Are we optimists or pessimists?

The Microsoft chairman, Bill Gates, was in India for four days, his fourth visit to India and he spoke glowingly about India looking futuristic with enormous human skills. The last 10 years had been the best so far in Indian history. Microsoft will invest 1.7 billion dollars in the next few years, also the Gates Foundation has committed huge sums for combating India’s health problems.

Not long before the Intel chief was here and he too promised investments of a billion dollars. Both these world’s leading technology companies have big India operations,both have their operations side by side in Bangalore. I pass through their sites almost everyday! So, I am reminded everyday, the power of the globalisation process on in India!

India is at the very centre of the Globalisation process, India is creating lot of new wealth in IT. All Indians are now globalising Indians, right?

Yet, there are issues to be understood and sorted out by thinkers and leaders. What would be like the new century? Are we all optimists or pessimists? There are enough lessons for educators and the intelligent public to debate and reach a broad consensus.

Globalisation is the new buzzword. In fact, it is not so new as such. Globalization is now with us for quite sometime. Say for a decade or so. Though globalization has meant many things to many men, it is generally understood as a new development, the world had suddenly become a global village or as Thomas Friedman says the world had become flat. Why flat? The new technologies, starting from the personal computers in 1981,there has been a series of exciting developments, the World Wide Web, e-mail and now Internet had all made the IT revolution a reality for everybody on this planet. The mobile revolution is the latest one that is gripping the minds and the attention of everyone.

All this has been known for the new generation IT entrepreneurs who have suddenly become millionaires and billionaires.
In India there is much that is positive, yes, the globalisation has hit the Indian economy at the right time, there is as a consequence of the globalisation and the coming of the IT revolution a new confidence, a new hope to succeed in this competitive world. The emergence of the new millionaires and billionaires out of the common pool of educated lower middle class of engineers and ambitious people is a sure Indian success story today. The outsourcing boom is the single most important paradigm shift as a whole host of forces, technological forces and also the world becoming a smaller place thanks to these new technologies and the Internet and the Internet based new economy and the new companies like Google had made life easy for everybody.

What is written about globalisation so far, in my view, is how the new technologies had created the new generation companies in the IT and ITEs enabled segment and the latest BPO companies. In fact, one of the positive spin offs of globalisation is the emergence of the new startups, the independent small entrepreneurs side by side with the global giants. Those outside Bangalore may be interested to know that in a small space of few hundred meters of each other, there is a technological hub in the Indian Silicon Valley. Just behind the Bangalore airport, sits the global giants, IBM, Microsoft and Dell along with Intel, Reuters and Thomas Friedman starts his book (The World is Flat, A brief history of the globalized world in the 21st century) in an dramatic manner. When he goes to play at the KGA Golf Club, just outside the airport premises, his colleagues tell him: “Aim at either the IBM or Microsoft”! Yes, these giants just pop off just before your eyes! What is not said so dramatically is the fact that as there are these MNC giants, there are equally so many unassuming small startups dotted all over the place alongside these very same premises. Some of them are one-room, one man shows. But their reach is global! Yes, this is the unsaid and even unsung(not sufficiently enough to reach the ears and eyes of the common people outside the copy existence of the Indian Silicon Valley.

I feel the message of the new gains from the globalisation process must reach the doors of all schools and colleges and universities in the country. Globalisation might have occurred owing to a clutch of new technologies. But how many schools and colleges or the teachers know what these new technologies are? It is time the schools and colleges and universities debate these new technologies. A crash course is needed for every Indian. More so for our IT-illiterate politicians! It is the politicians and economists and much of our policy making establishment must know the many dimensions of the globalisation process.

What is disturbing and even paining is the fact that the Indian mindset is still caught up in old categories of thinking. We contrast the new billionaires along with the extreme poverty at the other end. Yes, we have 311 billionaires today. But then average monthly per capita income of farm house holds is Rs.503 in 2003.Why even Friedman, in the above mentioned book points out to the World Bank report in 1990 that there were roughly 375 million people in China living on less than one dollar a day. So likewise, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan too had 462 million living on less than a dollar a day. But what is not pointed out in India by our media and also by our spokesmen for the government, is the fact that this vast pool of poverty is getting wiped out! Yes, these vast numbers are getting reduced faster. By 2001 Indian poor would get reduced to significantly. By now, that is by 2005 this number might further get reduced. Friedman is the first American observer to say so bluntly, without any prejudice whatever that in the last 10 years poverty in India and China had been reduced (thanks to globalisation) very significantly for the first time in their histories!

This is the significant message for everybody. This message must percolate down to the man on the street.
It is also true that we need enlightened political leadership to understand the full implications of the technology-driven globalisation and what it can do for people, for the poor and we need political leadership to show vision and determination to push policies to bring about equal development of all segments of people. The top, the middle and the bottom segments of people. Says Friedman: “The presence in a society of leaders with the vision to see what needs to be done in terms of development and the willingness to push for change”. Where are our leaders with vision? The scene in Delhi, as seen from the distance of Bangalore, appears to me to be one of unconcern or even lack of any grasp of the new possibilities for innovative policies to take the reach of the new technologies to the grass roots. That vision is missing. The New Delhi operators all seem to me to be of pre-IT age!

There is also the new emerging middle class that against triggers much hope for further advancement. And with all these developments and also a stable political environment, why then India is home for the largest number of poor and the illiterates?

Democracy had been a success in India but this democracy is only an outward symbol and inside the polity there are so many aberrations. Corruption at the top levels of politics and administration, the recurring political corruption scandals, the latest being the oil-for-food programme in which the Congress party is mentioned significantly along with its foreign minister. Indian democracy is, while being a success, is also a failure when it comes to norms of governance. Even the current incumbent Prime Minister is a nominated figure, not politically elected, so his authority doesn’t carry the needed legitimacy. So, there is no spontaneous expression of political beliefs and convictions in much of what the government says at various forums. Even our foreign policy tilts are no tilts, this government follows the pro-American tilt as initiated by the BJP led NDA predecessor government. India’s foreign policy must ensure India’s own interests as well as the interests of the international community. So, what is India’s contribution by way of new ideas in international diplomacy? Not much. Even when France, Germany and Russia took a neutral and more a moral stand on US intervention in Iraq, India didn’t match its moral rhetoric with any substantial ideas or new insights.

Inside India there is a pervasive unconcern, even ignorance both at the elite and the popular level about what gives India its strengths and what are the limitations to India’s present stability in economic and political sphere. So, there is so much of an unreality in much of what our leaders, even such supposed experts like the Prime Minister and the Deputy Planning Commission chief Ahluwalia say about our economic strengths and our political stability. Unfortunately, they are not politically legitimate people. Our political establishment, both the ruling party as well as the leading Opposition parties and their genuine leaders are also not known for their core competencies. There is no genuine political process in our polity that could be taken as a reliable indicator of crucial economic and political questions. Crucial economic and political policy perspectives.

India being still a largely illiterate country, with wide economic disparities and the society and polity marked by diverse social and cultural divisions, it is hardly possible to speak of more fundamental ideological or even higher political philosophical questions. We can quote the French thinker Montesquieu:” We are blind to our own society until we have been enriched by another’s vision”. This quote I took from Ville pin’s latest volume” Toward a New World” where he pleads for an ethical basis for international order that would be based on rule of law and through international agency like the UN in resolving international conflicts. Where are we in India? We are almost unrecognizable for the simple reason our foreign policy is almost a mere shadow of what the American dictates are in taking major positions on major issues. Even we, Indians, are not even have the courage to speak out, articulate our many positions in our own way, in consonance without non-alignment history and taking a more humanitarian stands on many issues like fighting poverty in Africa and AIDS etc. We don’t have in our political establishment such highly qualified ministers, foreign ministers like the current French Prime Minister, Dominic de Ville pin, who was previously the foreign minister and who became known in the international circles for his principled opposition to American intervention in Iraq. Our own foreign minister, Mr. Natwar Singh, had many claims for a knowledgeable foreign minister.

But unfortunately he fell victim to the Iraq oil-for-food programme scandal which also implicates the Congress party. The point is that we in India should have to create enough space for many talents to come to the forefront. Unfortunately, Indian political culture is till not mature enough to create this political environment.We have to bring back the old Nehruvian ambience for new ideas and new talents to flourish. In the absence of this environment missing, all we can do is to enquire afresh in the available forum certain questions and raise certain debates about our political stability and our economic strengths in the light of certain historic perspectives. As Eric Hobsbawm says “we cant of as we have done the long nineteenth century or the short twentieth century” (The Age of Extremes, page584). All we have at our disposal is a past we know and the present we don’t know much. But what we can do is to analyse and see what can be our likely future, future options that can be reasonably predicted.

We are now into a world that is totally new. A world that is hearing too much of such words like globalisation, IT revolution, Internet, Google search for anything and everything in our day today needs. Also for the first time in history that we hear a new breed rich, more millionaires and billionaires! There is the global dimension to everything today, from international movement of investment capital to outsourcing of services and the low cost production bases, MNCs in search of low cost countries and India and China competing for a variety of jobs.

In India itself we see so many sudden changes, from mobile revolution to what we should call an aspiration revolution of extraordinary reach. Yes, there is this old style politics in our democracy, much corruption and much caste and other narrow creeds, communal politics and violence and much deceit in average politician. But at the same time, we see there is an entirely new phenomenon, the economic and social changes are so transforming the lives of everyone, young and old, rich and poor, the caste barriers are breaking down when it comes to opportunities, from education choices to jobs, social mobility to move out and take up jobs of one’s preferences.

The rise and growth of the middle class is India’s new face of economic prosperity. Yes, our politics is still caught up with an old mindset. The political parties, more so the Congress party, as the oldest one, still has to talk cautiously in a language that shouldn’t frighten the new entrepreneurial class(the word capitalists is passé) and also the poorer sections. The poorer classes still form the bulk of the vote banks and no political party in a democracy can antagonize the poor who constitute the major vote banks, vote bank politics is one of the dominant features of our democracy. This is a world where democratic societies are growing and yet we are also seeing the old style dictatorships thriving, from Communist China’s own dictatorship to the Muslim world’s own quota of feudal style dictators. In between are many variations, from Russia’s own domestic version of a string Presidency in an elected parliamentary style democracy.

The point is that in today’s world we cant have democracies in the sense of what George Bush wants to bring about in Iraq. Democracies can thrive only in an ideal sort of international order made possible by leading countries. There must be an international consensus on war and peace. Otherwise, we will be prone to having sudden eruptions, eruptions of large scale terrorism and violence and also even undeclared wars and much destruction and loss of lives.
Migration: the great Indian dream today!

India now ranks the first in migration and remittances. Indian remittances come to 22 billion, ahead of China!
Migration to the US shores by the educated and skilled persons, IT engineers, doctors and nurses is now, it seems unstoppable. The high-paying jobs is now the aspirational goal of every middle class family. The middle classes themselves are swelling in its ranks. Indian caste ridden society is now getting middle-classised!
Urbanisation at a relentless pace!

Urbanisation of the once largely rural Indian population is now a fast-paced process of change. Urbanisation itself a social change matrix, is changing the caste and social profile of the Indian society across all classes and castes. The urban Indian landscape today is, yes, we have new skyline. High rise new affluence as well as the sprawling slums. This is the time for celebration, not a time for weeping!

we have to be realistic to appreciate what the urbanization process has been doing for the migrating rural poor.
The high wages for various services, from building and construction labour to domestic help like cooks and drivers, is fast rising and the day is not far off when we see these once menial jobs would become another category of blue collar workers. Among other benefits, the urban poor have, among other things, have access to high-tech medical care, one of the much neglected area in rural India. So too other benefits like access to a variety of urban services like various consumption services including the options to buy on HP two wheelers to various consumer durables like TV, Fridge and various other fancy things. Thus, the urban poor is indirectly benefiting from the new economic boom, brought about by the new economy industries like IT,ITES,BPO besides various other support services.

– V.Isvarmurti

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