Monday, February 20, 2012

The Two Indias: Astounding Poverty in the Backyard of Amazing Growth

    Monday, February 20, 2012   No comments

"Incredible India" is the brand this country's Ministry of Tourism has been pushing in a global marketing campaign launched in 2002, and it couldn't be more fitting. Over the last decade, India has witnessed a stunning acceleration of rapid changes, both good and bad, that it began in the 1990s.

The most widely noticed metamorphosis is economic. Over the last ten years, India's GDP has grown between 7-9% per year, second only to China's sustained growth rates. In 2011, Forbes counted 57 Indian billionaires, up from only four a decade before. The same period saw Indian corporations vaulting onto the international stage. Tata Motors shocked the automobile industry with an acquisition of the British Jaguar Land Rover business in 2008. India's famed business-process outsourcing industry has expanded beyond call centers and software development to medicine, law, tax preparation, animation, and even music-video production. And, several IT giants have turned the tables on offshoring: No longer are jobs only "Bangalored." Today, Indian companies employ thousands of Americans on U.S. soil.
All of this is striking for an economy that languished for decades. From 1947, when India won its independence, through the 1980s, annual per-capita income grew at 1.3% per year, a snail's pace oft-derided by the Indian elite as the "Hindu rate of growth." Today, though, any social theorists walking the bustling streets of Mumbai might be tempted to revise Max Weber's classic treatise: The Hindu Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Economic change has been accompanied by a less noted, but no less significant, political inflection point. Alongside the enthralling Arab Spring and China's stillborn Jasmine Revolution, something that might be called the "Turmeric Revolution" has been bubbling over in India.

Though theoretically a democracy, India's governance has resembled something of a feudal system in practice. Politicians and bureaucrats often act like dukes and barons with term limits. They routinely apply a corrupt layer of graft for their personal benefit.


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