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Jonathan Power 2009
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India resurgent



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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LONDON - December 19, 2009

What India wants India will get. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told me a couple of years ago, India wants to overtake China whilst putting its own runaway capitalism under tighter social control. At the time he seemed downbeat about realizing these goals. But as India has emerged faster than China, from the great recession, and as its huge anti poverty programmes begin to bite his pessimism seems unwarranted. Maybe it was just caution about the revolution he has wrought.

I first came to Kolkata 35 years ago. It was then literally a “black hole”. I walked out of my hotel in the evening. Everywhere was dark. The city could only afford minimal street lighting. The bodies of families eating, defecating and sleeping were scattered along every pavement.

The next morning I walked along the back lanes near the hotel. How could I ever forget seeing one man in a yard with piles of used toilet paper. He was carefully tearing the unsoiled bits off the soiled bits, presumably for some other use. The shanty towns sprawled everywhere just as in Mumbai’s “Slumdog Millionaire” today.

I returned to Kolkata 30 years later. After nearly 30 years of Communist rule it was a transformed city. The shanty towns had gone and the poor had flats with sewerage and clean water. The families on the pavement had all but disappeared although single men sleep here and there. The city is brightly lit, the streets cleaned everyday and the police efficient with police boxes on every major intersection. The crime rate remains slower than in any major city in the world.

Now undisturbed one can see clearly the heritage of Kolkata – its fine 18th and 19th century mansions, some nicely restored, on every street. The Maidan, the world’s largest city park, continues to be the great lung of the city, where the rich and poor gather every Sunday to walk, picnic and to play cricket.

No longer do poor peasants pour into the city. The great land reform in the West Bengal countryside has given every peasant a living on the own soil. Of the states, West Bengal has the second most productive agriculture in India. No wonder the Prime Minister told me that he wants the rest of India to emulate West Bengal.

Investment, foreign and domestic, is pouring into the state. Already its computer industry is beginning to snap at Bangalore’s heels. Educational levels and health services have been dramatically improved. Amartya Sen graduated from the city’s Presidency College, West Bengal has produced seven Nobel prize winners and a disproportionate number of the world’s top economists.

This is India resurgent, now emulated, albeit on a lesser scale than West Bengal, in many of its states.

India is well on its way to overtake China, but with a type of development more coherent that China’s winner-take-all capitalism. As one banker put it to me: “China was ahead because it had no rule of law. But now India will go ahead because it has rule of law.” High speed economic growth needs civic walls if society is not to crack under the strain and its innards poured out onto the streets.
India has them – elections, human rights standards and courts. No one goes to prison for their beliefs and contracts are enforced. China’s civic walls barely exist.

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On the world stage, India is showing its muscle. It persuaded President George W. Bush to lift the prohibition on providing India with enriched uranium and to drop its sanctions on supplying nuclear materials. Its nuclear armory is now accepted as well protected and there has been no proliferation of its technology. India is now pushing for the charter of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to be revised next year so that it is recognized as one of the six established nuclear powers, which will give it added responsibilities. Its relationship with China has improved beyond measure.

Its economic power puts it as one of the leading powers in the newly constituted Group of 20 which now overshadows the G8.
India’s future is written here in West Bengal, with its Communist government which is in fact Social Democratic. Moreover, Congress will likely win the next state election and at the centre, Congress and its social democracy look like staying in power for a long time.

So India not only will continue with its Singh-devised economic policies but with its burgeoning tax revenues will spend increasing amounts on giving the poor incomes, jobs, health and educational services. Within 10 years, India will have effectively banished the worst poverty.

What India wants India will get. Within a decade India will be the world’s No. 1 economic power. And its social policies will be witness to its success.



Copyright © 2009 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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