Numerous articles in the Indian popular press proclaim the 21st century as “India’s century”. Its technocrat President uses every possible platform to propagate his vision of making India a superpower by the year 2020. China and India are prophesized as the world’s next superpowers “shaking off their ancient slumber and rising to the call of the 21st century”.

Pranab Bardhan in an interesting piece argues that the economic reality of these “Asian Giants”is far more complicated than these rosy, optimistic projections. [I thank Lakshmi Krishnamurthy for sending me the article].

In China, rural and urban inequality grows at alarming rates, and the country has actually lost manufacturing jobs in the past ten years triggering latent (and often, suppressed) unrest.

Meanwhile, India’s much-vaunted hi-tech sector accounts for less than one quarter of one percent of the country’s labor force. The mushrooming call centres has resulted in the emergence of a breed of employees disparagingly referred to as the “cyber coolie,” a highly educated, intelligent graduate who is “wasting (his) or her talents performing exhausting, mindlessly repetitive tasks for the call center industry.” The abundance of such call centres work “leads to a wastage of human resources and de-skilling of workers”, which will have a high impact on Indian industry in the long-term.

India still has the dismal record as the country that still has the world’s highest illiteracy rate, while the rate of poverty reduction does not continues to slow. The apparent benefits of globalization for the Asian Tigers “are not as unalloyed as one might expect”!

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Shamnad Basheer
Shamnad Basheer
16 years ago

Wonderful post Promod. Your sentiments particularly ring true if we look at the one sector for which we apparently gained tremendous international acclaim–“IT”. Despite our globally acknowledged competence in this one sector, how many high level IT innovations happen in India? (perhaps it happens in India–but the IP vests with corporations outside). Would be interesting to ask why? My take is that we still haven’t moved from our “service” oriented and risk free mentality (a service oriented IT sector guarantees steady profits, when compared to high level innovation, which could yield bumper profits, but carries a greater risk of failure as well).