discussed in an atmosphere more suited to the card-table. Indeed, the latter is a fitting occupation for those gentlemen!’

It is, therefore, not the aim of our modern democratic parliamentary system to bring together an assembly of intelligent and well-informed members. Not at all. The aim rather is to bring together a group of non-entities who are dependent on others for their views and who can be all the more easily led. And by this method alone is it possible for the wire-puller, who exercises the real control, to remain hidden in the dark, so that personally he can never be brought to account?’

Talking Skull said...

Brilliantly articulated!!

India is the first to claim that it first!! A deep and misplaced sense of superiority has overshadowed little progress in the business and commercial infrastructures.

Anonymous said...

Today Indian businessmen are pretending to have suddenly woken up & apprehended this apparition called * corruption * in India. Asininely being feted by the media & people.

That we Indians have taken to read & quote yawns inducing platitudes of Narayana Murthy of Infosys betrays where we stand.

Has he said anything new with his prosaic "lack of commensurate punishment for wrongdoers" yadayada ? Even unlettered bucolic Laloo Yadav provided more pungent zing.

These Tatas , Ambanis , Azim Premjis & Narayana Murthys as well as FICCI Mitras have always been aware of all pervasive well entrenched rot in India.

Thanks to Radiagate , TATAS etc hitherto elevated to demigod status stand split wide open. That the world is not really awestruck by these *great Indian entrepreneurs* has slowly sunk in.

That explains all the self righteous noises being made by these industrialists.

Laughable indeed.. all of a sudden the same Indians are going to take a solemn pledge & abracadabra India starts shining & gets wooed by all :-((

PYRAMID said...

i am totally appalled by this story that you have written on times of india.i am sorry to say that indian story is not losing its plot,it is premature to say that.may be yes its slow.few may try to allow india to sink but finally it wont.we as indians dont have the patience,we come to conclusion very early.
let me say something here,demand for consumption lies only in india,i am not saying about demographic dividend or bonus the young forces taking up jobs in IT and other predominant fields,they will look for quality products and not cheap that income levels are rising,purchasing power will eventually go up in two decades from now.we would be getting more swanky malls,airports of highest standards by then.we opened up late so it is costing us so much,there is definitely progress but at a moderate level.this progress will be robust in 2040 for sure.when TV channels vying for TRP,they would be forced to go to the that people are slowly realising the power of themeselves will start demanding more by that time.TATA was forced to compete with Innova so they bought ARIA,China is doing good because they started reforming 15 years before us.

when so many people are coming out of good matriculation schools,good colleges.they will start demanding good career options and the Government would be forced as some are really doing not at a robust level.if future belongs to indians then it belongs to india as well.the people who were born after mid 70's are at the advantageous position.the new breed of people who belong to 90's are the most fortunate in this participation.i have a strong beleif that they will ensure that india story not to be lost.
proving up with correct data's will take a long time.may be three decades from now you might withdraw whatever you have said.