Atanu Dey On India's Development

Shifting Focus from Bharat to India

Thomas Friedman is a one-man factory churning out outsourcing stories by the dozens. He asks and answers the question below in his latest column.


How did India, in 15 years, go from being a synonym for massive poverty to the brainy country that is going to
take all our best jobs? Answer: good timing, hard work, talent and luck.

I would have asked a slightly different question:

How did India, in 15 years, go from being perceived as a country of massive poverty to being perceived as the brainy country that is going to take all our best jobs? Answer: Spin, racist zenophobia, and ignorance.

Let’s take the last one: ignorance. People are generally ignorant of the fact that there are two distinct Indias. Sharad Joshi distinguised them by calling the urban, rich, educated one India and the rural, poor, uneducated one Bharat. I will borrow that nomenclature. India is small, say about 100 million people at most. India has programmers and BPO call centers and cars and Baristas and McDonalds. Indians get educated at IITs and IIMs and travel abroad and talk to each other in Hindi sentences such as, “mera sleep bahut disturbed ho raha hai these days.”

In contrast to that, Bharat is a huge country of about 900 million, most of whom live in rural areas. They are largely illiterate, poor, have little education, don’t speak in English, do manual labor in farms, wouldn’t know what to do with a computer even if one came and bit them on their skinny behinds, have no illusions about anything shining and are generally ignorant about feeling good.

Ignorance about the existence of Bharat is widespread in India. Examine any magazine published in India and you would learn that the most pressing problems in India include what to do about a waist-line, which car to buy, where the hottest shopping spots are in the world, which movie star is sleeping with whom, and how India is shining.

How foreigners perceive India depends on what they have been fed by the news media. Sometimes the news media concentrates on Bharat and the focus is therefore on poverty and hunger. Then for some reason, Bharat is ignored and India comes into the limelight. The focus is then on the IT industry and all BPO and call center and job loss to brainy Indians. The reality is pretty much what it was before.

The other two factors — spin and racist zenophobia — I may take up later or leave it as an exercise for the interested reader.

  • http://opinion.paifamily.com Nitin

    I agree with Atanu’s point of there being several Indias.

    India ended up getting branded for what you term as being Sharad Joshi’s Bharat. With that kind of perception, it would be impossible for Bharat to ever develop into ‘India’. The country would have become a target for Oxfam, MSF and other charities; who no doubt do a great job of alleviating pain and suffering but effectively apply several overlapping band-aids over an ever widening wound.

    Instead, the new India Shining (for the want of a better word) brand puts out a different image, a fast developing India that can help develop its Bharatiya countrymen. I’d draw a lesson from China – the eastern sea board was allowed to develop first; with the hope that progress will diffuse to the interior.

    I dont deny that a large majority of Indians live in a different world – and not everyone’s India is shining equally. Much needs to be done to spread (rather than diffuse) the prosperity to these people, but that should not holding back the India that is shining.

  • http://uspeed.blogspot.com sudeep

    I disagree with the nomenclature of bharat and India, IMO its the urban, sophesticated Bharat thats shining, and socialist, beurocratic India thats stagnating. :-P

    But minor quibbles apart, I have felt this sense of unease more than once, that in all the media hype and feel good, is the poor chap with the skinny donkey being left behind ? Bharat loosing its connections with its poor cousin India, is a scary prospect.

    I can agree that more cars, cheap (by what standards ?) cellphones, consumer goods etc do not translate to a shine, for Bharat or India. These things may have a “trickle down” effect, but it shall not generate a massive leap forward in living standards. As a self professed Bharatiya, I really do not know anything about the badlands of Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, eastern UP etc. How would one get any news thats without any ideological bias from these parts of the country ?

  • http://uspeed.blogspot.com sudeep

    India wud shine when

    1) Every child has access to primary education
    2) Every child has access to primary health care
    3) Micro Credit schemes are available to farmers and small scale entreprenuers.
    4) Every one has access to information
    5) Transportaion and travel across the country becomes cheap, affordable, and comfortable.

    If substantial progress has been made in the past few years in the above fields, I would say that India/Bharat is indeed on its way to shine.

  • http://www.cs.arizona.edu/~bprasad Prasad Boddupalli

    However Atanu, Thomas Friedman’s arguments are not any shallower than those who are shouting from the rooftops that the american economy is bottoming out due to outsourcing. Just as the India Shining campaign is taking focus off the pressing problems, all the media blitz about sourcing is taking focus off the real issue, which is “unsustainable levels of living”. Those migrated jobs may come back if those who cannot cruise in anything but any SUV will be happy with a chevy cavalier.

  • Bharat

    strangely enough i think all this media hype and shining whining really is less impactful at grass roots level, where reality is so harsh that all the shining is not even given a first glance. (jab paani hi nahi hai tab washing machine ka ad kya samajh mein ayega??) Whenever the grass roots have voted for change…it has happened only when they felt it will change their ground reality…case example Digvijay’s second term as CM in MP. He made a lot of in roads with rural MP with some innovative social programs and empowering communities under the 73/74th amendments. Every media pundit wrote him off…but he came back, stronger. So as long as ‘Bhaarat’ is motivated enough ( and not coerced…Bihar) to vote, they do get their say. Unfortunately the politicians forget them as they get blinded by the shining flash of the urban,successful few.

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  • sumit dudeja

    i totally agree with writers point of view as in the hoard of becoming a developed nation by liberalisation,globalisation and privatisation(lpg),we hv 4got abt the rural india (bharat)people there still endevour for the basics ,by just opening malls and building flyovers doesnt mean that we have become a developed nation .plz send me your views at sumit_i_dudeja@yahoo.co.in