One of the best effects of travel is how visiting a place changes you. This happened to me in India. In my recent travel there I was struck by the differences, but also the similarities between America (my home) and India. The democratic pulse of India is palpable - I commented to my wife while there that it feels like I imagine the old west in the US felt 150 years ago, or "the old west, with cellphones". The educated class in India are motivated, focused, and excited about their country. As the world's largest democracy, the 1.3 billion Indians are in a unique position to become a global superpower - and one of unprecedented influence. Westerners can have only one of two reactions to this - fear, or excitement. I admit to feeling both.
There are some statistics about India and it's potential as a world power that I suspect would surprise most westerner's. Here are a few:
While many Americans probably still think of the world's second most populous nation as an impoverished rural land, India produces about 300,000 college graduates with engineering degrees each year, according to an Indian government Web site. That's approximately six times the number of Americans who earn engineering degrees annually, according to the National Science Foundation.
Staggeringly, the Indian workforce is 400 million strong, and growing - a number that is larger than the entire population of the U.S.
The percentage of people in India who are enrolled in primary education is 98%.
Of course, the hurdles to India becoming a global power are still overwhelming. Infrastructure outside the major cities is terrible. Roads and bridges are barely passable in many places, and the rural areas are densely populated and struggling with crushing poverty. Still, the leaders of India are strong and united in their commitment to strengthen the nation.
The recent elections are an excellent case-in-point. Sonia Ghandhi - the widow of assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi - won the election, yet in a stunningly unselfish and patriotic act, refused the post of Prime Minister. In handing the post to her longtime friend Manmohan Singh, she not only continued the political reforms that are fueling the nation - Singh is widely credited with developing the reforms under the previous Indian PM, BJP Vajpayee - she also enhanced the diversity of Indian leadership as Singh became the first Sikh PM in the Hindu-dominated country.
My personal reactions having visited India and felt the potential of this giant democracy are two-fold. First India makes me swell with pride at the overwhelming transformative power of laissez-faire economics and free-market economies. Truly there is no other man-made force like it - not even religion, but that's a different post. My second reaction is a bit more introspective. The Indian people are by and large a gentle people - with a strong focus on family. Unlike America - when family hires family, this is seen as a good thing, not some creeping nepotism. But my reaction involves what has been lost in America, in our long quest to sustain our free markets. It makes me wonder about what "the pursuit of happiness" penned by Thomas Jefferson really means in a modern context. If pursuit of the almighty dollar is driving our economy, isn't that pursuit displacing a more tranquil and less feverish quietness in our souls? The excitement the Indians feel about their burgeoning economy, their rising middle-class, and their expanding incomes, reminds me of what they are going to lose, and what we already have lost.
Still...it's the right thing to do.