At the dawn of the new millennium and on the eve of our Republic Day , I would like to sum up our performance in the 20th century. Indians have succeeded in countries ruled by whites, but failed in
their own. This outcome would have astonished leaders of our independence movement.
They declared Indians were kept down by white rule and could flourish
only under self-rule. This seemed self-evident. The harsh reality today is that Indians are succeeding brilliantly in countries ruled by whites, but failing in India. They are flourishing in the USA and
Britain. But those that stay in India are pulled down by an outrageous system that fails to reward merit or talent, fails to allow people and businesses to grow, and keeps real power lies with netas, babus, and assorted manipulators. Once Indians go to white-
ruled countries, they soar and conquer summits once occupied only by whites.
Rono Dutta has become head of United Airlines, the biggest airline in the world. Had he stayed in India, he would have no chance in Indian Airlines. Even if the top job there was given him by some godfather,a myriad netas, babus and trade unionists would have ensured that he could never run it like United Airlines.
Rana Talwar has become head of Standard Chartered Bank Plc, one of the biggest multinational banks in Britain, while still in his 40s.Had he been in India, he would perhaps be a local manager in the State Bank, taking orders from babus to give dud loans to politically favoured clients.
Rajat Gupta is head of Mckinsey, the biggest management consultancy firm in the world. He now advises the biggest multinationals on how to run their business. Had he remained in India he would probably be taking orders from some sethji with no qualification save that of being born in a rich family.
Lakhsmi Mittal has become the biggest steel baron in the world, with steel plants in the US, Kazakhstan, Germany, Mexico, Trinidad and Indonesia. India's socialist policies reserved the domestic steel
industry for the public sector. So Lakhsmi Mittal went to Indonesia to run his family's first steel plant there. Once freed from the shackles of India, he conquered the world.
Subhash Chandra of Zee TV has become a global media king, one of the few to beat Rupert Murdoch. He could never have risen had he been limited to India, which decreed a TV monopoly for Doordarshan. But technology came to his aid: satellite TV made it possible for him to target India from Hong Kong. Once he escaped Indian rules and
soil, he soared.
At independence India was the most advanced of all colonies, with the best prospects. Today with a GNP per head of $ 370, it
occupies a lowly 177th position among 209 countries of the world. But poverty is by no means the only or main problem. India ranks near the bottom in the UNDP's Human Development Index, but high up in Transparency International's Corruption Index.
Talent cannot take you far amidst such rank misgovernance. We are
reverting to our ancient feudal system where no rules applied to the powerful. The British Raj brought in abstract concepts of justice for all, equality before the law. These were maintained in the early years of independence. But fifty years later, citizens wail
that India is a lawless land where no rules are obeyed.
A feudal official had a duty to enrich his family and caste. Then the British came and imposed a new ethical code on officials. But,he asked, why should we continue to choose British customs over desi ones now that we were independent? The lack of transparent rules,properly enforced, is a major reason why talented Indians cannot rise in India. A second reason is the neta-babu raj, which remains intact despite supposed liberalization. But once talented Indians go to rule-based societies in the west, they take off. In those societies all people play by the same rules,all have freedom to innovate without being strangled by regulations.
This, then, is why Indians succeed in countries ruled by whites, and
fail in their own. It is the saddest story of the century.