Wednesday, May 25, 2005

This Left isn't Right!

Three years ago around now, it is quite possible most of us ran into commentaries on the business climate, which sang sweet praise of the progress made by the Chinese and typically drove home the point “.. and fifteen years down the line, the Chinese have learnt to separate the state from the shop and have moved far ahead of the Indian bandwagon..”. Eighteen years and counting, none of that has changed. Three years then, our professor of the course on global competition drove home the point when he brought to class a bunch of items – pocket fan, pocket razor, steam iron, camera and many more household gadgets. All of them had one thing in common – quality and the ‘made in china’ stamp. I doubt if he has changed a word of that lecture. To this day, Business dailies continue to sell copies drawing never-ending comparisons between the two countries. Businesses continue to complain of red tape in India. People continue to spit on the roads, on the staircases, inside lifts, inside trains. And, Reforms continue to be the pet subjects of our elected representatives. They – the reforms – have become exactly that–pets locked up in the labyrinth that is the give-and-take agreements called the CMP. And laughably true, they are headed to achieving exactly that. Minimum.

The difference between a pseudo–socialist nation that is ours and a nation backed by a no-nonsense ‘we-are-Marxists-but-we-mind-our-business-well’ policy needs only to be seen to be believed. The difference arises when the state decides to pursue its nation’s development and prosperity before anything else. Is it wrong if the average citizen wants better roads? Better opportunities? Is it wrong to expect more efficiency out of my telephone line provider? Everybody wants this country to improve in all sectors and hopefully make us more money. No, not at the cost of the poor, or the farmer. Politicians can be tricky road-mates on the path to national prosperity. Especially the ones who get voted on the poverty alleviation plank. But I’m curious. My friends in America see bags of rice from Mexico and Indonesia, but not India. Why so, while we hear the surplus story on and off? How come the CMP does not talk of a Commission to fix corruption in the PDS? That’s just one of the many sticky points. But lets not dig into that.

Next time around before the Leftists undertake a trip to the Prime Minister’s house to pin him to the CMP, Minister Renuka Chowdhary should pack them off on a trip to the land of their much-celebrated comrades. As they arrive at the Pearl of the Orient, they will notice the never-ending line of planes docked in the gleaming new International Airport. As they drive down from Pudong at 100 kmph, they will notice the magnetic levitation train whizzing past them without a whimper. As they drive into the city, they would notice the efficient Elevated Ring Road system. If they tried to book some office space for their propaganda office, the realization of the hot demand for office space would sink in. Retail, even more. All the high-rises and the omnipresent huge construction sites notwithstanding. They would realize the commercial engine at work, with all pistons firing. If they were looking for pointers from the local comrades on their ‘rozgar’ pitch, they might have to return empty-handed.

Shanghai could pass off as an everyday Mumbai, with every street bustling with activity. People running to and out of the metro subs. Business brisk as ever right from the upmarket Huaihai establishments down to the sweet lady selling embroidered silk cushion covers inside Yuyuan Garden. People in the office aggressive as ever, attacking every project down to detail. Remind you of Mumbai alright. Only that, to this positive enthusiasm add the solid infrastructure of public transport, efficient road system, the FDI investments turning up in the form of quality jobs in every sector and you have a heady mini-economy chugging away. In China, the positive spirits of a renovated people will inspire you into realizing that its time we too regained our glory of the Pre-East India Company era.

The Indian government would do well by deciding if we want at all to commit to the huge investments still to be made, supposing the foreign capital taps continue to be set at a trickle. Investment from inside was exactly the route followed by the Chinese – be it setting up the ‘made-for-business’ infrastructure of the cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai or sustaining loss-making state-owned enterprises employing the bulk of the labour force. But the same has resulted in China’s banks carrying prohibitive amounts of NPA’s – an area where India has a huge foot ahead; we have a mature financial services industry running on sturdy fundamentals. We all love hearing good things about our future. The Goldman Sachs-sponsored BRICS report, which came out last year, the recent ratings reports coming out of S&P and ADB foresee exactly that. But they also make assumptions on the continuing process of reforms, infrastructural improvements and also the huge latent internal demand to fire the economy further.

All this while the word ‘foreigner’ is making a comeback as a swear word. So is it a shocker that the city of Shanghai attracts more FDI than the whole of India with its motley collection of 30 states, half a dozen metros including two ‘IT capitals’, a ‘busy’ stock exchange and last but definitely not the least, a headcount of a billion people and change.

Messrs Yechury, Raja & Co, I too want my spot in the sunshine.

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