I distinctly remember my response to the first question the interviewer asked in my first job interview in the United States. It was back in 1985, and the interviewer was an elderly gentleman of British origin. He asked me why I chose the United States for graduate studies and not the United Kingdom. I was taken aback, and therefore the answer that rushed out of my mouth represented my true feelings. I told him that the United States is far more advanced in technology than the Great Britain. I regretted the answer the moment I said it, but my response represented the thinking of my generation—Indians born in independent India.
Contrast this with the previous generation which grew up in British India. A majority of them, in my opinion, demonstrated a pro-British attitude in their thinking. It is alleged that Jawaharlal Nehru wouldn’t take the United States seriously in world politics until the 1960s. He considered the United States an upstart in the comity of nations.
“Independent” India evolved with these two value systems. While many Asian nations which got independence after the Second World War were making big strides, India lurched from one crisis to another. If I can draw inference from my discussions with my elders, I believe that my previous generation didn’t think that India could provide services like phones and good quality transportation to its citizens. I recall reading an article in the mid 1970s in the Readers’ Digest, which categorically stated that India has no chance of survival because of its socialistic economic policies. “It was trying to run up a fast moving conveyor” were the exact words.
However, we did make it. My generation grew up watching India grow from 400 million to 1.2 billion, from being a net food importer to self-sufficiency in food, from a negligible middle class to a 300 million strong and vibrant middle class of the size of the United States population, with a phenomenal growth in per capita income and living standards. According to the World Bank, the per capita in India was $90 in 1962 and rose to $1,590 in 2015.
We made progress because of a few star performers among an otherwise inefficient and stagnant bureaucracy and mediocre political leadership. But that alone couldn’t have helped. India made progress because of its vibrant democracy. None of the doomsayers could factor this into their prophecies. As a matter of fact, till today, China argues that a western style democracy is not feasible in poor countries.
However, all is not as it should be. Unethical conduct by public officials and administration is the norm in India. Judiciary is practically refusing to reform and therefore regulatory enforcement has suffered immensely. Regulations are openly flouted.
India is defensive in its foreign relations, despite being the victim of a most vicious terrorist campaign by its neighbor. India’s diplomats are used to pursuing risk-averse foreign policy.
India punches way below its weight in the international arena. Indian diplomats are forever shy of projecting India’s greatest achievement in sustaining a democratic form of government to the world. In the last millennium, it seemed that diplomats believed that it was rude to project democracy while so many of India’s friends were not practicing it. They were happy to sacrifice the winning card of diplomacy.
India is at the verge of needing a second independence. There is a sizable India living outside of India now. The oil crisis of the 1970s and the Y2K imbroglio in the 1990s caused two major migrations of Indians to other countries.
Internet and mobile technology connected them with India. Over the years these Indian emigrants have impacted India in many different ways. Indians working abroad sent close to $72 billion home to India in 2015, according to World Bank data. These large remittances are changing the commodities and real estate markets in India. It has also created markets for Indian goods overseas. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this market is the brand Bollywood, a global brand today.
The non-resident Indian or NRI has acquired economic and political heft in the country of his/her residence. This is the “global India” that lives outside of India. Now this “global Indian” wants to be a proud Indian, which makes demands on India.
While an Indian citizen living in India may be content with the progress it has made so far, the “global Indian” demands more. He is not content with the prevalent chalta hai culture of India. He wants good service from officials and businesses in India. He wants efficient and effective law enforcement, functioning regulations, transparency, easy administrative processes and a functioning judicial system in India.
India got its independence from Great Britain after Mahatma Gandhi, an NRI, took over the leadership of Congress from Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Today’s NRI has become a global Indian and acquired gravity. Today’s “global Indian” wants to free India from its self-imposed shackles.
Vijay Rajvaidya is Managing Director of India Currents.