By Jim Kempton
An emerging colossus on the international stage, India is an opportunity America should not miss.
In a world of strategic competitors, restless allies and distant adversaries, India should be viewed as the top potential candidate in America’s global quest for stable, free-market trading partners.
At first glance, the two giant nations seem unfathomably far apart. Americans are seen as cowboys. Indians are seen as, well, Indians. But beneath the obvious differences lie surprising and symbolic similarities long ignored. A capitalist economy, a democratically elected government with western values and mindset, India is an English-speaking homeland to 1.2 billion souls, most of them yearning for the very consumer lifestyle Americans would like to export. As the world’s seventh largest nation and the second most populous, India, more than China, offers a true potential consumer market.
Once revered for its ancient cultural contribution, India’s modern multi-religious, multi-cultural society is now producing outstanding human resources. Educated, industrious and entrepreneurial, the impact expatriate Indians have had on the U.S. is staggering: 12 percent of all American scientists are Indians. An astounding one third of all doctors, NASA scientists and Microsoft and IBM employees are U.S. residents from India.
British influence, inculcated by 200 years of imposed Pax Britannica, has fashioned a rare hybrid of Eastern culture and Western institutions. Courts, corporations and bureaucracies are as familiar to New Delhi as New York. Even with more than 120 major dialects, English is universally spoken across the subcontinent, the official language for business, law, government and science.
India is not without myriad problems, of course. The Times of India has said India is the only country where everyone is in a rush but no one is ever on time, where one has to look both ways to cross a one-way road. Cities are often populated and then planned.
While the family is a strong unit in India, there is also the old joke that success is relative—more success, more relatives (frequently first in line at the patronage trough). Often deeply embedded, these serious weaknesses have repeatedly kept American business at bay.
But punctuality, traffic congestion and a lack of urban planning is hardly unique to India. Corruption and health and safety issues have not kept the U.S. from embracing far more odious partners. Shifting production to India would reduce China’s current financial power without economic disruption on our side. India could use the help, and we could gain a valuable ally.
Politically stable and western in thinking, India’s geopolitical position is unmatched; a friendly strategic cornerstone surrounded by the world’s most volatile nations.
The entire northeastern rim is a contiguous border with China, a barrier to Beijing’s rising belligerence and North Korea’s lunatic leader. To the northwest sits a Pakistan bristling with nuclear armaments and an Afghanistan still full of Taliban terrorist camps. Facing eastward across the Bay of Bengal lies Myanmar, ruled by hostile tyrants. Just six hundred miles from its western border, an unpredictable Iran vies for regional supremacy. Across the Arabian Sea, Somalia’s brutal warlords and Yemen’s pirates and rebels wreak destruction.
America might note that along with its 3 million men in uniform, Indian nuclear warheads point at each of these nations—a reminder of the strategic value India poses. This vast emerging nation-state is vital to our future and the world’s. As the premiere English-speaking, free-market democracy in the region, this critical Asian ally needs America to help build every available bridge between us.
Jim Kempton, an armchair amateur historian, first visited India as a youngster in 1965. He is pretty sure his family stayed at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, or at least his mother was certain they did.