Text by Kimberly Cecchini
Globalism. Every nation is seeking out how it will thrive and stay relevant in this new world order. India is no different.
Vinay Rai encapsulated a message for the globe in the title of his 2007 book, Think India. He, with his coauthor, William L. Simon, posit that India is poised to share the world stage with the United States in the near future; he wants the U.S. to “Think India” as a trade partner, as a greater political partner and as a strong friend.
“The book was basically a statement to say ‘India has arrived on the world scene and will be a very important player in world geo-politics and economic driver of global growth and that those who ignore it do so at its own peril’. World business will do business with and within India for lack of choice- their economic wellbeing will totally depend in the future on how they engage with India and China.”
In his interview with Tonight at Dawn, Mr. Rai spoke about India’s relationship with the United States and how India is grappling with its severe wealth disparity so it does not stunt its own growth.
India and the United States; Together at Last, Together Forever?
Indo-American relations have long been inconsistent and fraught with misunderstandings and suspicions. In the self-interest of both nations, their relationship has been evolving for the better in recent years and Rai feels that it has been inevitable for India and America to develop a relationship because both societies value democracy and “…both are enterprising and flexible and adaptable to change…”
The new relationship status serves both nations. A significant trade partnership has been fostered by American interests in India’s growing consumer class and India seeking out opportunities with Western businesses. Since 9/11 they have also been allies in anti-terrorism efforts. In addition, the States are more accepting of its fellow Indian-American citizens and Indian cultural elements, such as yoga, have become embedded into the American mainstream.
Rai believes that his nation is learning much from the United States, particularly in terms of business, but this can be a double edge sword. A country with only a narrow history of personal borrowing is starting to develop a penchant for Western style materialism and credit. As a member of an older generation, he laments that there is some erosion in traditional values amongst its youth. Yet, some Westerners have begun to adopt the Vedantic philosophies that Rai lauds.
A Tale of Two India’s: The Wealth Gap on the Sub-Continent
Rai extols the Vedantic philosophy that encourages subscribers to look beyond their suffering in the material world to maintain a balance between the soul and “prosperity in the materialistic world”. Even with this balanced perspective, Indians cannot ignore the material world as there are many who are impoverished to a level not even seen among the poorest in the United States. According to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services 2012 statistics, people need to make a measly (approximate) $30 a day to be above the poverty level for one individual, whereas, Indians who earn $1 a day are above the line in the eyes of their government. If the States have not won many battles in its so-called “War Against Poverty,” how can India act for its own very large, very poor populous?
Despite the dire straits of many of its citizens and believing in the need to uplift all of his fellow citizens, Rai does not believe it is likely that the large gap between its financial classes will lead to a civil unrest that will affect his nation’s ascension. Still swift action is imperative;
“India is fortunately guarded from restlessness since our very basic philosophy of life is that in this life we get what we get based on our past “karma” and is thus our destiny. However with TV and growing westernization, the youth are getting more restive and hence as a nation we just have to increase the pace of our globalization, our productivity and our enterprise.”
Such tremendous poverty calls for a multifaceted approach; Rai asserts, “The only way for people to come out of their abject poverty is for the nation as a whole to collectively grown wealth, more jobs, more enterprises, more industry and services, more education, more skilling, etc.” Think India speaks about the advent of a school lunch program as a means to address both child hunger and illiteracy. According to a 2012 National Public Radio story, an increasing number of famished students around the subcontinent are fed, energized and compelled to their studies thanks to the partnership of the Akshaya Patra Foundation and the national government.
In our interview, Rai mentioned other recent federal initiatives such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act of 2006. India.gov.in provides details about the law including its main component; for every household in which the adults are willing to do unskilled manual work, the federal government guarantees a minimum of a hundred days of paid labor.
A cumbersome democracy of over a billion people, India still feels the pains -that even its friends share- of a growing economy, increasing equity amongst its people and finding its niche on the global stage. Yet, the last couple of decades have been quite promising for India; it has strengthened its ties with other democracies, developed a more prosperous middle class and created a variety of opportunities, albeit through small steps, to support the impoverished. Now perhaps there is more than symbolic hope to be seen in the son of a provincial tea seller, Narendra Modi, who was elected on Tuesday as the India’s new prime minister. As quoted in the New York Times, Mr. Modi shared his vision for uplifting all Indians, “”At the end of the day, who is the government for? It is for the poor. For rural areas, farmers, untouchables, the weak and the pained, this government is for them. To meet their aspirations and hopes, this is our priority, because our weakest, our poorest have sent us here.’”
It may be time to “Think India”.
Vinay Rai is the founder and president of Rai University and president of the Rai Foundation. He was educated at Delhi University in India and MIT in the United States.
“2012 HHS Poverty Guidelines.” <i>2012 HHS Poverty Guidelines</i>. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2014. <http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/12poverty.shtml>.
Barry, Ellen. “Modi, India’s Next Prime Minister, Adopts a New Tone.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 May 2014. Web. 20 May 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/21/world/asia/india-endorses-modi-as-next-prime-minister.html?_r=0>.
Cecchini, Kimberly. “Vinay Rai, Author.” E-mail interview. April 2014.
Rai, Vinay, and William L. Simon. Think India: The Rise of the World’s next Superpower and What It Means for Every American. New York: Dutton, 2007. Print.
“South Asia: India.” Central Intelligence Agency, n.d. Web. 20 May 2014. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html>.
Vedantam, Shankar. “Indian Engineers Build A Stronger Society With School Lunch Program.” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 20 May 2014. <http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/04/06/149867092/indian-engineers-build-a-stronger-society-with-school-lunch-program>.