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Opportunity from adversity

india Updated: Jan 02, 2009 14:23 IST

“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters — one represents danger, and the other, opportunity.” — John F. Kennedy, Former US president

As we step into 2009, India stands at the inflexion point between hope and despair. The euphoria over the ‘India Story’ has been replaced by fear — of terror, of recession, of job losses, and of an immediate future that may not be as rosy as the recent past.

Those who proclaim these to be the worst of times are probably not wrong. The economy is unlikely to recover till the second half of the year; the Mumbai attacks and its fallout have reversed much of the progress in our relations with Pakistan; and to top it all, the general elections due in a few months may throw up a fractured verdict.

But the point about bad times is not just that they pass — we must make them pass. Consider these silent indicators of change:

n The recent elections in Jammu & Kashmir and five other states showed how politics is slowly changing for the better — good governance is winning votes and the nation’s youth is shedding political apathy.

n The much-awaited Tata Nano and our moon landing — at a fifth of global costs — underline India’s standing as the global centre for frugal engineering. That is a unique competitive advantage that no one has, not even China.

n Projects like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, and laws on the right to education and the right to information are among several initiatives that have, in recent years, laid the ground for correcting India’s asymmetry of opportunity.

The challenge is to translate the potential into reality. And 2009 could be the year when the disparate pieces of the jigsaw begin to fall into place. History is replete with examples of how nations and empires turned adversity into opportunity.

As James Quingley, CEO of global consulting giant Deloitte, said on a recent visit to India, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

The ‘new India’ that we celebrate today is, in fact, a product of the foreign-exchange crisis we faced in 1991. So, the current crisis could well mark the starting point for India’s second coming.

If we could do it then, we can do it again.

In the months ahead, Hindustan Times will create a platform for ideas, thoughts and plans that can become bridges of opportunity over our rivers of adversity.

We start off today with our special pages (11 to 14). Join the journey.