Aired on KERA (NPR), Dallas, TX, February 2014
India’s Lost Decade
“India has had a lost decade” [while China – its great rival for rising star of the world economy – has only gained more altitude], lamented a cultural leader in Jodhpur, a desert city of the northwest where polluted dust clogs the air and boney cows, sacred some say, stroll the streets .
Nothing, however, can quench the heartbreaking beauty of Indian women, not even the current rampage of rape. A female divorce lawyer I met said, “It’s political at the core.” In the land of arranged marriages, more and more women are living their own lives, some even adopting children as single mothers. Men are fighting back, with rage they have no way to express except through violence.
The attorney’s sister has a travel business. She too is aghast at the extent to which India does not work. When she talks of corruption it’s not a matter of companies paying off politicians to get tax breaks, American style, though that’s not unlikely in India. Her example involved an exorbitant electric bill, calling to complain about it, and the functionary on the other end saying that the bill could be lowered – for a little payment to him.
Her greatest hope, and that of the Jodhpur luminary, is a new party, Aam Aadmi, which means common man. Backed by young professionals, Aam Aadmi swept to a startling victory in the Delhi assembly late last year and now will run the government there. But can the party gear up effectively all over India in time for the big, national Parliamentary elections in May?
To ingratiate itself the new party is offering better prices for electricity and, in some cases, free water. Of course, the incumbent Congress Party already pays subsidies for rice, fuel and fertilizer. According to one press report, 800 million people qualify for food aid. That leaves about 400 million who don’t. Either way, over half the inhabitants breathing the troubled air of India are under the age of 25. Some may not know yet that the growth rate in their nation dropped by half over the past two years and the rupee has struggled mightily against the dollar, but they’ll catch on soon enough.
Still, they are growing up in a land of enormous talent. Two university business schools in Dallas have been named for successful, supportive alums from India. Then there’s the deputy chairman of the Dallas Federal Reserve, a dynamic woman who also is chancellor of the University of Houston.
For the women still in India, it is punishingly hard to rear their children with too little sanitation or water that is safe to drink. They got a lift earlier this month in a village near Hyderabad where a project for purified bottled water was inaugurated by Jacqueline Lundquist of Colorado Springs, wife of former American ambassador to India Dick Celeste. Bollywood star Jackie Shroff was there to celebrate. I asked him about India’s despondent inability to be bullish on itself despite its importation of the back offices of America. He for one refused to believe that India will win its commercial battle with China in the end. It’s a matter, he said, of “old China versus young India.”
As the British always understood, never count India out.