India and Indians are only now discovering their potential. Its like we grafted away for the first 50 in Test-match style, and now we realise it’s a one-day match and want to make up for last time! (OK, this is last of the cricketing analogies! You know, the Lagaan hangover.)
Look around India and you will see change happening. Re-organising and re-vitalising a country is not easy. In a company, one can do it through pep talks and meetings. It is much more difficult in a country. It has to come bottom-up and that takes time. People have to start believing in themselves and that if they work hard, they will be rewarded. It is akin to what is known as the “American Dream” – the reason why many chose to stay back in the US rather than return home.
A New India is emerging around us. Drive along the roads and one sees construction everywhere. Flyovers, new residential complexes, glass-laden office buildings, multiplexes, and even better roads. Brands are in, and so are retail chains. The first glimpse of franchising is visible in the food industry: McDonalds, Domino’s and Pizza Hut are now being followed by the very Indian Barista’s, Qwiky’s Coffee, Cafi Coffee Days, Pizza Corner and Hot Breads. As Business World put it in a recent cover story on The New Food Entrepreneurs, “The new start-up guys have oodles of attitude. They also have global ambitions to match.”
That is true of much of the new generation of Indian entrepreneurs. Inspired by the likes of Narayana Murthy (Infosys), Azim Premji (Wipro), Ramalinga Raju (Satyam), Subhash Chandra (Zee), Anji Reddy (Dr Reddy’s Labs) and Naresh Goyal (Jet Airways), Indians have begun to dream again. Our forefathers too had dreams at the time of Independence. Somewhere along the line in the past half-century, India lost her way. But now, powered by her people, India is fighting back – looking to regain lost time.
The New India wants to be world-class. Jet Airways has service and punctuality standards that are among the best in the world. Cellphone service available across much of India (“from the farmers of Punjab to the fishermen of Kerala”) is as good as it gets, and more importantly, is genuinely bridging distances and connecting people. The drive along the Mumbai-Pune highway, the new petrol pumps with built-in convenience stores, the varieties and brands available in the supermarkets, the production qualities of some of our movies – everything seems to be improving.
Walk in to a Shopper’s Stop, listen to the music, look at the way it is organised, watch the way people shop, stop by the food court and watch teenagers gossip in the middle of the day – one could be forgiven for thinking one is in Singapore. The slowdown not withstanding, Indians are also making more money and travelling more. Look at the two new magazines started by the Hathway group (publishers of Outlook) in the last couple of years: Intelligent Investor and Outlook Traveller.
Yes, we still have our set of problems. Our politics is a mess, much of the growth has been limited to the top Indian cities and towns while 70% of our population is agriculture-based (good news there too: today’s headline in the Economic Times reads “Despite QRs, India exports more food items”), we still have more than our fair share of scams, our telecom infrastructure in terms of bandwidth is still woefully inadequate, our labour laws have changed little, and foreign direct investment is still a fraction compared to China.
But, perhaps for the first time, there are enough reasons to see the glass as being half-full instead of half-empty. Happy Birthday, India!