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Opinion: India Today, by Aline Dobbie

In early January 2018 I was again invited to see Mahindra World City near Chennai; it continues to flourish and there have been further additions to the whole place since our visit in February 2015. There are plans now for a similar MWC in northern Tamil Nadu, and adjacent to Ahmedabad, and probably some other strategic locations.

Meanwhile, so many Indian firms are establishing centres in Manchester, which has become quite a hub for Indian companies in the UK. Mahindra Tech is just one.

In my childhood memories and our archive photos we see the wide roads with huge great trees on either side; there was room for cattle, buffaloes, the goatherd with his flock and the bullock carts and the occasional elephant or camels in the north in places like Rajasthan. The memory is of different strata of developing Indian society going about their business, and of course there were the ubiquitous lorries thundering along, vividly painted and usually overloaded! Nothing much changed there….and yes the camels are still very much in evidence and the occasional elephants. The main National Highways are not supposed to have four legged friends on them or bullock carts and by and large are now free of that rustic traffic….. but not always!

Today, India has developed from the cycling masses, to the scooters, then the motorbikes and now the cars and then the very sleek cars that are made by German brands and Toyota and others. All major cities have Rolls Royce and Bentley showrooms and top of range German marques are Mercedes, BMW and Audi with huge 4x4s and sleek saloons. It could be easy to drive in the comfort of air conditioning within a comfortable car, a confident reliable driver taking the strain and not be touched by that great world outside but happily my work takes me across the social spectrum and one minute I am in a bustling great city that barely sleeps or the guest of a maharaja in his exotic palace and the next day returning to visit the Indian Army at a regimental headquarters, or an ancient tribal community or a beautiful village that reveres all life and wildlife …..then in a wildlife park seeking out tigers which need our strong conservation support, or relaxing on the backwaters of Kerala or on a beach in Tamil Nadu ….India has many faces and many many challenges but she can overcome those with determination and commitment and democratically.

The most important value I took away from my three Mahindra World City visits is their ethos which I commend to you all….it would work globally. Livelihood, Living Life. That is what all of us need, security of work in a sustainable healthy environment where we build social cohesion with good values and educate the next generations and … we can also grow old in safety. I repeat: Livelihood, Living, Life.

Paul Krugman, the American Nobel Prize economist, said very recently “India achieved as much economic progress in the last 30 years as Great Britain had done in 150 years.” But he has warned that India could end up with huge mass unemployment if it does not grow its manufacturing sector.

Japan is now no longer a superpower because its working-age population declined. In Asia, India could take the lead but only if it also develops its manufacturing sector.

After 2016, China started climbing the steepest ageing curve of any large population in world history. By 2028 Chinese demographers predict that the over 65s will exceed that of the population under 15, and number in the hundreds of millions; by 2035 India’s working age population will surpass China’s and by mid-century China’s average age will be pushing over 50. The Chinese are desperately trying to get rich before they get old. By contrast at least one third of India’s population of approximately 1.3 billion is under the age of 15.

In effect, in China the Government is the Entrepreneur, whereas in India’s noisy and unruly democracy Entrepreneurs can be found at all levels of society. India’s trajectory is the one that points to a brighter future.

A recent report by the IMF has also projected India’s outstanding growth. It said the country will likely overtake Germany in 2022 as the world’s fourth-largest economy and it has pushed the UK out of the five top economies this year to sixth place.

Rural India is now showing signs of prosperity with masses of tractors in fields, villages building houses, healthy children going to school and diverse crops flourishing throughout the countryside.

Preparing the field for sowing in Rajasthan, India. © Prashant Mangal from Guangzhou, China / CC BY 2.0

In the last 20 years of my annual return the infrastructure throughout India has progressed hugely, yet it still requires a massive building programme which is now all happening, and travellers are able to appreciate all that the country has in terms of historic old cities, modern cities, great temples, palaces, wildlife parks, holy rivers, and the sheer beauty of its countryside, beaches, mountains, semi desert and wild places …. Modern airports have hugely advanced connectivity; all the major cities and the 2nd tier cities have good airports and budget air travel is thriving throughout India as well as the fact most Middle East airlines go into a host of cities.

The Indian Middle Class is about 300 million and they own property, go to restaurants, own cars, go shopping and enjoy tourism. Vast numbers still go on pilgrimages (which, after all, were the very first forms of tourism in the Middle Ages) but others who are prosperous travel within India, fly abroad for short and long holidays, and enjoy their new-found prosperity. In 2017, 26 million jobs in travel & tourism were created in India. That figure demonstrates the scale of things in India.

There are incredible numbers of cars and many middle-class families have two or more. Motorbikes are truly in their millions whereas cycles remain in more rural areas but also in their millions! The roads have improved hugely in the last 20 years with good freeways. Sophisticated people are busy conducting business in the great luxury five-star hotels in the capital and other great cities, yet sadly there is still dire poverty in some areas; India’s prosperity needs to trickle down to all the rural poor and the farmers & villagers so that all can reflect with pride on Gandhiji’s aspiration – he said:

“I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country….”.

On a positive note we heard recently here in Edinburgh about the great success story of Tata the largest Indian group which has been celebrating 150 years since it was started. This $100 billion group that is now global has huge interests here in the UK and we are all aware of Tata Steel, Tata Tetley and Tata Consultancy Services, Jaguar Land Rover (which will overcome its present challenges), their Taj hotels (Indian PM staying at the London Taj St James) and other significant huge interests like aircraft manufacture. They had the confidence to come to the UK and invest here and are very pleased with the result. One should recall that Tata Steel provided 23,000 tons of steel for the famous Howrah Bridge in Kolkata in 1943 and more recently the steel for the famous Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Tata are now going to produce cheaply feminine hygiene products; that will help millions of females in India. Good step forward.

We visited the post graduate training university of Infosys in Mysore some years ago. This beautiful immaculate campus is very sought after by young graduates to perfect their IT skills. It seemed to symbolise the palace of today in contrast to Mysore’s old heritage royal palace. There is everything onsite to make the learning and furtherance of IT knowledge efficient, but the conditions are stringent; the authorities stand no nonsense…. those who attend this academic technical institution are reminded that they are privileged and must adhere to the strict rules. Infosys has a global reputation. Infosys Limited is an Indian multinational corporation that provides business consulting, information technology and outsourcing services. Its headquarters are in Bengaluru, Karnataka, India. Infosys is the second-largest Indian IT company by 2017

ITC is the other great group with which I have connections.

Its activities in subsidiary companies span tobacco, cigarettes, paper and packaging, paperboard, hotels and tourism, information technology, food products, pharma care, and agricultural products. For its agri-export division, ITC procures various agricultural commodities such as soybeans, coffee, and oil seeds. ITC thought of and pioneered e-choupal in 2000. In Hindi, a choupal is a village gathering place usually under shade of a tree. The e-choupal initiative — whereby a choupal is equipped with a computer and Internet connectivity gives farmers direct contact with the company – it cuts out the middle man. ITC now contemplates building hospitals as well which is a very good idea.

ITC Hotels, number over 100, range from the super luxury, luxury, business to heritage categories. It is the only company in the world of its size, to achieve the three-major global environmental distinctions of being carbon positive (7 years), water positive (10 years) and solid recycling waste positive (5 years).

These are just some of the great companies within India who also operate globally. For instance, India is the largest milk producer in the world – people drink milk and eat home-made yoghurt in vast quantities, but also the huge quantities of Indian sweets – mithai which are so popular are milk based. It is the largest global producer of generic pharmaceutical drugs. The second largest steel producer globally and could be the 3rd largest tourism destination by 2028 it is thought. (we will see).

India’s many distinguished scientists and engineers have been pioneers in so many fields and winners of numerous Nobel Prizes. Now the plan is for 100 Smart Cities, i.e. existing cities earmarked to become hubs of technology.

By 2017 the number of mobile phone users in India reached over 730.7 million. The smartphone users in India was predicted to reach 340 million – that is over 1 billion cell phones. Everyone able to communicate efficiently revolutionised India; Naturally the more prosperous Indians all own them, but it was the affordability that gave all sections of Indian life individual access to communication that made the giant leap forward and is so good to see.

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi meeting the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Ms. Theresa May, at 10 Downing Street, in London on April 18, 2018.

According to official estimates, the India-UK bilateral trade stands at $13 billion, with the UK being among the largest G20 investors in India. PM Modi’s recent visit has had a focus on the India-UK technological partnership as well as potentially New Delhi’s enhanced role in the Commonwealth.

Finally, India should have a permanent seat at the United Nations. The sub-continent has one of the most ancient, diverse and fascinating histories …. it should become a Superpower – but a non-confrontational one as seen in its major role at CHOGM in April & the prominence Mr Modi’s visit was given by the British Government; yet it must safeguard against neighbours and most particularly China. Above all else, India must remain tolerant of all the religions within her great country provided everyone respects the secular law. There are other challenges with vigilantism and rape coupled with misogyny – they must be eradicated, or severely diminished, as otherwise the world looks on askance and with disrespect.

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