Jul 10, 2008

World - Overconfident India

Indians are complacent about the perils of multi-lateral diplomacy, and much else
IT CAME like monsoon rain, after a head-aching spell of summer heat. On July 7th, ending months of mixed messages and tiresome speculation, Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, said that India would press ahead “very soon” with a controversial policy: a civil-nuclear co-operation agreement with America.
This would give India access to nuclear fuel and technology, despite its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In a country with massive energy needs, and pretensions to global-power status, that would be momentous. Only, the deal is not yet done: it needs approving by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and America's Congress. Winning their blessings before President George Bush's term expires next January will be tight.
APFeeling chuffed
Not that you would necessarily know this from Indian media coverage of the saga. Most Indian commentators—including those within the ruling Congress party—appear to have concluded that, now that Mr Singh has plumped for it, despite opposition from his government's parliamentary allies, the deal is a dead-cert.
They may turn out to be right. Mr Bush will certainly push hard for it. But with several other NSG members having expressed concerns, and the attitude of China, India's great rival, still unknown, the deal's safe passage cannot be assumed. Then again, it is unsurprising that so many Indians do assume it. A pronounced feature of their country's rapid emergence is the awesome self-confidence—and sometimes hubris—it inspires in Indian breasts.
No visitor to the country can fail to be impressed by this. Its English language newspapers—admittedly, read mainly by a prospering minority—would never let them. They have long tended towards triumphalism—notwithstanding more sober recent headlines, inspired by high inflation and a plunging stockmarket. Thus, the latest foreign acquisition by “India Inc.”, as the country's private sector is known, is a sure-fire splash. On editorial pages, Indian economists have long predicted China-style, double-digit economic growth for their country.
Opinion polls—which tend to represent the views of relatively-rich city-dwelling Indians—also make rousing news. A survey of global attitudes, released last month by the Pew Research Centre, found that a higher proportion of Indians felt positive about their national economy than all except Chinese and Australians (though the proportion of sunny Indians, at 62%, was 12% down on the previous year).
Indeed, they have had lots to be cheered by. Over the past three years, India's economy has grown at a magnificent average of 9% a year. And the private sector—whose foreign investments last year exceeded those made in India by foreign firms—has led the charge.
As has been widely reported, the fruits of India's economic rise are rich and varied. The country's massive armed forces are modernising. The diplomatic corps is swelling. India's revered cricketers, who were never so rich and pampered, are doing consistently better than they have ever done before.
But, impressive as these successes are, they do not augur the imminent global dominance that many Indians seem to expect. Foreign visitors to India are also invariably impressed by its dreadful problems: the ever-present poor; perilous and congested roads; disorderly and congested airports; the moronic regulations still imposed by the state.

So, what makes Indians so buoyant? Perhaps, relief: that the dark decades of soaring population growth, inching economic growth and intractable poverty, are finally over. No doubt, too, some prominent Indians are a little naive about the realities of multi-lateral diplomacy and ill-informed about the paths to development that others have trod. With little opportunity to travel, and a whole world within their borders, Indians have tended, until relatively recently, to be rather inward-looking—unlike the country's vast and thriving diaspora.
Perhaps, too, there may be something about living always in a crowd that encourages loud and overconfident opinion-giving. Or maybe, in their national subconscious, Indians have calculated that audacity, however unfitting at the time, simply works for them. It is certainly a feature of their brilliant entrepreneurism: another national characteristic—exhibited in teeming slums as well as in corporate boardrooms.
As for the nuclear deal, Indians' blithe faith in its chances may stem from something else altogether. The Pew Research Centre found that Mr Bush's approval rating in India was “still astonishingly high” at 55%. In fact, Indians were the only people sampled who rated Mr Bush more highly than they did Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. So, perhaps they know something the rest of us don't?

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