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Beyond the Edge

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The sight of Indian actress Urmilla on the rooftops of the old city of Lahore is a sight for sore eyes any time of the day. This week another 270 delegates from India among which are Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi, are expected to cross over into Pakistan. As both countries take a series of steps, gingerly to start with, there is just that little light at the end of the dark and endless tunnel that has held us “prisoners of our own device” — as The Eagles put it in the famous song Hotel California. Whether these measures will lead to peace is a question for which even Tauqir Zia has no answers. All we can do is hope, pray and contribute in whatever way we can to normalize relations and bury the many hatchets that we have brandished for the last half-century.

Travelling last week on the Wazirabad-Sambrial road towards Sialkot, the potholes and bumps on that narrow ribbon strip road began to revive memories of long forgotten journeys made on that same road. I could have, after a few violent and rib-shaking miles, sworn these holes and craters were the same when one was in Kindergarten. Nothing seemed to have changed except that the dust was thicker, the pollution dismal and the people in numbers too large to comprehend. Perhaps in most of India the situation is not very much different and our much-touted smirking observations that India has huge problems might have given us years of self-induced smugness, but things across the divide are changing at a speed that baffles the mind. Some years ago, an Indian said to a Pakistani, “It is true we are both in the gutter. The difference is, we are looking at the stars. You are looking at the gutter.”

Many of us associate India’s new progress with its IT revolution and it is partly true. Indian companies like Moser-Baer located in an equally unknown Noida are now the world’s third largest optical media manufacturer and the lowest-cost producer of CD-Recorders. Exports? Only Rs 1,000 crore — Indian rupees I might add. This firm sells data-storage products to seven of the world’s top 10 CD-R producers. There is another unknown. Tandon Electronics. Its hardware exports are Rs 4,000 crore.

There is more depressing data, all of it quite true and impartial. 15 of the world’s major automobile makers are obtaining components from Indian companies. This business fetched India $375 million last year and in 2003 the number will be $1.5 billion. In half a decade, they will reach $15 billion. Hero Honda with 17 lakh motorcycles a year is now the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. The prestigious UK automaker, Rover is marketing 1 lakh Indica cars made by Tata in Europe, under, wait a minute, its own name. Bharat Forge has the world’s largest single-location forging facility. It produces 1.2 lakh tonnes per annum and its clients include Honda, Toyota and Volvo among others. Asian Paints now owns 22 production facilities over 5 continents and is the market leader in 11 of these countries. Hindustan Inks has the world’s largest single stream fully integrated ink plant of 1-lakh tonnes per annum capacity and 100% owned subsidiaries in USA and Austria. Essel Propack is the world’s largest laminated tube manufacturer with presence in 11 countries and a global marketing share of 25% already. Ford has just presented its Gold World Excellence Award to India’s Cooper Tyres. Other industries are winning equally prestigious awards all the time. While on cars, Aston Martin has contracted prototyping its latest luxury sports car to an Indian-based designer and is set to produce the cheapest Aston Martin ever. Suzuki, which makes Maruti in India has decided to make India its manufacturing, export and research hub outside Japan. Hyundai India is set to become the global small car hub for the Korean giant and will produce 25,000 Santros to start with. By 2010 it is set to supply half a million cars to Hyundai Korea. HMI and Ford India are leaping ahead, posting astonishing results in the global markets from Brazil to China.

The Indian pharmaceutical industry is blazing ahead too. At $6.5 billion and growing at 8-10% annually, it is the 4th largest pharmaceutical industry in the world. Its exports are over $2 billion. India is among the top five bulk drug makers and at home, the local industry has edged out the MNCs whose share of 75% in the market is down to 35%. Trade of medicinal plants has crossed Rs 4,000 crore already.

As for technology, India is among the three countries that have built supercomputers on their own. The other two are USA and Japan. Not a bad club to be in, is it? India is among six countries that launch satellites and do so even for Germany and Belgium. India’s INSAT is among the world’s largest domestic satellite communication systems. Here are more depressing facts. India is one of the world’s largest diamond cutting and polishing centres. About 9 out of 10 stones sold anywhere in the world, pass through India. With China, India’s arch enemy, trade has grown by 104% in the past year and in the first 5 months of 2003, India has amassed a surplus in trade close to half a million dollars. In the recession-hit West, Indian exports are up by 19% this year and the country’s foreign exchange reserves stand at an all-time high of $82 billion. India is dishing out aid to 11 countries, pre-paying their debt and loaned IMF $300 million!! And since we think banning fashion shows is the way ahead, it might be interesting to know that Wal-Mart sources $1 billion worth of goods from India — half its apparel, GAP about $600 million and Hilfiger $100 million.

These success stories are not propaganda and haven’t happened overnight or by good fortune. The Indians have the same bureaucracy and many of the politicians simply play politics, the infrastructure creaks and poverty abounds, corruption flourishes and there are huge pockets of inefficiency and walls that block meaningful progress. Sure, it has an army that is not bursting with power-grabbing and subjugating its people every few years, but India’s success can no longer be denied and the gap between us and them grows wider by, if I may use my childhood idiom, leaps and bounds. What makes them tick? The answers are not simple and require great space and analysis by minds far superior to that of a weekly hack, but Cost and Brains are two factors. Add to that, a determination to rise above what faces you every day, a vision of the stars as the man said. India provides IT services at one-tenth the price. No wonder more and more companies are basing their operations in India. An Indian MBA costs $5,000. An American MBA $120,000. Development of an automobile in the US costs $1 billion. In India, less than half. A cataract operation costs $1500 in the US. In India, $12. Bypass in the US anywhere up to Rs 6 lakhs. In India, it is Rs 40,000. Over 70 MNCs have set up R&D facilities in India in the past five years. 100 of the Fortune 500 are now present in India vs 33 in China. Intel’s Indian staff strength has gone up from 10 to 1,000 in four years. GE with a $60 million invested in India employs 1,600 researchers, while it has only 100 in China. With better systems comes efficiency. The turnaround time in Indian ports is down to 4 days from 10 and its telecom infrastructure in 1999 provided a bandwidth of 155 Mbps. Today, it is 75,000 times more and with fibre optic networks in 300 cities, it will change the face of business. Mobile phones are growing by about 1.5 million a month. Long distance rates are down by two-thirds in five years and by 80% for data transmission. The facts go on and on.

So what are the answers? They lie in the way we look at things, our discourse, our vision, our ability to look ahead and our desire to genuinely put our country on the right road. The people of the subcontinent are naturally talented and bright. When will we unleash the great potential of our people that lies dormant, crushed by the forces of evil that stop our progress for their personal agendas?

Masood Hasan

(The writer is a Lahore-based columnist and a well-known journalist.)

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  • http://Website Tirthankar

    I read the article by the Pakistani journalist (Feb issue). While I appreciated his sense of fairness, I could not but feel that he is probably a bit too optimistic about India, probably even more than the conceptuers of the controversial “India shining” campaign.

    Of what good is technological progress if it cannot be harnessed for development of the poor and the uneducated who are according to the statistics much more numerous than those who can afford to send their children to school.

    How can we say that India is shining when we still have so much communal disharmony with the complicity of the politicians? I personally think that we need to debate more about our future, about the kind of India we want. Do we have to become a superpower and probably in the process lose our soul? Should we not rather work for a luminous, casteless, inwardly rich and egalitarian society where even the lowest and the poorest is taken care of, dressed, housed and motivated?