Sunday, July 09, 2006

Butter Chicken in Ludhiana with 1 Peg Patiala

India is everywhere these days. Particularly on magazine covers. Outside India, India has just started shining. But Pankaj Mishra begs to differ. In his op-ed in NYT titled “The Myth of the New India”, Pankaj Mishra shatters the ‘myths’ surrounding the New Shining India.
He starts of by listing some of the success stories, most of them already repeated countless times in media – both national and international. New found friendship with United States, Software and BPO boom, booming metros with swanky shopping malls. As one would have guessed, these are just setting up the premise for the myth-busting to start.

Mishra argues that Lakshmi Mittal’s success is as Indian as Sergey Brin’s(Russian-born Co-Founder of Google) success is Russian. Mishra conveniently ignores(do you think he didn’t know) the fact that Mittal completed his education in India and moved on to international scene only after starting his career in India whereas Sergey Brin, though born in Russia, grew up in United States and is pretty much an American.

Mishra further enlightens that India is not a capitalist success story because communist parties won state elections and the stock market came tumbling in last two weeks. Firstly, India is not a *capitalist* economy. Even if it is(he is quoting from Foreign Affairs), does voting trends in a few states (highly prone to anti-incumbent voting pattern) indicate the economic system of the country? And since when did a fall in stock market become an indicator of failed capitalism?

Mishra would also like us to believe that the nuclear co-operation deal between US and India is the result of “encouragement” from “powerful lobby of rich Indian-Americans who seek to expand their political influence within both their home and adopted countries”. Had this been a TV show instead of Op-Ed, we could have had laugh-tracks in the background.

This one had me in splits.

“Despite a recent reduction in poverty levels, nearly 380 million Indians still live on less than a dollar a day.”

I can picture an average New Yorker reading this article and exclaiming, “Less than a dollar a day! Geez!”. I got the link to this NYT article from SlashDot. In the comments section there, readers have listed the things you can buy with a dollar in India. If I were Pankaj Mishra, right now I would be rushing to the restroom to clean the egg on my face.

Then he goes on to quote some statistics like poor per capita GDP, HDI ranking, malnutrition, infant mortality rate and poor state of primary education. Same old vicious cycle which we all remember from our 8th standard social studies essays.

“Malnutrition affects half of all children in India, and there is little sign that they are being helped by the country's market reforms, which have focused on creating private wealth rather than expanding access to health care and education.”

“Despite the country's growing economy, 2.5 million Indian children die annually”

Economic progress has no meaning if it doesn’t improve the lives of citizens at all levels. But by saying that half of the country’s children are malnourished in spite of economic reforms is twisted statistics and pessimistic. What was the IMR and level of malnutrition before economic reforms? How much has it changed in the last ten years? Here’s a very impressive detailed study which documents exactly that. The study concludes that there is vast improvement though there’s a long way to go.

Mishra’s myth-busting journey is vast and highly imaginative.

“Feeding on the resentment of those left behind by the urban-oriented economic growth, communist insurgencies (unrelated to India's parliamentary communist parties) have erupted in some of the most populous and poorest parts of north and central India.”

So economic liberalization of the 90s resulted in naxalism in 1967. Patiala peg at work here, I guess.

“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.”

Didn’t the “so-called new economy” ring a bell with Mr Mishra? Hello…it’s a new economy. And what about the indirect employments and businesses that the IT boom has generated? As per NASSCOM projections, the next four years will see 2.3 million more direct jobs and 6.5 million indirect jobs created in the IT sector.

Clearly Mishra sees the glass as half-empty, or rather likes others(western world) to believe so.

There is no denying of the fact that our problem are far from over. Illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and abysmal living standards have always been there and are still there. But amidst all this, some things are changing. Growing up, we used to hear that one day India will become a super power like USA. None of us knew how. But it was a school-boyish dream we all dreamt. Now we are slowing moving towards the realization of that dream. We can sense the change. The world media is abound with stories of the new shining India, the second fastest growing economy, success stories of IT sector and Indian entrepreneurs. In the middle of all this, when an Indian writer/journo comes up and enlightens the world that all these are myths and states the obvious failures and short-comings of our country, it sounds sadist and unpatriotic.

To overcome this hang-over I suggest you Good News India.

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