A cocky India enjoys global economic limelight
From Sensex crossing the 20k to winning cricket world trophies, India is the new economic giant bursting with self-confidence.business Updated: Dec 03, 2007 14:58 IST
Record stock highs and economic growth. Takeovers of European firms. Even cricket world trophies. This year, perhaps more than ever, India has bulged with self-confidence -- some say dangerous cockiness -- that underscores how executives, politicians and the middle-classes feel the global economic juggernaut is unstoppable.
At a World Economic Forum meeting which began this week, that confidence was evident as business leaders talked about "breakthrough" business models and India's "entrepreneurial spirit".
"Why are we being wooed by the world?" industrialist Mukesh Ambani, one of India's richest men who recently bought his wife a luxury Airbus jet for her birthday, asked the conference.
"Peace and stability and the growth model are what attracts the world to India."
While the United States is immersed in a credit crisis and Europe worries about immigration or outsourced jobs, India has the world's most upbeat consumers, according to a global consumer sentiment index by the Nielsen Company this year.
The survey also showed that about 16 per cent of Indians said they had no worries -- the highest rate in the survey.
"Indians self-confident? That's the understatement of the year," said Sarang Panchal, a managing director at Nielsen.
The self-confidence is related to India's increasingly wealthy upper and middle classes enjoying economic growth rates of around 9 per cent in a trillion dollar economy.
"People are very bullish. They are taking risks they have never taken before," said Panchal.
The playful arrogance was evident when Commerce Minister Kamal Nath hosted European Union trade chief Peter Mandelson last week. They sparred after Mandelson said India was an "emerging economy".
"If India is an emerging economy, the EU is a submerging economy," Nath said.
What goes up, must...
Newspapers hail India. A leading daily wrote that for India, "the world is its playground", after Tata Steel made a $13 billion bid for Corus, the country's biggest foreign buy.
Many observers contrast the new confidence on the global stage with worries only 15 years ago that economic reforms opening the economy would devastate the country.
Headlines reached a crescendo this year as the Sensex stocks index broke 20,000 for the first time, roughly coinciding with India winning the T20 cricket world cup, its first major international trophy in more than 20 years.
Sometimes, the media look for any reason to laud the country, but there are critical voices.
"DAMN! Does the United Nations have to be such a spoilsport?" wrote Farah Baria in a leading daily.
"I mean, just when we thought the India Story was becoming an international bestseller -- along comes the UN's Human Development Report to poop our party, and separate fact from fiction."
Baria pointed out that India was only 128th on the UN Human Development index -- roughly level with Botswana.
More than two-thirds of Indians live on less than half a dollar a day. An election campaign in 2004 based on "India Shining" boomeranged on the Hindu nationalists who lost power.
Sceptics also include Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who warns about "crony capitalism".
Protests by farmers in Nandigram in the east against giving away land for industry have sparked soul-searching this year as dozens were killed. And Nandigram has become a byword for protests by poor communities against the "new" economy.
Prabhudev Konana, a University of Texas professor, wrote in the Hindu newspaper of the need to "temper the irrational exuberance of optimists".
Stephen Roach, chairman of Morgan Stanley in Asia, warned at the World Economic Forum that investors had forgotten about one economic inevitability -- what goes up, must come down.
"Don't forget," he told his audience, "about the cycle."