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India Poised

India Poised

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Published by: api-3703100 on Oct 14, 2008
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Jaideep Bose

Many of us grew up being told by our elders that if we didn't shut our eyes and go to sleep within
five minutes, Wee Willie Winkie would come through the grilled window and spirit us away. It's
politically unfashionable these days to instil such fear in children; child psychologists warn
parents that their apparently harmless stories could leave young, impressionable minds scarred
for life.

It's ironic that the West, from where these treat-kids-with-kid gloves notions originated, is now
trying to scare their children and grown-ups with stories of the near-mythical Indian (in the US,
Indian now pretty much means us, not Red/Native/American Indian; and to some Americans, we
probably look a lot scarier than the Apaches and Mohawks in Westerns).

American kids are routinely warned by their teachers that if they don't take their science and math
seriously, the Indians and the Chinese will beat them to the best colleges and jobs in America .
(Recently, a bunch of students from an Ivy League college visited TOI, and one of the students
freely admitted that her mother, a high school teacher, was using such scare tactics.) And it's not
just American kids who are being beaten with the Indian lathi-their fathers are being quietly bullied
by employers into putting in extra hours without a murmur: either that or their jobs will move to

But honestly, while these stories help boost our egos, they're part of a continuing storyline-just
that with every telling, they gain momentum.

The real story of 2006 is that we've gone from thinking small to thinking big. At home,
businessmen like the Ambanis have dreamed big, and backed it up with great execution. Also,
individually, Indians have made a significant impact abroad. But collectively, we've been reticent
about making a splash on the global stage.

Indian businessmen, notably providers of software and BPO services, built their reputation among
cost-conscious American companies as suppliers of cheap and reasonably reliable labour. They
undercut American competitors by squeezing out a dollar here, shaving off a few cents there.
Once they had their chappal in the door, they began to upsell, offering greater width and depth of

But through all of this, the nature of the relationship between India and the West remained that of supplier and buyer. Then, about three years ago, Indian businessmen began to break the mould by venturing overseas to acquire companies. By 2005, the trickle had swollen into a spate. Still, deal sizes remained mostly modest: a hundred million dollars here, a couple of hundred there.

We'd like to believe we were prescient when we titled our front-page editorial on January 1, 2006
and our special 22-page pullout the same day 'A Leap Year For India'. India and Indians have
finally made that leap-of faith and finance. Lakshmi Mittal's dramatic acquisition of Arcelor in the
face of every possible odd, and his unquestioned dominance of world steel, is one more
milestone in the rise of India as a global power-it doesn't matter that he built his empire in foreign
lands. Regardless of whether he considers himself 25%, 50% or 100% Indian, the one thing he
has done is give Indian businessmen a large dollop of can-do confidence.

Ratan Tata may or may not have drawn inspiration from Mittal in boldly bidding for Anglo-Dutch
steel giant Corus, but what is indisputable is that it underlines a dramatic shift not only in the
Indian psyche but in the way the world views India. (A century ago, Jamsetji Tata's steel
aspirations were met with scorn, most famously by one Sir Frederick Upcourt, who pronounced,

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