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The silence of the lambs...
While the West is both excited and paranoid about India’s potential, the average Indian is still not empowered as the polity continues to wither India’s intrinsic potential...
As the first decade of the twenty-first millennium is nearing end, it’s time to take stock of a nation which in less than one and a half decade has travelled a long distance from the verge of bankruptcy, to be among the most promising economies of the world. Probably no other country has travelled such a long distance in such a short period. In less than two decades’ time, the perception of many of the First World countries about India have changed from pity for a starving Third World struggling nation to respect and awe for one of the fastest growing economic and military powerhouses who has an insatiable appetite for energy and cross border acquisitions. Probably it doesn’t take much time perhaps for perceptions to change.
Very few sitting in India would not hold countries like France in awe. And even fewer sitting in this part of the world would believe if one is to say that an average Frenchman or a British is today as much paranoid about the increasing clout of the Indian economy and Indian Inc as outsourcing to India is becoming a key issue in the US presidential elections. Out on a casual walk on the streets of Paris, chances are high that an average Indian would first of all be asked if he is a Pakistani or a Bangladeshi. Even before the shock and the sheer disgust of being equalled with a Pakistani or a Bangladeshi overwhelms one, the realisation dawns that however much India might go ahead in the race, racially the Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis would still be the same for an average European. So when one visits those places, quite often one has to take the pain of explaining that ‘we are Indians and not Pakistanis.’ Prompt would come the reply, ‘What are you doing here then? There’s so much happening in your own country!!’ If your are on an educational trip, the sarcastic smile would be complimented with a shocking reply, ‘Thank God you are not here for a job’ or ‘What is there to learn from France or Europe? Don’t you see how they are busy splitting it all up in the name of unity? Don’t you see the way they are encouraging the formation of smaller countries like Kosovo? All the jobs are in any case shifting to your country and your neighbour? And now what is that is left to learn?’ Such replies are common and not unjustified either. But it also proves the sheer irony and vindicates the old adage which says that the grass is always greener on the other side of the river. So when young Indians going on a sabbatical, trying to escape from the Third World dust to learn from First World serenity but get greeted with such accolade, admiration and praise about the potential of India, after a long time the pride of being an Indian has its visible impact on the glowing faces, something which is even bigger than the impact created by India’s crushing of the Australian cricket team.
As a senior Indian official in France would put it that the perception about India in Western Europe can be distinctly divided between the phase before 1998 and the one after that. Before 1998, for the first 50 years India was more of an economically poor but culturally rich nation of philosophers who distinctly had a paradigm impact on modern Europe. India in those days was synonymous with mysticism, being a country known more for black magic, snake charmers and tigers than for its soft power and software. Yet 1998 and the assertion India made with its testing of five thermonuclear devices changed it all. Here was a country which through those tests was asking for its legitimate rights and venting out its frustration against a world which never paid heed to its concerns of terrorism and threats from China. It wasn’t just the nuclear test but the economic embargo in its aftermath imposed by the Americans and its stooges that made all the difference and that exposed the fundamental strength of an otherwise shy and a reclusive India. One has to remember the sheer impact of economic sanctions when imposed by Uncle Sam, something that crippled Iraq for a decade due to the oil embargo. It caused the death of thousands of children owing to lack of basic medicines and Iraq was doomed for ever. Yet when those same sanctions were imposed on India, the loss to American companies in terms of cancellation of governmental contracts was more than what a resilient India suffered. By then, seven years of liberalised economy had already solved the problem of forex reserve and to mitigate any eventual problem of the future, the government of India issued Resurgent Indian Bonds to be subscribed by the Non-Resident Indians. The bonds were over subscribed and ironically by the NRIs from USA being one of the largest contributors. Unlike Pakistan, India was not reduced to an Iraq by the crippling sanctions. On the contrary, US had to backtrack. Within a couple of years, the then American President came dancing to India.
By:- Pathikrit Payne
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