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India is the un-China, says Time

Washington's new approach to India is so explained by the magazine in its latest issue.

india Updated: Jun 20, 2006 12:18 IST

A "breathtaking shift" in US policy towards India - declaring it a strategic partner and offering it a bilateral deal to share nuclear know how - can be explained, according to Time magazine, simply by one phrase: India is the un-China.

Washington's new approach to India is so explained by the American news magazine in its latest issue hitting the news stands on Monday with its cover story "INDIA INC - Why the World's Biggest Democracy is the Next Great Economic Superpower- and What it Means for America."

Making friends with India is a good way for the US to hedge its Asia bet, says author Michael Elliott as the US has learned that dealing with China is never easy as it "bristles too much with old resentments at the hands of the West."

India is no pushover either but democrats are easier to talk to than communist apparatchiks, he says.

Democracy aside, there is a second way in which India is the un-China. In most measures of modernisation, China is way ahead.

Yet the litany of India's comparative shortcomings omits a fundamental truth: China started first.

China's key economic reforms took shape in the late 1970s, India's not until the early 1990s. But India is younger and freer than China.

Many of its companies are already innovative world beaters. India is playing catch-up, for sure, but it has the skills, the people and the sort of hustle and dynamism that Americans respect, to do so.

It deserves the new notice it has got in the US. "We're all about to discover: this elephant can dance," says Elliott.

Illustrating the changing face of India with the cover photo of a classical Indian dancer wearing a telephone operator headset, Time says the world will never be the same, as fuelled by high-octane growth, the world's largest democracy is becoming a global power.

The magazine cites India's "pro-growth Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh" as saying, he dreams that Mumbai will someday make people "forget Shanghai"- China's financial capital, whose modern gleam is a reminder of the gap between India and its eastern rival.

In the India issue's lead story, Time's Alex Perry says Mumbai is where Wall Street gets equities analysed, where Kellogg, Brown & Root sources kitchen staff for the US Army in Iraq, and where your credit-card details might be stored-or stolen.

It's where a phone operator who calls herself Mary (but is really Meenakshi) sells Texans on two-week vacations that include the Taj Mahal and cut-price heart surgery.

But if India's biggest city is its great hope, Mumbai also embodies many of the country's staggering problems.

The obstacles hampering India's progress-poor infrastructure, weak government, searing inequality, corruption and crime-converge in Mumbai.

Although India boasts more billionaires than China, 81 per cent of its population lives on two dollars a day or less, compared with 47 per cent of Chinese, according to the 2005 UN Population Reference Bureau Report.

That class divide is starkest in cities like Mumbai, where million-dollar apartments overlook million-population slums.

A new word has appeared during water-cooler conversations in offices across the US.

The term is "Bangalored." It refers to India's high-tech hub, and it means your job has just moved to India without you.

India, which virtually invented offshore outsourcing is becoming a victim of its own success.

Such companies as Infosys, Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) grew into billion-dollar behemoths by tapping armies of quick coding, English-speaking, low-wage techies to do the software programming and back-office tasks that US companies used to perform in-house.

But Indian salaries are rising - the median annual wage for a software engineer jumped 11 per cent, from $6,313 in 2004 to $7,010 in 2005, according to India's National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM).

Millions of expectations will have to be satisfied. But for now, the City of Dreams is living up to its name.

In another piece "Hooray for Bollywood", Indian director Mira Nair who lives in New York City, notes that today Bollywood is on as many screens in midtown Manhattan as in an Indian neighbourhood in Queens.

The literary world has learned to pronounce Vikram and Amitav and Jhumpa, and an Amrita Sher-Gil can fetch as much as a Warhol at auction.