Friday, July 07, 2006

Pankaj Mishra questions the 'India Shining' story


Apurva points to Pankaj Mishra's NYTimes op-ed that takes on the 'India Shining' cheerleaders (such as a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, which gets a specific mention in his op-ed). Excerpts:

Since the early 1990's, when the Indian economy was liberalized, India has emerged as the world leader in information technology and business outsourcing, with an average growth of about 6 percent a year. Growing foreign investment and easy credit have fueled 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. [...]

But the increasingly common, business-centric view of India suppresses more facts than it reveals. Recent accounts of the alleged rise of India barely mention the fact that the country's $728 per capita gross domestic product is just slightly higher than that of sub-Saharan Africa and that, as the 2005 United Nations Human Development Report puts it, even if it sustains its current high growth rates, India will not catch up with high-income countries until 2106.

Nor is India rising very fast on the report's Human Development index, where it ranks 127, just two rungs above Myanmar and more than 70 below Cuba and Mexico. Despite a recent reduction in poverty levels, nearly 380 million Indians still live on less than a dollar a day.

Malnutrition affects half of all children in India, and there is little sign that they are being helped by the country's market reforms, which have focused on creating private wealth rather than expanding access to health care and education. Despite the country's growing economy, 2.5 million Indian children die annually, accounting for one out of every five child deaths worldwide; and facilities for primary education have collapsed in large parts of the country (the official literacy rate of 61 percent includes many who can barely write their names). In the countryside, where 70 percent of India's population lives, the government has reported that about 100,000 farmers committed suicide between 1993 and 2003.

The purpose behind Mishra's op-ed is not simply to diss the economic progress in some sectors; it's to remind us to (a) not take all the sloganeering seriously, and (b) keep the focus firmly on the urgent problems the confront us. The concluding paragraph says it well:

Many serious problems confront India. They are unlikely to be solved as long as the wealthy, both inside and outside the country, choose to believe their own complacent myths.

12 Comments:

  1. Krish said...

    It is not surprising that Fareed Zarkaria's India Shining campaign now. He once claimed that he went out of India due to the repressive socialist policies of the govt..

  2. Ullas said...

    Naysaying is also a elitist attitude. I would have been happy if the Op-ed gave at least one suggestion.

    Now I have not read his book, but then I dont rate him as the best out there so that is that.

    To all who point out the same cliched arguments of poverty, Human Development Index etc I have only this to say "ROME was not built in a day".

    It is funny to compare India with Mexico since India is considerably more populated than Mexico. So averages of any sort will fall flat for India.

    This reminds me of an anectode I heard about Sardar Vallabhai Patel. During one of his tours a man comes up to him and says "why is he not taking the wealth from the rich like Tatas, Birlas and distributing it among the people of India ?". As an answer Sardar took a 5 paise coin from him pocket and gave it to the man saying "Here is your share".

    So I have a 5 dollar bill here for Pankaj Mishra.

  3. barbarindian said...

    I think we should give B.Tech. certificates to all Dalits and OBCs.

  4. Akilan said...

    We must Accept the fact that the economic development in India has not helped comman man as in Cuba. The main reason is corruption in India. Whatever plans are laid for comman man, corrupt politicians only get money.

  5. Dilip D'Souza said...

    It is funny to compare India with Mexico since India is considerably more populated than Mexico.

    In fact, India is considerably more populated than every country out there except one. Which means we cannot compare India with any country out there -- not even that one, because then the inhabitants of that country will say "It is funny to compare us to India because we are considerably more populated than India."

    Comparisons are not exact, or funny, or prescriptive ... they can offer us lessons, that's all. We don't have to take them, but neither do we need to fling them out because we are more populated than that country.

  6. Ullas said...

    I agree with Dilip in that I may have used a wrong term to describe what I felt. But then there is no word that could describe my feeling of anger,dismay and surprise when I see yet another educated and privileged Indian trying to show their own country in bad light to earn few brownie points of their own. In fact, the very system many of them mock is what made them who they are.

    All I ask is the person doing the comparison point out the fact that the said comparison must be taken only as a guiding principle for moving forward and not as a reflection of failures of Modern India. I have great pride in what is happening in India and with all the shortcomings that my country and her people have we are still going forward. The progress may be slow and not equitable to begin with but that cannot be shown as a failure yet. Patience is what we should have for this is just the beginning.

  7. Dilip D'Souza said...

    Ullas: there is no word that could describe my feeling of anger,dismay and surprise when I see yet another educated and privileged Indian trying to show their own country in bad light to earn few brownie points of their own.

    Are you inordinately thrilled when you find an educated and privileged Indian showing their country in a good light? Do you say of them that they are trying to "earn a few brownie points of their own"?

    India is, as you yourself indicate, a mix of a number of things. Good, bad, high, low, impressive, mediocre. As far as I'm concerned, the world is welcome to learn about every aspect of India. In fact, I think the world should learn about every aspect of India. I'd rather people know my country thoroughly, than just know about one or the other side of it.

  8. gaddeswarup said...

    For some reason that I do not understand, this article-interview with Mishra is being discussed in many blogs. Please also check Mishra's response to Salil Tripathi's comments and others' comments:
    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/pankaj_mishra/2006/06/india_and_china_neoliberal_myt.html

  9. Ullas said...

    Dilip,
    I have not read any op-ed on NYT by a Indian born where he/she praised India's achievements however miniscule and unequitable they may be at present.
    Let us not forget, the people who are bashing up the image of the nation are also in some ways responsible for the quagmire and must take it upon themselves to change what they see is bad.

    My question to the learned and erudite folks is this - why write this stuff in NYT and Washington Post. If you are so concerned about the well being of the poor, what purpose would writing in English in a International daily solve. Let me guess, get acclaim as a reputed India critic.

    Or is it that the many reader of NYT etc will suddenly realize that they should be involved in improving the lot of the common man in India ?

    The world is not going to solve the problems of India, Indians and that too the privileged few will have to do it. Unfortunately, many of the privilged are indulging only in writing how other privileged people are exploiting the not-so-privileged.

    Anyways, Pankaj Mishra is free to write what he wants and I am just wasting my time discussing about water under the bridge. Peace.

  10. Abi said...

    Thank you all for your comments. I want to respond specifically to Ullas's comment here. Mishra's article is directed specifically at the Western audience (and pundits in particular). His is an attempt to debunk some of the gung-ho analyses in the Western press (he mentions Time, Economist and Foreign Affairs), which he believes is wrong (check out the link provided by Swarup, and the links therein). So, it's entirely understandable why he chose NYTimes as his forum.

    Of course, even if he wasn't addressing the Western audience, I would say it's still okay to say all that he said in his column. As Dilip said, better and clearer understanding of India and her progress is the goal, and where it comes from is immaterial.

  11. barbarindian said...

    better and clearer understanding of India and her progress is the goal, and where it comes from is immaterial.

    Exactly, that is why the baseless attack on the IT/BPO sector is completely unwarranted. Also, we need to carefully evaluate the various welfare ponzi schemes such as spending billions on dead farmers and rich OBC kids' higher education.

  12. rc said...

    >> As far as I'm concerned, the world is welcome to learn about every aspect of India. In fact, I think the world should learn about every aspect of India. >>

    How about Indians knowing every aspect of India first ?