Saturday, February 10, 2007

Whither India?

Debate's raging, it seems, on India's contention for the "next superpower." There's a CNN article that naysays it pretty loudly. Of course, if you are in India you can hardly escape the constant bombardment of the opposite.

India's contending for a permanent seat in the Security Council. India's sustained a growth rate of 8% year over year for four straight years. If you believe the economists in India, the country can sustain this growth forever more. Last Economist issue stressed the need for investment in infrastructure for India to be able to sustain this growth.

I spent a significant part of the last two years in India. I was based in Bangalore. I travelled through Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Pune. Being in Bangalore, it is impossible to get away from the constant buzz. Salaries jump at a phenomenal rate every year -- for the software/IT industry at least. We were desperately seeking engineers, and so was everyone else. In the end, it was hard to find talented engineers with significant experience, and still harder to hire them and nearly impossible to keep them happy.

Of course, it is tough to stay happy in a place like Bangalore. There are parts of Bangalore you may visit that remind you why this ruckus started in the first place -- the campus of IISc comes to mind. I recall one funny incident that highlighted what a mess this place has become.

I had landed at the Bangalore airport, and was taking the office taxi home. In order to get to my house, the taxi had to go through the central business district. No to say, the airport road itself -- that probably packs more vehicles per square inch than anywhere else in the world.

When I told the driver where I needed to go, he simply said, "No sir. We won't go there." Huh? I told him, gently, that I need to go there and he has to take me there. "No sir. We'll go somewhere else. Too much traffic, sir. Where do you want to go sir?"

Well, he finally came around, and we inched along.

The moral of the story is -- infrastructure in Bangalore, and many other places in India -- needs serious investment. It is improving, but not it's not keeping pace with the growth. In places like Bangalore, it is crumbling.

Superpower? Whatever. The term itself seems to be a leftover from the 80s.

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