The myth of “myth of new India”

July 8, 2006

The title isnt a typo, but an intentional play of words.

Pankaj Mishra, of whom I had no idea till now, (because I dont read much.. the only books that interest me are Yellowpages, Coupon books, and mags) wrote an article for NYTimes titled “the myth of new India”. Here is a 1 page version of the same at IHT. It was a good read, though the tone was overtly pessimistic. He did present some facts, but like a good businessman would present the numbers, those were lacking perspectives and were “skewed”.

So, here is my take. Speaking of opinion, I dont deny Pankaj’s right to be a critic, or to have his side of the “happening” in India from not being read.. but there are two things: facts and plans. Facts are present for everyone to be interpreted, and plans are for those who are out in the field realising trying their best to realise the future envisioned by the average Indian citizen. And there are the third kind, me, him and “others/society”, who are currently yapping than contributing (reg. me: due to some reasons, hence give benefit of doubt, please?).

This was an Indian who commented at Slashdot on the article:

I’m from India. I know the truth of what’s happening here by virtue of the fact that I live here. And the truth is, my country will never become a developed nation. The population has gone to a point where even if you try to curb it, it’ll have a steady growth. It’s standing at 1.2billion now and even a sharp decrease in the birth rate will still mean that the population cannot be curbed. ’cause 1.2 billion, friends, is a _lot_. The only ones who think India will become a developed nation[some even people a super power, heh] are loyally blind Indians and foreigners fooled by statistics of India’s IT growth. We lack basic amenities lack drinking water in almost every region of even the posh areas. The air is polluted, the condition of the roads is pathetic in many place. We can’t even meet our basic needs. 25% of the population lives below the poverty line; 25% of the population is unemployed. That’s 250 million. More than the population of 90% of the countries in the world. It’ll only increase. The percentage might go down eventually, but the number will still increase. We Indians are mostly deluded. We do have brain power, the educational system here is rigorous, but it’s more about just memorizing things and learning them rather than understand the concept thereof. We will never become a super power.

If it werent for the a few sentences, I would have been more.. ahem lemme say “irritated” on reading his view. And this link says unemployment isnt 25% but 10%.

Pankaj says

It was not so long ago that India appeared in the American press as a poor, backward and often violent nation, saddled with an inefficient bureaucracy and, though officially nonaligned, friendly to the Soviet Union. Suddenly the country seems to be not only a “roaring capitalist success story” but also, according to Foreign Affairs, an “emerging strategic partner of the United States.”

So, that is scary? and this new change is not acceptable? or is he skeptical of the development? Maybe the western world is out there to use India? damn those people! <sarcasm>

Here is a counter-criticism of the points raised by Pankaj, at Slashdot by a sensible person:

——–

“stock market, …fell nearly 20 percent in two weeks, wiping out some $2.4 billion … in just four days”

The above calculations implies India’s stock market worth of $9.6 billion. Companies like TCS, Wipro, Infosys, Reliance, ONGC etc. EACH have more market capital than this.

“As if on cue, special reports and covers hailing the rise of India in Time, Foreign Affairs and The Economist have appeared in the last month.”

Looks like author believes that TIME and Economist are ill-informed. And, is it wrong that a 100 year old opinion (or maybe even a 20 year old opinion) has changed for the good? Yes, media hypes the truth, distorts the reality but if one gets to the core, it isnt a sad opera either!

“India is too dependent on Iran for oil “

India buys Iranian oil at market rate. What is wrong with that?

“country’s $728 per capita gross domestic product is just slightly higher than that of sub-Saharan Africa”

How many economists are needed to tell the author to look for PPP instead of GDP? Besides, in 1980s, India’s GDP was below that of GDP of almost all the sub-sahara African nations. So this is not a bad achievement.

“India will not catch up with high-income countries until 2106.”

Ten years ago, the same was said about China by magazines like Economist.

“accounting for one out of every five child deaths worldwide;”

1 out of 5 children are in India. So this is just an average.

“100,000 farmers committed suicide between 1993 and 2003.”

Per person, suicide ratio in India and USA is similar. Also there were more than a million suicide in India in the same period. So 10% of them happened to be farmers is not odd given the fact that farmer population in India is atleast that much.

“The potential for conflict — among castes as well as classes — also grows in urban areas, where India’s cruel social and economic disparities are as evident as its new prosperity.”

First the author has clubbed the two things: classes and castes. Here are my questions:

1. Can you show me any example of caste conflict in urban areas?
2. Can you show me any example of class conflict in urban areas?

“The main reason for this is that India’s economic growth has been largely jobless. Only 1.3 million out of a working population of 400 million are employed in the information technology and business processing industries that make up the so-called new economy.”

Ever heard of trickle down effect? Let me explain. The 1.3 million job in IT sector are high paying jobs. These people employ large number of people in secondary jobs from school teachers to bank officers. Suppose instead of 1.3 million IT jobs, India had 5 million in small sector jobs (Indian govt favorite darling). In this case, most employees would be dependent on govt for welfare in areas of school, medicine etc. Besides these people would contribute more toward all the ills that the author has talked about from infant deaths to malnutrition to suicide.

“But the anti-India insurgency in Kashmir, which has claimed some 80,000 lives in the last decade and a half, and the strength of violent communist militants across India, hint that regular elections may not be enough to contain the frustration and rage of millions of have-nots, or to shield them from the temptations of religious and ideological extremism.”

Again author has clubbed two totally unrelated things. The Kashmir problem is India-Pakistan conflict left over from the partition of India in 40’s. The communists on the other hand are supported by the same like minded people as the author of the article (look at other similar articles and you would find that most of them are communists. E.g. Praful Bidwai).

“Many serious problems confront India. They are unlikely to be solved as long as the wealthy, both inside and outside the country, choose to believe their own complacent myths.”

Who says people are complacent? Absolutely not. Most wealthy people in India and abroad recognize all the problems that India faces and they are working hard toward solving them. Some of them in the process get rich and communist people author of the article feel jealous of their achievement and write such venomous articles.

Unlike China, India still imports more than it exports.

USA
Exports:
$927.5 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.)

Imports:
$1.727 trillion f.o.b. (2005 est.)

Reference.

——–

I have come across, met and interacted with people who are on the other end of the spectrum: being too optimistic. Nothing wrong in being that, but please dont get drifted away from reality.. if that helps in fuelling India to steer better towards development, good, but if that takes you to a dreamworld and resulting in no work but only fluff talk (like some 5 year plans), please read Pankaj’s pessimistic article to get your feet back to earth.

PS: It is quite evident that Pankaj wanted a flamewar, as his article is in stark contrast to what others are projecting India’s future as. And he being an Indian (and a notable author, from what I gather) would get heard more. I pity!

PPS: NYTimes got its money worth by this article. This rant-article got noticed pretty well everywhere.. basically what they wanted, has been achieved. And as regards to the content, huh? sorry? who cares? <sarcasm>

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13 Responses to “The myth of “myth of new India””

  1. Apollo Says:

    excellent analysis. It is very clear what both NYT’s and Pankaj’s intentions were. they wanted attention. infact NYT is so desperate that they printed the entire investigation on tracking of terrorist funds. The NYT has gone rouge.

  2. gorrepati Says:

    Pavan, I actually wanted to post my views on slashdot. But it being late, I would like to post them here instead.
    As you said,
    1. Can you show me any example of caste conflict in urban areas?
    2. Can you show me any example of class conflict in urban areas?

    I can show you wonderful examples to the inverse phenomenon, viz., caste favoritism and class favoritism in cities. Now, everybody knows that caste favoritism exists in all the indigineous Indian software companies.
    Infosys, yep.
    Satyam,yep.
    Wipro, IDK as I dont have any friends frm there.

    As for class favoritism, this exists all over India it and happens all the time. I dont think you haven’t ever seen snobby rich people and their kids, even from your class, looking at you as a second class citizen. Did those snobby kids ever moved with you or your “second class friends”. Rarely.

    In India, by and large, work put in by people is in inverse proportion to their financial state. I mean, rich people(in a much greater extent), generally, in any part of the world work; and they work hard. In India and in most other poor countries, its quite the opposite. Poor people, in addition to their financial difficulties, work very hard to stay alive! And about the middle class, we all know, what we have gone through. Personally, my Intermediate was a night-mare; preparing for eamcet, competition and crap what not. And see what the rich kids do. Justified by their economic stability, they do not, to a large extent, study hard. And, at the end of the day, when you go for a job and make hard earned money, these very same rich kids, invest in real estate, and steal money, from you!. Intelligent?, hardly… Oppurtunistic?, every bit. No wonder economic disparity is growing. For me, personally, they are worse than leeches. How can you show off(even eat), when you dont make money by yourself, but rather, suck the bloody strength out of the economy. To a large extent, the popular point of view in India is, hardwork is what losers do.
    Enough crying over ’em.

    Secondly, I view the growth of India, with a critical eye. No, this is not being hypocritical, but this is the way, I think and adopt for myself, to make reasonable improvement.
    Saying that, I dont think 1.3 million(presumably high-paying) jobs does a lot to the economy. Even with the trickling effect, I dont think so. Ask the 400 million, below the poverty line Indians, if their life improved in the past 10-15 years.
    Spending large amounts of money on foreign made cars, or even cell phones does not add a bit to the economy. Even, investing on land does not add much to the economy. Price of land is in direct proportion to the stock index of that respective country(though it varies by city). I will tell you why.
    Land prices increase because, investing in them may pay you more in terms of businesses they can handle. This is the precise reason why, price of land increases, when a new road is laid nearby. Generally, the land prices represent nothing more than confidence “in the future”.
    When the market crashes, or the country is hit by a depression, the value of land crashes. Contrast it with gold, where you can still trade it without loss. In effect, the hard-earned money invested on the land, does not rescue the country! Where did the money go, you may ask. It is spent dude!
    And Im stressing so much on land because, that is what we aim to buy most. Land and a house.

    Finally, I would like to mention the energy crisis we are about to face in not so distant future. In the next 5-10 years and beyond, price of oil increases, because, 50% of the worlds oil reserves are spent and more energy is to be needed to get the remaining oil(its deeper in the ground and its lot dirty). Since everything that moves requires energy and thus oil, lot of everyday needs become costly. And thus there is a negative offset that increases with the growing economy, not to mention the growing needs of people.
    Finally, what I would say is, they are a lot of scalability issues for India, and NYT article is not way off.

  3. Pavan Says:

    [Ravi] Good points. Let me try to interpret them, and feel free to correct where I am wrong. I might be wrong due to the limited exposure.

    I can show you wonderful examples to the inverse phenomenon, viz., caste favoritism and class favoritism in cities. Now, everybody knows that caste favoritism exists in all the indigineous Indian software companies.
    Infosys, yep.
    Satyam,yep.
    Wipro, IDK as I dont have any friends frm there.

    ok, at what stages are these instances of favoritism shown? at the recruiting level? nope, I dont think so. I guess this caste favoritism that you know of gets mixed with office politics, where the “other guy” (a person from the other caste, whatever it is, but minority at that moment) gets to bear the brunt.

    I agree it was widespread before. My gradpa worked for APSEB which at that time was filled with Tel Brams. This worked in his advantage then. Right from recruiting to promotions was based on “what your caste is” than “who you are”. I agree it is still present, but as office politics, or maybe the factor that decides which project you are in because the PL thinks only a Reddy can communicate well with another Reddy. I still think this culture is waning heavily. The private companies (MNC or Indian, s/w or petrochem) dont show much fav. if credentials are good. But I agree, this behaviour does exist, though in minuscule amounts. Though, I never got to ask anyone personally (Infy and CTS in India/US). Hmmn, next time, let me bring that up.


    and happens all the time. I dont think you haven’t ever seen snobby rich people and their kids, even from your class, looking at you as a second class citizen. Did

    I have seen such behaviour, though luckily not from my classmates (not that they are reading this :D). It exists everywhere Ravi, why did SouthPark make an episode on San Francisco’s snobbish people? because money breeds that superiority feeling everywhere, hence the fault is not just in India. I am pretty sure the same snobbish attitude exists from Armenia to Zaire, I mean the rich-poor divide wala.

    In India, by and large, work put in by people is in inverse proportion to their financial state. I mean,

    I totally agree.. hard work is not important as much is your “background”. Now this b/g could be caste based, money based, power based (atleast here there isnt disparity shown). I guess time is the healer (not intending to sound like a grandpa who has lost hope) but there is time to come when the filtering mechanisms of society gets stricter, and talent gets recognized as in other places.

    Poor people, in addition to their financial difficulties, work very hard to stay alive! And about

    true, survival of the fittest seen in action.. sigh!

    Intelligent?, hardly… Oppurtunistic?, every bit. No wonder economic disparity is growing. For me,

    yup, the rich-poor divide is widening and the middle class, as usual, gets screwed whatever happens. But isnt that what happens in every capitalistic economy? Middle-class is the playground for the extremes (the poor and rich). How diff is USA? btw something I found interesting

    Secondly, I view the growth of India, with a critical eye. No, this is not being hypocritical, but this is the

    same point, nthing wrong in being critical. We have seen things first-hand, hence the skepticism exists. But why drag this to extreme? Frankly, would you not love to invest back in India? For a second, let us consider all your loved ones are here, and you are a shrewd businessman. Would you be as skeptical in investing? Is investing in India an option just because you have family there? We have realised there is lot of untapped resources.

    But opportunities arent plenty for an average tech-savvy person (read middle class) to have a small start-up. Angel investors? Unless your uncle or some close friend knows them. Which isnt the case in USA.. hmmn did I just contradict myself?

    Spending large amounts of money on foreign made cars, or even cell phones does not add a bit to the economy.

    I agree.. but what is the reason? the playground is not leveled. I mean, we are not where US was xx years before. Somebody said, take EU.. multiply the population some 20 times.. thurst all those languages/religions multiplied by 10 times, divide the economy by say 8 times, and squeeze all that into a country, and we have India. I say we started late, and from a very bad state. There is lots to be achieved. People are expecting way too much, and hence we fall below expectations. This is where your skepticism or Pankaj’s pessimistic view helps. 8% growth rate is wow compared to China (it is also ~8% I guess) or other countries, but isnt enough to survive the fierce competition and live upto the expectations of others. We have to remember, when we grow (GDP) by 8%, others arent sitting idle, but have grwon by atleast 4-6%. So there is lotsa catching up to be done, but nevertheless this isnt bad.

    the ground and its lot dirty). Since everything that moves requires energy and thus oil, lot of everyday needs become costly. And thus there is a negative offset that increases with the growing economy, not to mention the growing needs of people.

    Finally, what I would say is, they are a lot of scalability issues for India, and NYT article is not way off.

    I concur. I dont deny the existence of problems. What I am not comfortable accepting is the mammoth scale to which it is artificially escalated/scaled, and putting it in such a way that the bright side gets overshadowed by the aforementioned problems (which to some extent might be stark reality).

    bad? sad? but what we are seeing now is new. That isnt a myth. This “newness” is good.

    Not sure, but if we plot India’s growth, we would see an exponential curve, on seeing the previous achievements/strides. Currently India is having probs trying to adjust itself (coming to terms?) to the new found stardom. Hence, it is all ruccus. Let things settle down, and she would show her prowess. On seeing this growth, we are demanding things too fast. Give her some time.

  4. shark Says:

    A very nice analogy.

    Though it’s all present in front of our eyes that we are no where near to the developed countries and yes! it will take us ages to get there!

    But so what? We are definitely trying to work towards it. Who could imagine a Leela Palace would come in Bangalore, and people can actually afford to be in there? – 5 years ago this was unthinkable… hasn’t it changed now?

    We need some strong reforms for us to “drastcially” change. And isn’t it obvious that it’s not so easy given that we fight for anything and everything? When I say “we” it’s YOU and ME included…. It’s WE who have to change the face of the nation and not balme it on caste/class/creed whatever! What is that caste/creed? it’s WE ultimately right?

    This journalist has blissfully written such an artcile.. but what does he do (however small it maybe) to improve the situation? None I am sure! Then what’s the point in ranting!

    Things have surely changed … I am hearing so many stories when people are actually closing shop in the west and returning back to their homeland. Thanks to companies like Infosys, Wipro, TCS… who give the same kind of oppurtunities any other MNC gives.

    Now, this reminds me of an article I read today in the news “http://in.rediff.com/getahead/2006/jul/06pai.htm”.

    More than the news, the comments section really surprised me! How people are bashing Infosys for it’s acheivements! Come on give me a break! Where was India in the face of IT before NRN? Now where is it?
    Agreed that there are some -ves as well.. but who does not have? Can anyone guarantee that 100% emloyees in Microsft are 100% satisfied? Huh?

    This is my people! Instead of appreciating the goodness of somebody they are bent on critising it! Such attitude will definitely not help us in anyway! Wake up people! It’s high time! Be proud of what you are and work towards improvement instead of cribbing about things endlessly!

  5. gorrepati Says:

    I guess this caste favoritism that you know of gets mixed with office politics, where the “other guy” (a person from the other caste, whatever it is, but minority at that moment) gets to bear the brunt.

    Remember Doshi? He was working in Infosys before. He was pissed off with office politics(spec. Tam Brams), came here and made it big here. Also, it is not as simple as you said it, like deciding which project you should be working on. You know, the deciding on technicalities, taking sides during office meetings, your promotions and such.


    SouthPark make an episode on San Francisco’s snobbish people.

    It was not about snobbish people they talked about. It was about smug people, people who act like they are good and everybody else is bad, or by dictionary “irritatingly pleased with oneself”.
    However, the argument that money breeds superiority is
    correct. In America, or how I see it, I can give snobs my middle finger. In India, such behavior would cost my hand perhaps.


    What I am not comfortable accepting is the mammoth scale to which it is artificially escalated/scaled, and putting it in such a way that the bright side gets overshadowed by the aforementioned problems.

    I agree, but walking uphill is not walking downhill. It is still hard. And it pisses me off, when people talk as if it is all walking downhill. But, yes, walking uphill is doable. It is not a vertical wall.

    On sharks comments,

    This journalist has blissfully written such an artcile.. but what does he do (however small it maybe) to improve the situation? None I am sure! Then what’s the point in ranting!

    I agree that he might not help in improving the situation. But discussing the issues, will help the people digest the truth(if that is) and get a better perspective. Never underestimate discussing hard issues, heck I think not doing it is being a coward.


    When I say “we” it’s YOU and ME included…. It’s WE who have to change the face of the nation and not balme it on caste/class/creed whatever! What is that caste/creed? it’s WE ultimately right?

    Its the WE part that is hard. Its a protocol that everyone should agree on, not you, me or just another guy/gal. That does not cut it. Complaining again and again and again about caste/creed issues, discussing them will probably help by making it common knowledge that “discrimination is bad”.


    Now people are bashing Infosys for it’s acheivements! Come on give me a break! Where was India in the face of IT before NRN? Now where is it?

    I respect Infosys because it has helped so many people with their livelihood. I have read the comments there of, and some people claimed that working there was not very exciting. Yep, there always will be unsatisfied employees. Having said that, the work Infosys does is not very exciting, nothing related to computer science and for most of entry level jobs any smart high school student would do.
    Also, India would still be good without “NRN”. I agree he was brilliant, but India was at the right place at the right time. Also, it was not only NRN who had a vision. Many people did.


    Be proud of what you are and work towards improvement instead of cribbing about things endlessly!

    Do not put bull before the cart. It is preferrable to,
    1. Face the hard issues.
    2. Work towards improvement.
    3. And be proud of it.
    in that order.

  6. gorrepati Says:

    Pavan, is there no preview option here?

  7. gorrepati Says:

    Also,

    But isnt that what happens in every capitalistic economy.

    Yep, it happens. And It still takes people 10 years to have a house of their own. Considering that most people would save their income on building a house, you can see, how much money flows into the hands of the upper class. Heck, I feel a donkey with food tied infront of my head, just reachable to my mouth. No matter how far I run or walk, it still is a little far.

  8. shark Says:

    @gorrepati:
    Discussions are fine, as long as somebody (can be anybody) comes out with some action plans. Just in the air discussions are equivalent to not doing anything!

    You have got a very wrong impression about Infosys (guess from one dissatisfied friend of yours). I do not deny that Infy does some low end work also… but that does not mean it does “only” low end work!

    Infy has people doing some really wonderful work.. not only technical, but in building business, processes etc.

    Infact with the low end work, there are LOTS of oppurtunities created for BSc students! Who could not even dream of onsite and stuff like that before this. So Infy is actually creating oppurtunities for non-engineers as well.

    I have lots of my friends in Infosys who are extremely satisfied with what they are doing.

    There is a lot of flexibility in the company, when it comes to changing your project/technology/location.

    But then yes! You need to be in good terms with whom you work for.. that’s true in any company be it desi or non-desi.

    Do you think an american boss will do all the favours for you even if he does not like you? nopes!

    People management is the first thing that we should learn when we enter the job arena.. the better we manage people around, the better we will be rewared and recognized.

    And now, coming to NRN. You are grossly under estimating that man… I know the cause of all this is undue media attention given to him, which makes people sick! But what he has given India, I don’t think anybody can give (atleast not in the near future). He is one man who has really made us proud of what we are!
    Many people might have had the vision… but this man implemented his vision!

    Young man, it’s not easy to make a multi BILLION dollar company in a matter of 25 years! Hats off to him!

    My!My! I am going so much on and on about Infy and NRN…:) Yes! I am impressed!

  9. gorrepati Says:


    Infy has people doing some really wonderful work.. not only technical, but in building business, processes etc.

    Um.. I am an engineer at heart, and these things dont impress me. I can nod my head for your satisfaction, but,
    they sound more like house-keeping to me(Yep, Im heavily biased towards engg..).


    Young man, it’s not easy to make a multi BILLION dollar company in a matter of 25 years! Hats off to him!

    Er..How about:
    Google
    Microsoft
    Intel(35 yrs),but were a multibillion industry long ago..
    Sun
    Yahoo
    AMD(35 yrs)
    Apple
    nVidia
    ATI
    cisco
    Amazon
    ebay
    Dell
    Qualcomm
    Xilinx
    Verisign
    Paypal(Acquired by ebay recently)
    Skype (sold for 3.1 billion $ in 3 years to ebay)
    SAP (35 years)
    EA, Electronic Arts

    These are the ones on top of my head right now. As you can see, I concentrated more on Electronics and computer industry. I would have been mightly impressed, head over heels and all, if any of these companies is Indian, except ebay,dell and amazon.

  10. shark Says:

    @gorrepati:
    Infy is not an engineering company… nopes It’s a service oriented company. If you need fundoo engineering stuff to do.. you always have others to cater to your needs.. why blame Infy for that? Infy was never product development oriented!

    So, you choose what you want to do.. just because that work does not satisfy your needs does not mean that the company itself is bad!

    See, you confessed yourself.. That list does not include Indian companies.. and I am taking about INDIA!

  11. gorrepati Says:

    Okk.. Infosys is an Indian company. But, remind me, what is their main target market; who do they sell software to.

  12. gorrepati Says:


    why blame Infy for that? Infy was never product development oriented!

    Btw, Did I, in any of my posts blame Infy?


    just because that work does not satisfy your needs does not mean that the company itself is bad!

    Its not just my need; Its the need of the country to lead in engineering. Also, big Engg == big Money.

  13. Pavan Says:

    🙂 wow! I surely am missing the action.

    point#1: Ravi is right in the sense we lack R&D centers. The ones in Blore & Hyd are those of MNCs (TI, Google, IBM, MS). India has got the label and is “BPO stricken”.. most of the planning and design is done in US, it is the implementation (nevertheless good) that gets to India. We are (as others perceive us) large scale deployment centers with millions of coding monekys (with due respect to both of you, both being in CS)

    I was checking eweek’s article on satisfaction levels of outsourcing to India.. and it was not good. Right now, monetary reasons seem to be the driving force. It is good in getting us noticed on the globe (other than our spices), but bad for us in the long run.

    point#2: I would like to bring our attention to some silent heroes who havent got any attention because they arent involved in the hot IT market: for instance Reliance Petrochem, Bharti, TATA etc. but.. but yes we do lack in creativity.. in the sense in getting that something extra that others havent implemented.. we are the followers not the torch bearers. We take the proven path.

    ..In India, such behavior would cost my hand perhaps…
    he he, true

    and Ravi, the SP episode thingie was typo.. 🙂 but the gist remains the same.

    PS: have you checked the “Family Guy”?


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