By T.J.S. George
Winston Churchill hated India. Which was natural because his mind was mutilated by imperialism, so he couldn’t understand why the stupid Indians agitated for independence.
Rudyard Kipling had no such problem. Being a poet, he took a philosophical view of the world and agreed that “East is east and West is west and never the twain shall meet.” If that reality had been accepted by both East and West, a great deal of the world’s problems could have been avoided. The pretension that East and West are the same has been the root of all evil in the world.
Inherent in the East-West dichotomy is the assumption that the East is poor and miserable while the West is rich and splendid. Such a notion held good for generations because the West conquered the East and took away all its riches. People of the East were left in poverty, and as vassals of the West.
Then something unexpected happened: Prosperity broke out in the East. Despite all the oppression of the people of the East, their innate abilities and the blessings of Nature eventually got the upper hand.
When the economy opened up in the 1990s, many failed initially to comprehend its implications. The wise had always known about the potential of India. “I am a short-term pessimist and long-term optimist,” J.R.D. Tata had said.
In 2005, private spending in India reached about $ 372 billion, accounting for more than 60 percent of the GDP. Average household incomes were estimated to triple in the next two decades making India the world’s fifth largest consumer economy by 2025. An astonished world paused to acknowledge a new India.
While the real growth story began with liberalisation, entrepreneurs had started pushing their way through earlier. Dhirubhai Ambani, a true rag-to-riches legend, created an equity cult in the Indian capital market that was unimaginable before.
He ended up heading the country’s largest private sector company. Along the way, he devised ways to manipulate the system of controls that prevailed then. In other words, he defied the law. Many of his activities were downright illegal, but he won praise for what he did.
“New blood” also began to make a difference. Ambani and Mittal — and Tata and Birla, Mahindra and Godrej, Ruia and Dhoot — at least had business genes in them, hailing as they did from what were known as traditional business communities.
Towards the 1980s, a new kind of kid entered the block. Suddenly, things like Information Technology industry, biochemicals, pharmaceutical research and low-cost airlines became game-changers in India and names like N. R. Narayana Murthy, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Anji Reddy and G.R. Gopinath acquired the glow of business magic. (Recalling his early days in Infosys, Narayana Murthy put things graphically. “Of the 21 years of my CEOship, about 11 years were lost in darkness. I used to make 50 visits to Delhi for small things. We did not have current account convertibility; we could not open offices. To import even a small thing, it required huge efforts”).
It was the single-mindedness of the entrepreneurs and the professionals that gave new dimensions to India’s economic thrust. Once that thrust gathered momentum, politicians, parties and bureaucrats vied with one another to claim credit. Seven wealthy towns contend for Homer dead/Through which the living Homer begged his bread.
The Dalai Lama once said: “In Chinese Parliament there is too much silence and in the Indian Parliament there is too much noise.” He meant it as a compliment when he referred to accusations and counter-accusations filling the political space and Parliament grinding to a noisy halt on each of one session’s 23 working days. With the instrumentalities of Parliament becoming ineffective, democracy did begin to look rather over-ambitious for India — the exact opposite of the confidence that led to the erudite debates and the Constitution in 1950. The learned men who shaped those debates had set their sights high for India and India had risen to their expectations in the early phase of its journey. In a few years we lost that India.
That would not have surprised Winston Churchill. When the Indian Independence Act was debated in the Houses of Commons in June 1947, Britain’s ranking imperialist used wounding words to put a curse upon India: “Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight among themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles.” Is that imperial curse working now? Are low-calibre men burying India in ego-led political squabbles?