Its India and China again, this time at the World Economic Forum at Davos. To India's credit, much effort has gone in hardsell. To India's misfortune, much of this will remain that. Any new investor who gets swayed by the hooplah will want to visit this promised land. What he will see and conclude on landing in Bombay airport is best not left to imagination.
Let me first quote Bruce Nussbaum, assistant managing editor at Business Week and innovation and design columnist. "What I didn't realize was the enormous presence India will have at Davos this year. Billboards, buses, parties, sessions, workshops restaurants will all have an Indian theme to them. Delegates will get Indian pop and classical music, pashmina shawls and a cd with tons of economic data on it when they sign in. The Saturday night soiree will have Bollywood dancing and music. India's 115 person delegation will dwarf China's."
And let me now quote the first response that crops up on his column.
"Every few years and decades India is hyped to really make the breakthrough to become a global economic power. Yet, despite its brillant thinkers and its knowledge economy outsourcing, fact is that this country is still dominated by poverty, terrible infrastructure, discriminating social structures, rampant corruption, an agricultural society and protectionism.
India's "thinking economy" is limited to a very small fraction of the population and has only lifted very few people out of poverty, while China's manufacturing led progress has had a strong impact. As much as I hope for India that it will rise to become a global power, it will only achieve it if it can create more jobs for the poor and tackle the most pressing of a long list of difficult issues.
Warm regards from Chiang Mai, Alex Osterwalder"
Alex has either visited India or has studied the country very closely. That is not the point here. It's that any visitor at Davos who is exposed to the razzle and dazzle of India (Bollywood, colourful shawls etc) will confuse government intention with private enterprise achievement.
Folks are now saying at Davos that India will score as a soft power. Actually it scored some time ago. But this is another illusion like the Indian rope trick. Bollywood might look attractive. So do Latino performers. Not sure people are rushing to Puerto Rico to invest because they like J Lo.
The fact is you need `hard power' and hard decision making to move from developing to developed nation status. Pick up any newspaper and count the announcements that make news. Actually, its the same announcements that have made news for decades. Its quite remarkable how we fool ourselves ! To quote an example, count the number of announcements on Bombay's attempts to build a metro, a sea-link and re-surface its (alleged) expressways. Or build a second airport. Every city in India can narrate a similar tale.
To return to Davos, even seasoned delegates will (once again) equate statements of intention for desire to execute. Because they would like to believe, as would you and I. And its unfortunate because many of them will lose heart and go back (look at the miserable Foreign Direct Investment figures).
Only the really determined stay on. The determined know the difference between intent and action. But for the rest, its tantamount to fooling them. Forget foreign investors, how many of Indian citizens truly believe that India can truly get its act together. In our lifetime ?
Which is not to say India will not grab some more outsourcing business. Or a few more firms won't become world leaders in their businesses. Of course that will happen. But don't believe the Indian CEOs either. Their confidence stems from their own successes on the global stage. That has little or nothing to do with the location of their present head quarters. Alex from Thailand has understood the Indian connundrum well. Its about time everyone else did too.