Disaster at the bottom of the pyramid | Opinion | Times Crest
Popular on Times Crest
  • In This Section
  • Entire Website
  • Those Twin Peaks
    July 13, 2013
    Recent debates miss the point that ecology doesn't necessarily have to be pitted against development.
  • Your say
    July 6, 2013
    From football to the love of books, your comments say it all.
  • Deflating victim Narendra Modi
    July 6, 2013
    With the CBI chargesheet in the Ishrat case, the carefully crafted Modi-versus-The Rest campaign has gone for a toss.
More in this Section
Profiles
Leaving tiger watching to raise rice Ecologist Debal Deb, who did his post-doctoral research from IISc in…
The crorepati writer He's the man who gives Big B his lines. RD Tailang, the writer of KBC.
Chennai-Toronto express Review Raja is a Canadian enthusiast whose quirky video reviews of Tamil…
Don't parrot, perform Maestro Buddhadev Dasgupta will hold a masterclass on ragas.
A man's man Shivananda Khan spent his life speaking up for men who have sex with men.
Bhowmick and the first family of Indian football At first glance, it would be the craziest set-up in professional football.
From Times Blogs
The end of Detroit
Jobs in Detroit's car factories are moving to India.
Chidanand Rajghatta
How I love the word ‘dobaara’...
Can ‘bindaas’ or ‘jhakaas’ survive transliteration?
Shobhaa De
Anand marte nahin...
India's first superstar died almost a lonely life.
Robin Roy
American idyll

Disaster at the bottom of the pyramid

|


Musings on life, politics and economics from TOI's Washington correspondent

It was that silly season in the United States again. The dog days of summer left panting, and Fall arrived in its many-hued glory, as did ministers and mandarins from all over the world - particularly the subcontinent - who somehow manage to squeeze in business before the onset of winter, hard as that must be. Many come for the UN session, others on bilateral visits, and still others find unique ways and avenues to make it official. It's another matter that some of them also slip in a quick trip to a medical facility or brief visit to their lonely wards striving away in some university. The $500 daily allowance that you, taxpayers, forkout, goes some distance, even with a little detour.

But in that one mandatory public appearance in New York or Washington, usually before a think tank or chamber of commerce, hapless fourth estate hacks and the usual suspects from industry and academia are subjected to the annual drivel that now deserves to be called for what it is - an increasingly tiresome bluff. It is the great Indian growth story, a tale so stale and shopworn that it deserves, along with Sourav Ganguly and Baichung Bhutia, to be retired permanently. It was good while it lasted, but face it folks, it - and they - were never going to be world-beaters.

Don't get me wrong. As a veteran cheerleader of Hamara Bharat Mahaan, your correspondent has been part of the rah-rah squad that has talked up the India growth story to audiences abroad for nearly two decades now. True, there is much to be toasted and celebrated. The eight per cent annual uptick is not a piece of fiction, and anyone who questions it should have his head examined - and also his own assets. However none of this should mask the truth that we are a poor, struggling country, and no amount of statistics, let alone lies and damned lies, can hide the story of our spotty, muddled, uneven growth.

However, somewhere along the way, someone set the tone for Indian presentation in the US on the matter, firmly believing that bragging and bombast will do what calm, honest appraisal cannot. The end result is that every Indian mantri and babu coming to the US launches into such panegyrics about India and its growth that it leaves many who have heard this story year after year a little weary and washed up. After all, how many times can you bombinate about the number of cellphone connections and automobiles sold? But our worthies are ready to consign US and Europe, and indeed all of western civilisation, to the dustbin of history.

Mercifully, help is at hand. A recent spate of headlines has sought to introduce a few reality checks to counter the puffed-up presentation that our snake oil salesmen are peddling abroad. Among the more sobering reminders in recent times of our parlous state is that India ranks below Rwanda and Sudan in terms of food security and more than half our countrymen still defecate out in the open. Maybe that's our way to becoming an organic food superpower?

Seriously, if you left it to our spinmeisters, they'll find a myriad ways to turn any statistic around - the same way they rubbish the "canard" that we are home to more malnutritioned people than all of sub-Saharan Africa. Oh, 500 million people don't use footwear? That's an opportunity for footwear companies! But the Rs 32 question remains: What use eight per cent growth if it hadn't made a dent in some of the most basic metrics?

India's abject status in the world is brought home to me most starkly not when I travel in the US or Europe or in the developed world, but when I am trawling the bushes in Africa or hiking the jungles and mountains in South America. These are supposed to be our Third World compatriots - although the slickers who govern us would have us believe we've outgrown them. But trust me, most of these countries are much ahead of India when it comes to basic living standards and health and social metrics.

Of course, they are not great, flourishing democracies. Their institutions are weak;they don't have rowdy parliaments where lawmakers walk out every other day or lofty supreme court benches passing ineffective laws. But their people have a full stomach of food, decent access to health and education and navigable roads and streams.

Yes, you read that right. And I'm writing all this sitting in an equatorial village in the heart of the Amazon basin, sitting under a mosquito net. But the village has all the basics - potable drinking water, clean toilets and sanitation, ample food, decent healthcare - and even a slow but dodgy wireless internet connection.

For too long we have been smitten with the sound of our own souped-up success stories. Let's just set statistics and vanity aside, come out of our delusional comfort zone, and admit it. No matter what the statistics say, when you look at the people and how they live, we've been left behind - not only by the US and Europe, not just by China and Brazil, but even by Ivory Coast and Ecuador.

Other Times Group news sites
The Times of India | The Economic Times
इकनॉमिक टाइम्स | ઈકોનોમિક ટાઈમ્સ
Mumbai Mirror | Times Now
Indiatimes | नवभारत टाइम्स
महाराष्ट्र टाइम्स
Living and entertainment
Timescity | iDiva | Bollywood | Zoom
| Technoholik | MensXP.com

Networking

itimes | Dating & Chat | Email
Hot on the Web
Hotklix
Services
Book print ads | Online shopping | Business solutions | Book domains | Web hosting
Business email | Free SMS | Free email | Website design | CRM | Tenders | Remit
Cheap air tickets | Matrimonial | Ringtones | Astrology | Jobs | Property | Buy car
Online Deals
About us | Advertise with us | Terms of Use and Grievance Redressal Policy | Privacy policy | Feedback
Copyright© 2010 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service