Five sectors which have seen the biggest and the most visible effects of economic liberalisation.
Aviation: sky is the limit
Twenty years ago when Mumbai was still Bombay, there were just four flights a day that took you from the city of the India Gate to the city of the Gateway of India. For many, the Delhi-Mumbai airfare was more than their monthly salary. Jump to 2011 - there are more than 100 daily flights you can hop on to with a return airfare that doesn't even touch five figures - a fraction of the salary the new jet setting Indian employed at IT firms and banks earns. Introduction of Jet Airways in 1993 and the first low-cost airline, Air Deccan, in 2003 changed the face of Indian aviation, quite literally so, from the moustachioed, welcoming figure of Air India's Maharaja to the young and confident airhostess in a skirt. With Indian aviation growing at 18 per cent annually, cabin crew training institutes have mushroomed across India and are giving flight to the dreams of thousands eager to enter the industry. It's quite clear now that the Indian traveller would rather have wings than wheels.
Mobile telephony: connecting a billion lives
The year 1991 saw 16 million mobile phone users across the world. With less than 10 million wireless subscribers a decade ago, it was the cut in call rates, free-incoming and cheap handsets that fuelled the telecom revolution in India.
There are more than 840 million mobile phone users now spread across the country, which is twice the population of USA. In 1991 an STD cost R16 a minute. You can now call the UK from your cell phone for half that cost. With 220 million handsets projected to be sold in 2011 in the country, India has also seen the rise of several home grown handset companies.
Growing at 15 percent annually these companies are surging ahead because of their innovative features such as long battery lives and dual SIM and giving market leader Nokia sleepless nights.
Today, the Indian telecom industry directly employs over 4 million people. Seems like "Sir ji's good idea" is making "dil jo chahe paas laye" a reality with the network providers being "happy to help".
Cable Television: From DD to DTH
There is no other sector that tells the story of the 1991 economic liberalisation the way the growth of cable television in India does. Almost overnight the outside world entered the confines of our drawing room and became a constant reminder of how rapidly India was changing. With the opening up of the economy, private and foreign broadcasters got the opportunity to enter India and in just a few months the likes of CNN, Star TV and Zee TV were challenging the dominance of the state broadcaster Doordarshan.
When India played the World Cup final in 1983, most were lucky if they had a neighbour who owned a television set. Less than 2 million households in the country had one then. By the time India played the World Cup final in 2011, 135 million households in the country owned television sets. From one channel we have more than 500 channels and by 2012 our direct-to-home market will overtake that of the USA and become the largest in the world.
The world now fits into a small box.
Outsourcing: customer care to the world
In 1996 when GE Capital set up India's first outsourcing company in Gurgaon, it probably did not know that it would change India's destiny forever. There was a time when India was synonymous with snake charmers, rope-tricks and spices. Add outsourcing to that list now. As most of India sleeps, young Indians from different parts of the country put their headsets on and advise scores of Americans and Europeans, among others, on everything from how to fix their microwave to locating their lost luggage. The industry now directly employs 2.5 million people and its share grew from 1.2% of GDP to 6.4% of GDP between 1998 and 2011.
The outsourcing industry has also given a new ray of hope to other industries like English language trainers (with an American accent) and night dhabhas. It now attracts scores from small towns to big cities who use the BPO job to gain a foothold. After all, where else can a 20-year-old earn Rs. 30, 000 a month?
Auto: cruising in Top Gear
The roads where the Fiat Premier Padmini, Maruti 800 and Ambassador once ruled barely have a trace of them anymore. Premier Padmini production bowed out in the year 2000 and the Maruti 800 was phased out in 2010. Whereas once it was just enough to own a car, today the size, brand and look of your car matters too. Once the country of small cars, India has now become the next destination for luxury car brands such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes. In Aurangabad in 2010, Mercedes scored a century by receiving orders for more than a hundred cars in a single day.
Homegrown car manufacturers are not far behind. In 1998, Tata Motors launched the Indica, India's first fully indigenous passenger car and a decade later it launched the Nano, the world's cheapest car, along the way acquiring the iconic Jaguar Land Rover brand. India's most popular carmaker, Maruti, now has 10 more models than it did in 1991. The dream of owning a car in India is becoming a speeding reality.