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%.
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.
$927.5 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.)
$1.727 trillion f.o.b. (2005 est.)
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>