Monday, September 29, 2008

India Isn't Shining

This is the view down the street from our house. You can see a new housing development (this one called "Long Island", and in front the housing for the workers. This is actually better than much of the housing for construction workers. I'm curious to see what happens when the building project is completed.

Many articles lately talking about how the benefits of India's boom haven't reached the vast majority of the Indian population. The Asian edition of Newsweek (Sept 22, 2008) had a picture of Prime Minister Singh, with the title "India Isn't Shining." This is a play on the "India Is Shining" theme the Indian government has used in international fora to promote the nation and its recent successes. It talks about India has not taken advantage of several once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, that reforms have stalled, and puts the blame on the Prime Minister.

Today there is a great -- if depressing -- article from the BBC on the lack of progress for the vast majority of Indians despite the boom. It cites an Indian government report that 863 million live on less than 20 rupees -- about 50 cents -- a day. Think about that. It is staggering. My only complaint with the article is that shows a picture of an apartment building in Mumbai with a label about slums that I wouldn't classify as a slum. Minor point.

Sometimes it seems like no one here is willing to listen to this kind of criticism, that they are intoxicated by the flip side -- the enormous wealth creation and boom in the upper and middle classes, which really is remarkable as well. But increasingly it is hard to ignore the inequity -- what with the Nano controversy, the hacking to death of a manager of an Italian owned firm outside Delhi by laid off workers, and the recent vote against establishment of an SEZ (Special Economic Zone) near Mumbai (I think). Today's Hindu had a nice piece talking about the need to address broader social issues when thinking about SEZs, as well as the perils of following the advice of the West without reflection.

I'm sure I will write about this many many more times. Without more attention to basic education and shared growth India will burn rather than shine.

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