Of course India is shining. Just ask the guy who is raking in the stuff from his BPO company. Or ask the those who are buying all the electronic gizmos from the mega stores in the mega cities. India, defined strictly as those people at the top of the heap who make a shining living because the supply of people at the bottom of the heap is so abundant that they work for next to nothing, is shining and how.
I would be the last person to argue against the statement that India is shining for about 2% of India’s population. I am thrilled that multinational corporations have an ‘India strategy’ and that not a single day passes without publications such as the NYTimes running some articles on India. I am ecstatic that so many millions in India (and I estimate about 10 million) are feeling so good.
I don’t even believe that this feel-good-India-shining thing is new at all. I remember way back in early 1990s having a conversation with a friend who had recently returned to the US from a holiday in India. How goes it back home in India, I asked. He was ecstatic. He said that things could not be better. Everyone he knew had a TV and VCR. India was prosperous beyond imagining, he added. Everyone had a car and washing machines and telephones.
Everyone he knew was doing fabulously and therefore India was shining so hard that he had to wear dark glasses — and that was in the early 1990s.
I suspect that India has always been shining. If you missed the ad campaigns in the past, it was because the advertising companies weren’t shining then. Now that a few hundred crores have been pushed their way, the advertising industry is effulgent and we see shining ads in glossy magazines.
India has always been shining for some elite group or the other. If you neglect the hopeless 970,000,000 and just concentrate on the 30 to 40 million who have it all — from PCs to cars to foreign vacations — India is shining like a crazy diamond.
The boat, however, is leaking in a big way. Even as the dancers prepare to tango and the deck hands are busy rearranging the deck chairs, the water is pouring in ever faster. BPO and call centers notwithstanding, when you see 120,000 people show up to apply for 40 job openings, you know that sooner rather than later, it is going to sink. When you hear that 40% of India’s children under the age of 5 are malnourished, you know that the future is bleak. When you know that the vast majority of Indians don’t have high school diplomas, you also know that in the coming age of a global knowledge economy, Indians will not be able to compete against literate nations.
So one may ask, what is wrong in believing that India is shining even if it is not shining for a majority of Indians. I think it is this: That we may believe that all is hunky-dory and neglect addressing the hard issues which would spell doom for the country.
Irrational exuberance is the term some used when the Nasdaq and the DJIA were soaring and the internet bubble was growing ever bigger. Animal spirits was what Keynes conjectured was behind the boom-bust cycles that economies suffer from. Irrational exuberance and animal spirits are great in context — such as at a birthday party where the spirits are flowing freely and everyone at the party is having a great time. But in the larger everyday world of trying to make a living, irrational exuberance is plain simple asking for a disaster to happen.
Whom that the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. It is collective madness to believe that India is shining.