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India is touching newer heights and the world is marching in to tap its resources, ethos, vibrancy and youth power

Syed Nazakat in Delhi 

When Russian president Vladimir Putin arrives in January next year in India to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations, he  will be only the latest in a parade of world leaders thronging India to tap its growth, promising business avenues and the technologically literate youthful workforce.

“India is where the action is,” says Prof Shri Shrinivasan who teaches at Columbia University in New York. “India is full of diversity, vibrant and one of the fastest growing economies. Today’s India is really intriguing and it is irresistible,” he told Sahara Time from New York.

If we take a cursory look at the world leaders who visited India this year it becomes quite clear that the world seems to have finally woken up to India’s potential. The year started with the high profile state visit of Saudi Arabia’s newly crowned monarch, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al- Saud who was the first Saudi King to visit India in the last fifty years. What followed was a parade of world leaders towards India. In the last six months from George Bush to President Karzai of Afghanistan, President of the Republic of Cyprus, Amir of the state of Kuwait Shaikh Al-Sabah, to Australian Prime Minister John Howard – all visited India with lucrative offers and ambitious plans and big hopes. Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit India in the last week of November and the focus will be on developing cordial business and strategic relations.  

Now the 25-nation European Union is wooing India for deeper strategic and business relations and so is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which is already India’s leading trade partner. This underscores the importance of the government’s “Look East” policy.

“India is moving confidently across the global stage, in which it is a friend and partner of the leading countries – this is an altogether new and unsettling proposition,” says Shashank, former foreign secretary. “But now an important task for our foreign policy makers is to determine how India should fit into the new role,” he adds.  

India’s emergence is also rewriting the geo-political and strategic equations. Today the US is courting India, which was on the other side of the fence during the cold war. A good example of changed equations is Russia’s willingness to offer nuclear energy to India despite India’s close relations with its long time rival – the US. The US still loves President Musharraf and Pakistan but when it comes to real business, India is the favoured destination. China, despite having border dispute with India, is complaining that it is not getting proper space in India. It wants to improve economic ties and raise bilateral trade to $20 billion or more by 2008. Afghanistan is relying more on India than its brotherly country Pakistan for development and strategic relations. Israel, though India registered its strong displeasure of Lebanon invasion, is supplying latest technology to India. The UK is taking tips from India on how to fight terrorism. Gulf countries are approaching New Delhi with oil. In return they want to court its professionals and skilled young workforce.

“India’s rise has forced many countries to change their foreign policy towards India. India policy makers also need to fine-tune their policies for the rest of world,” said Shashank. 

India is at the heart of a boom. IBM, which already has a workforce of 43,000 in India, has announced its plans to invest a further $ 6 billion in India in the coming three years. IBM’s commitment is a reminder that India once shunned for its helpless protectionism, poor infrastructure, suffocating bureaucracy can no longer be ignored. IBM is far from alone in its desire to tap India’s growth. Today, India is the second fastest-growing economy in the world – after China – averaging above 6 percent growth per year. Growth accelerated to 7.5 percent last year and will probably hold at the same pace this year. India is now one of the most expansion emerging markets in the world.

“India is having an incredible time. Today, it is the most happening place in the world,” says Isher Judge Ahluwalia, chairperson of India Council for research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER). “Why the world is interested in us is just because India is hard to ignore for any country,” he added. 

Indians, at least in urban areas, are bursting with enthusiasm. Growing foreign investment and easy credit have fuelled a consumer revolution in urban areas. With their Starbucks-style coffee bars, Blackberry-wielding young professionals, and shopping malls selling luxury brand names, large parts of Indian cities strive to resemble Manhattan. Indian designers and artists speak of extending their influence across the globe. Bollywood movie stars want to extend their audience abroad. There is a spirit of self-reliance that enables peoples to cope. In New Delhi and Mumbai people returned to their normal life after terrible terrorist bombing as if nothing had happened.

“India is growing as an independent society – boisterous, colourful, open, vibrant and, above all, ready for change,” says Professor Anuradha Chenoy who teaches International studies at Jawaharlal University (JNU). “The people are full of enthusiasm and fighting spirit. Never before India has been like this.” 

Then not surprising India is attracting fortune seekers from far away lands. Everyday people from Europe and America are thronging India for studies and jobs. There are already 30,000 foreigners who have settled in India for better career prospects and according to Delhi-based market research firm Evalueserve by 2010, another 12,000 are needed to fill the skills shortage in IT industry alone.

“I have come here because I think I have better chances to grow in India,” says Paul Rollier, 25, who recently joined a multinational company in India. Paul is from Paris and he says that besides career, India’s diversity and culture was something which inspired him to settle here. “I know it is tough to live here. But I think India will embrace me,” he quips.

The big question is what is India’s USP?

“I would like to say that it is vibrant democracy which is giving everybody a genuine space to grow and explore his/her capabilities,” says Prof Shrinivasan. “India is growing just because there is an open competition. And this is surely one of the country’s greatest strengths when compared with many other developing countries,” he adds.

The 20 million Indians who live abroad are playing an important role in India’s rise and growth.  Their professionalism and competence has improved India’s image as land of snake charmers to the country of highly skilled professionals. Some send back more money to the mother country than any other people in the world. And some are coming up with ambitious projects like Laxmi Mittal, the world’s richest Indian who has already made huge investments in India.

India has its challenges too. Despite a recent reduction in poverty levels, nearly 380 million Indians still live on less than a dollar a day. Around 2.5 million Indian children die annually, accounting for one out of every five child deaths worldwide. In the countryside, where 70 percent of India’s population lives, there are daily reports of farmers committing suicide.  

What makes India’s rise more stunning is that it is thriving in spite of sluggish work culture of India’s bureaucratic class and corrupt politicians whose eyes always revolve around vote bank politics. India is facing bloody insurgency in Kashmir and in Northeast, and the threat of terrorism and the communalism is looming large. But nothing seems to be stopping the rise of India.  As the world stands ready to spiral into another orbit of progress, India is leading from the front. 

 (Sahara Time)

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