Monday, January 31, 2005

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Post-tsunami India

Sumit Ganguly -- a gentleman who knows a thing or two about India -- has an interesting piece in TNR Online about what India's response to the tsunami implies for India's future. The highlights:

The country--which suffered more than 15,000 deaths in the southern coastal state of Tamil Nadu and the Andaman Islands chain in the northeastern Indian Ocean--has a civilian bureaucracy with a much-deserved reputation as slothful and hidebound. On this occasion, however, Indian bureaucrats belied every popular stereotype. Within hours after the tsunami hit, officials in India's Ministry of External Affairs were on the phone with their American, Japanese, and Australian counterparts, negotiating a division of labor: India would concentrate on providing assistance to its most immediate neighbors, such as Sri Lanka, freeing others to focus on more distant areas.

India is still considered by most observers to be part of the "developing world," a group of countries that frequently depend on assistance from others. But the day after the tsunami, India became the leading regional provider of assistance to others. The country's surprising reaction to the tsunami may signal its coming of age as a regional and even global power--with significant consequences for South Asia and beyond....

What does all this mean geopolitically? First, there is the fact that the left-of-center Congress Party-led government willingly worked with the United States in responding to the tsunami. In the past, such a regime would have gone to great lengths to torpedo any American effort to provide relief in the region. For example, when a massive cyclone hit Bangladesh in 1991, leaving extensive devastation in its wake, India expressed misgivings about the U.S. response, which was called "Operation Sea Angel." These anxieties, a product of the cold-war years, have steadily dissipated over the past decade, replaced by a willingness to work with, and even court, the United States on a range of issues, from anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean to jointly confronting terrorism. Indeed, the growing scope of military-to-military contacts between the two countries over the past several years (a centerpiece of the new Indo-U.S. relationship) made it possible for the two states to play a leading and coordinated role in post-tsunami relief. To be sure, the countries remain at odds over certain issues, such as India's ties to Iran and the brutal regime in Myanmar. But the signs point in a positive direction. For example, in a sharp departure from the past, the ongoing U.S. military presence in Sri Lanka to provide humanitarian assistance has not elicited any visceral, reflexive comments from New Delhi officialdom. The latent suspicion of all American initiatives in the region that until recently preoccupied India's foreign policy elite now appears to be in steady decline.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Thanks to Balasubramani for linking to this recent Fareed Zakaria column. Zakaria also knows a thing or two about India:

To understand how much and how fast India is changing, look at its response to the tsunami. I don't mean the government's reaction but that of individual Indians. In the two weeks after the tidal wave hit, the Prime Minister's Relief Fund, the main agency to which people make donations, has collected about $80 million. After the Gujarat earthquake of April 2001, it took almost one year to collect the same amount of money. And remember that the 2001 earthquake was massive (7.9 on the Richter scale), killed more Indians (30,000) than the tsunami appears to have, and also got intense media attention (Bill Clinton headed the fund-raising efforts). What has changed in these four years is the most important new reality about India: the growing wealth, strength and confidence of Indian society....

20 years of modest but persistent reforms in India have had huge effects. Over the past 15 years, India has been the second fastest-growing large economy in the world (after China), with an average growth rate of 6 percent. Per capita income in the country has almost doubled (from an admittedly tiny base), and more than 100 million Indians have moved out of poverty. The animal spirits of Indian capitalism, long suppressed, have been unleashed.

Gurcharan Das, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble in India, and one of the first chroniclers of these shifts in attitude, told me a story of a poor young teenager he encountered. The boy told Das that in order to succeed, he had three goals. He wanted to learn to use Windows, to write an invoice and to learn 400 words of English. "Why 400 words?" asked Das. The boy explained that that's what it took to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language, the base requirement for admission to an American university. "Now, this guy probably won't get into an American college, but this is the way people are thinking all over India," Das said.

posted by Dan on 01.31.05 at 02:49 PM


As usual, there's good news and bad news in this. The good news is as described in the article. But the flipside is a sort of analogy to China running a space program while still having massive poverty -- should India be in the business of regional aid activities when its own domestic response to the tsunami was so haphazard? It's one thing to have the external affairs people on the phone from Delhi to Washington and Canberra. But how about some actual aid delivery to Tamil Nadu and the Andamans. Media reports consistently describe huge gaps in this part of relief.

posted by: P O'Neill on 01.31.05 at 02:49 PM [permalink]

As regards India-cum-rising-power, I pass this along:

I certainly can't claim to estimate how good the information is, but it's interesting. I also note that China and India have a ways to go before they catch us as economic powers.

posted by: SomeCallMeTim on 01.31.05 at 02:49 PM [permalink]

Sumit Ganguly -- a gentleman that knows a thing or two about India

Tsk. That should be "a gentleman what knows a thing or two about India," of course.

posted by: Kieran on 01.31.05 at 02:49 PM [permalink]

Kieran, I knew being designated as part of the media elite would lead to greater scrutiny.

Fixed now.

posted by: Dan Drezner on 01.31.05 at 02:49 PM [permalink]

Hey, it's the self-correcting blogosphere in action!

posted by: Kieran on 01.31.05 at 02:49 PM [permalink]

Someday, blogs will have wiki-like features so that Kieran could've fixed it himself. And the blogosphere's lack of a formal editing process would no longer be a handicap vs. journalism.

posted by: fling93 on 01.31.05 at 02:49 PM [permalink]

Similar article by Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek here.

posted by: Balasubramani on 01.31.05 at 02:49 PM [permalink]

"Someday, blogs will have wiki-like features so that Kieran could've fixed it himself. And the blogosphere's lack of a formal editing process would no longer be a handicap vs. journalism."


To say nothing of the robots.

posted by: praktike on 01.31.05 at 02:49 PM [permalink]

Oh, we don't have to worry about the robots, because Yoshimi already defeated them. :)

posted by: fling93 on 01.31.05 at 02:49 PM [permalink]

I have seen read your article,it rememebers me once again that night mare.A very horrible diaster.

posted by: damodar on 01.31.05 at 02:49 PM [permalink]

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