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Globalisation and India

June 7th, 2004 · No Comments

Thomas Friedman writes about the rising aspirations of the Indian people:

If you want to understand why the antiglobalization movement which was always a mishmash of groups and ideologies has lost its edge, you should study the recent Indian elections. And if the antiglobalizers want to understand how they could again become relevant, they should study those elections as well.

To everyone’s surprise, India’s elections ended with the rightist Hindu nationalist B.J.P. alliance being thrown out and replaced by the left-leaning Congress Party alliance. Of course, no sooner did the B.J.P. which ran on a platform of taking credit for India’s high-tech revolution go down than the usual suspects from the antiglobalization movement declared this was a grass-roots rejection of India’s globalization strategy. They got it exactly wrong. What Indian voters were saying was not: “Stop the globalization train, we want to get off.” It was, “Slow down the globalization train, and build me a better step-stool, because I want to get on.”

“Every time an Indian villager watches the community TV and sees an ad for soap or shampoo, what they notice are not the soap and shampoo but the lifestyle of the people using them, the kind of motorbikes they ride, their dress and their homes,” says Nayan Chanda, the Indian-born editor of the invaluable YaleGlobal online magazine. “They see a world they want access to. This election was about envy, anger and aspirations. It was a classic case of revolutions happening when things are getting better but not fast enough for many people.”

My own recent travels to India have left me convinced that the most important forces combating poverty there today are those activists who are fighting for better local governance. The world doesn’t need the antiglobalization movement to go away now it just needs for the movement to grow up. It had a lot of energy and a lot of mobilizing capacity. What it lacked was a real agenda for helping the poor. Here’s what its agenda should be: Helping the poor by improving governance accountability, transparency, education and the rule of law at the local level, by using the Internet and other tools to spotlight corruption, mismanagement and tax avoidance. It may not be as sexy as protesting against world leaders on CNN, but it is a lot more important. Ask any Indian villager.

Let’s hope the Indian politicians get the message. It is so frustrating to read about some of the regressive statements that have come out. It is so easy to do the right thing. It takes a lot of effort to mess things up. As I was telling someone, “There are only three places in the world where Communism now exists: West Bengal, Kerala and Cuba.” The problem is that the left-leaning policies now threaten to become mainstream in India.

This is the time Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram need to act tough. They may not have a full mandate, but the message, as Friedman puts it, is very clear. And it is now what the Leftists want. It is more of what the Congress and the BJP have been doing.

The next Indian Budget in the first week of July will give an indication of which way the winds will blow in India.

Tags: Emerging Markets

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