The New York Times recently ran an article on The Ideas Shaping a New India that got my attention. Given that so much of our supply chain, especially in services, is now dependent on India, and that India is poised to become the 3rd largest producer of GDP by mid-century, it’s important that we have a good handle on where it’ s going — especially since it’s now been twenty years since India began to open its doors to the world and loosen the economic controls on its own citizens. As a global trading partner, India is grown up — and now it has to make some adult decisions (and stop simultaneously exhibiting the bravado of needing nobody and the hunger for recognition from those it claims not to need).
So what has, and will continue to, turn the new India new? According to the author of the article, who has spent years traveling in, and reporting on, the country, these are the five prevalent ideas that are going to influence the shaping of India this decade.
- Class is a Situation
In early India, class was not circumstance, but identity. It was who you are from the moment you are born until the end of time. But today’s generation sees class as a transient situation that can change. Take Infosys for example. This global Indian juggernaut that has adopted the mantra of “no caste, no creed, only merit” and is changing the game for a new generation.
- A Bed is For Two
In traditional India, the focus was on the family unit and not the individual — every Indian was part of a clan (and the clan came first in the economy of guilt and sacrifice that has traditionally held Indian families together). In comparison, today’s generation often looks upon family as a support network but identify themselves as individuals first, family members second. Some even see family as a hindrance to achieving their dreams. Today’s generation, for better or worse, believes that the best approach is for you to take care of you and me of me.
- English is Passé
While Indians are still passionate about learning English, as they want to be part of the global marketplace, they no longer want to be English. They have their own traditions and manners that date back to thousands of years before the earliest English customs, and they are quite happy with them. (The oldest recorded town in Britian, Colchester, is a mere 1934 years old. In comparison, India has the oldest city in the world, Varanasi, which is over 5,000 years old.)
- Plastic is Better Than Gold
Traditionally, the Indian economy revolved around gold, which represented solidity and security in a culture that feared the future and sought insurance against it. Today’s generation, which associates more with credit and debit cards, is building a culture where to swipe a plastic card, rather than stash gold, is a psychological bet on the future instead of a hedge against it.
- Modernity is Best Served Traditional
India is a model of forward movement in which the past retains the upper hand and the future stands on the defensive that assumes,against all odds, that the traditional and the modern are ultimately compatible.
In other words, as India matures, it is going to try and blend the individualistic forward-looking Western culture with its family-focussed backward-deference Eastern culture to create a new, modern, culture that will, hopefully, embrace the best of both worlds and allow it to easily do business with the West and the East. If they succeed, we may again see a time where the bulk of global trade passes through India. (Though, hopefully, this time it won’t be through a single trading company. As much as Sanjiv Mehta might like to see the East India Company rise to glory again, I don’t think any single company should ever have the trade monopoly that the East India Company had in the 1700’s.)