There will always be globalisers and anti-globalisers as long as there is an unequal world.

Eric Hobsbawm concludes his survey of the end do Communism in these following words: “We do not know where we are going. We only know that history has brought us to this point. However, if humanity is to have a recognisable future, it cannot be by prolonging the past or the present. If we try to build the third millennium, on that basis we shall fail. And the price of failure, that is to say, the alternative to a changed society, is darkness” (The Age of Extremes, page 584).
 
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 be too promised investments of a billion dollars. Both these world’s leading technology companies have big India operations, both have their sites almost everyday! So, I am reminded everyday, the power of the globalization process of in India! India is at the very centre of the Globalization process, India is creating lot of new wealth in IT. All Indians are now globalizing 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.

Globalization 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? 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 globalization has hit the India economy at the right time, there is as a consequence of the globalization 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 globalization so far, in my view, is how 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 globalization 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 a 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 dare 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 globalization process must reach the doors of all schools and colleges and universities in the country. Gloablisation 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 globalization 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 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 globalization) 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 globalization 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, 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 pre-American tilt as initiated by the BJP led NDA predecessor government. India’s foreign policy must ensure India’s own interests as well as 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 aware 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 Alluvial says about our economic strengths and our political stability. Unfortunately, they are not politically legitimate people. Our political establishment, 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 hardily 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.

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, do 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 still 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 can’t of as we have done the long nineteenth century” (The Age of Extremes, page 584). 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 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, socials mobility to move out and take u 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 capabilities 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 can’t 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 are now the inspirational goal of every middle class family. The middle classes themselves are swelling in its ranks. Indian caste-ridden society is now getting middle-classiest!

Urbanization at a relentless pace! Urbanization 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 society other support services.

Knowledge creation and Knowledge
         
Recently, there was a write-up in the Times Higher Education Supplement (London) on Indian Government’s Knowledge Commission of which Sam Pitroda is the chirman. In which Sam Pitroda, the telecom czar, talks rather expansively about his own ideas of how he intends to go about the question of creating knowledge and knowledge society, it is now widely said that India’s advantages is its human resources. Yet, it is found that only 25 per cent of our engineers and even less percentage of the general graduates are employable. McKinsey report projects a shortage of some 5 million graduates out of the total employment potential of 2.3 million graduates by 2010.

One of the criticisms of Indian Education is that our 300 odd universities are out of date by the current and future needs of the knowledge economy. Also, Pitroda jokes about one university professor who told him about his using the same “yellwing” lectures notes for the last 20 years! Yes, our university textbooks, scope of knowledge in many subjects didn’t change in tune with the changes in these many knowledge fields. In particular our education is more routine, more ritual and not innovative, creative and analytical skills or problem solving skills.

The subject had been debated often. Also our Bas and MAs are not in more liberal arts, no fancy for knowledge for knowledge sake, only for immediate jobs. So, there is only demand for engineering, doctors and accountants etc. This is in fact the very crucial core of the education goals. No country, no culture can hope to maintain its identity unless it cultivates its culture-specific knowledge, arts and music and humanities education. But unfortunately, even the knowledge commission, I am afraid, won’t be able to tackle these sensitive issues. For the real radicalization of our education aspirations we have to have an idea of how our larger society, its ethos, its catholicity of mind are cultivated by renaissance-type social tolerance and complete freedom to pursue knowledge for knowledge sake.
 
These are thoughtful questions and they need thoughtful answers. Potential Nobel Prize winners we have to foster by allotting generous funds for fundamental research as well as for pursuing literary and artistic pursuits. Poetry, literature, publishing industry all have to thrive. A truly liberal society we have to promote. All these are possible only
When even politics becomes less corrupt and corrosive….all sensitive questions!

Billionaires vs. Paupers in India!

What India should be doing? 
   
A recent survey that puts the new Indian millionaires in India at 311 persons, Indian billionaires 27! I don’t know how this is figure is arrived at.  But assuming this figure comprises the new IT and BT (biotech) billionaires like Narayanamurthy of Infosys., Azim Premji of Wipro and Ms. Kiron Majumdar of Biocon, the biotech industry’s new star. Then three are the old industry names like the Andani brothers and others.

There are everyday news items and analyses about how the economic boom, as measured by the stock market indices rising and crossing the many new heights. A latest such report puts Wipro as the largest company in India, at Rs. 29,585 crores in terms of market capaitalisation, the second company is Reliance (Rs. 27,321 crores) and the third is Tatas (Rs. 19,807 crores) and so on. Among the new companies to edge out the old big businesses, are the technological companies like Bharti telecom which is now in the top ten leagues among the Indian companies.

Anyway, the new number of billionaires’ collective net wealth is put at Rs. 3.64 trillion. What is much more striking news is that this net wealth of the Indian billionaires is growing at the incredible rate of 71 per cent from last year! Last year it was a mere Rs. 2.13 trillion. So this new wealth club has added another 133 persons in just one year time! A year ago, they were mere millionaires. What this type of surveys routinely does or fails to do is the fact these rich are contrasted with the poor.

There is a rising middle class, 16.4 million urban and 15.6 million rural middle classes, that propel the rich and also contributes too much of the social transformation that impacts the poor, both the rural and urban poor for positive benefits, be it access to education, health and in employment opportunities. As a senior government official is quoted to have said (in Friedman’s book)” where people have hope you have the middleclass. And also as rightly said by Friedman,” stable middle classes around the world is crucial to geopolitical stability, middle classes is state of mind, not a state income”.

No doubt, that is why the much traveled, much knowledgeable New York Times Correspondent and international observer par excellence Tomas Friedman (the author of the latest best seller ”The World is Flat, A brief history of the globalized world in the 21st century”) says so openly that poverty had been eliminated in India and China for the first time in history in the last 20 years. Such a blunt and even an American style bland statement is much needed in today’s world. We are living in a world which is witnessing, in a positive way, an unprecedented economic growth everywhere in the developed countries and there is a sudden growth economic wealth in most countries.

What is new about the current globalization is the unexpected development that there has been much local empowerment of the small startups, the new micro multinationals, as Friedman calls them. In Bangalore alone has this new phenomenon of startups popping out from every nook and comer, almost jostling for spaces side by side the giants like IBM, Microsoft, Dell and who else you have in the already crowded space of Bangalore.

While India is changing, changing for the better, there is no place for rest while the rest of the world outside is seething with terrorist threats, violent resistance to occupied forces as in Iraq and when America itself is desperate to find an honorable exit. And terrorism itself is not abating, rather it is no the rise and new countries and brought into the radar of American supervision and the new countries can give rise to new challenges. Nuclear proliferation, along with the dangers of new nuclear powers, as Iran, can give rise to new uncertainty to the international community.

Eric Hobsbawm concludes his survey of the end of Communism in these following words: “We do not know where we are going ‘We only know that history has brought us to this point. However, if humanity is to have a recognizable future, it cannot be by prolonging the past or the present. If we try building the third millennium, on that basis we shall fail. And the price of failure, that is to say, the alternative to a changed society, is darkness” (The Age of Extremes, page 584). I thought the historian will give us some guide to the future. But they don’t give. Then who else give a roadmap to the future?

Economists? Not likely at all. As Eric Hibsbawam himself had noted in another place of the book, there is no guarantee that great economists, great economic schools, as existed in Vienna, before the Second World War or even in Scandinavia or for that matter now in the USA, have any clue how the societies and economies grow and prosper. Certinly, Japan and South Korea didn’t have economists of any reputation, known outside its shores, Yet, these two countries beat in economics prosperity, unlike the most sophisticated economists in the West and yet their countries not distinguished themselves on comparative scale.

This is more striking in the case of India. India’s It revolution no one predicted, not the government economists or planners. Why, even the downfall and disintegration of Communism was not predicted. The new century can’t repeat the same mistakes that made the last century one of the bloodiest in human history. The new century gives lots of technological tools to do well and prevent the foolish adventures. One hopes Bush in his second term, learns some useful lessons. Let us hope the international community, at least among those aspiring for a place on the Security Council, come up with new inputs for a revamped UN body that becomes the rallying point for international consensus.

Globalisation and environment

Not long ago in Montreal there was this meet of 150 countries to start formal talks on mandatory reductions in green house gas emissions beyond 2012. The US refused to join the talks! Global warming is now a real threat. But the world’s biggest economy, the biggest polluter, refuses to follow any self restraint. When the US finally agreed for a watered down resolution, even this partial victory was greeted by environment activists who cheered and some even cried. What is the sensitivity of the Indian people to climate change and environment degradation? What is the sensitivity of our political class, political leaders?

Globalisation, Yes, Americanisation, no!

Protecting local culture acquires a new urgency

There is a close link with globalization and its impact on national cultures. First, globalization is not Americanisation. After the fall of Communism, America emerged as the sole superpower. So, American military, economic and cultural power is dominating and even to some extent destroying national cultures and ethos and ways of life. This is a real threat. This is not realized by the Americans, policy makers and thinkers. Hollywood films and Yankee culture, fast food and even the way of dress, behavior and speech manners are adopted blindly by educated Indians after short visits to American shores for jobs etc. This is now realized and Unesco recently had come out with a warning and a policy to protect national cultures, cinema, media etc.

 

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