Thursday, January 26, 2006

India Has Changed -- And How!

Written from Mumbai, India--

The DNA newspaper here the other morning carried a story that India is expected to pass Japan this year to become the world's fourth largest economy.

Of course, this is a country with a population exceeding one billion. So per capita is a different story. But, still, in the forty years I have been traveling here, a total of eight trips, this is a country that has changed immensely.

There is now a well-educated middle class of more than 100 million citizens, most of whom speak English. It is technologically advanced. The scenes on the highway in from the Mumbai (Bombay) Airport include all kinds of skyscrapers that didn't exist in 1968, when I came here at a young man for the first time.

It used to be there was almost no international news in Indian newspapers. Now, there are pages of foreign news every day. It is altogether a much more cosmopolitan country.

The prime minister of Saudi Arabia is visiting India this week and the news is all about this country's vital search for energy supplies on the Arabian peninsula. India has discovered recently an off shore oil reserve, but, still, it is clear that the liquified natural gas supply from Dubai is vital, and the Indians are building the usual conversion facilities.

China and India, meanwhile, have reached some limited but useful agreements on bidding for other supplies, so they are not cutting each other's throats in the bidding process.

Chinese food was relativewly rare in India 40 years ago. Now, Mumbai has excellent Chinese restaurants, and offerings from many countries.

Traffic, however, remains a terribly unresolved problem. It took 80 minutes to come into downtown from the Bombay airport, and it seems vital that other means, perhaps a heliport downtown, or a waterway ferry system be developed. Environmealists are fighting both kinds of plans.

A New York Times column recently speculated on whether China or India would make greatest strides in the 21st Century. The column bet on China. But, make no mistake about it, India is making great strides. As an old friend of this country, I am heartened. And India retains its democratic characteristics. That is very important.

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