India's People Are the Jewel in Its Crown; on Top of the Horrific Toll in Pakistan, This Week's Earthquake Left 1,300 Dead in Indian-Controlled Kashmir. High Commissioner to India Sir Michael Arthur Says the Indian People Are One of Its Strongest Assets
Byline: Sir Michael Arthur
People are India's thing. Everywhere, all the time. By 2030 India will be the biggest country in the world, overtaking China.
People are India's future - 54 per cent of the population under 25. Those people are a huge asset - provided they are educated, trained and employed. If not, they are a huge burden.
Indians have faced much down the millennia - they have tough resilience, an absorptive capacity when invaded, and an ability to cope with challenges.
For those who break out of the structured social system, there is a hunger, an ambition, a drive in modern India such as I fail to see in the West.
And there is a sense of Indian identity. For all India's diversity, there is a common uniting thread of "being Indian".
India is famously diverse - 28 states, 18 different official languages and literally hundreds of others. The difference between the Kashmiri and Keralan is at least as great as between the Portuguese and the Pole.
India is a genuine and deep-seated democracy - one of the fantastic achievements in the last 60 years of independence.
Democracy, with its distinctively Indian characteristics, is ever present and deep-rooted. In fact state elections are so constantly on the horizon that it is sometimes hard for coalition governments to get their acts together. There are three million people who hold elected office at local council level, one million of them women by law. Eighteen parties form the Indian Government coalition, with more outside support necessary to secure parliamentary votes. Politics in India is three-dimensional chess.
India has at least 250 million people on less than a dollar a day.
About as many have been brought out of poverty in the last generation - a huge achievement.
The extent of subsistence agriculture - 65 per cent of people on the land - and the problems of a developing country's economy, mean there is still a long way to go. The United Nation's Millennium Development goals will be won or lost on the soil of India - simply because of the sheer numbers.
We are doing what we can to help. Britain's biggest aid programme is in India - soon to be pounds 300 million a year.
And quite rightly so, because of the scale of India's challenge. But also, given India's other economic strengths, because when well invested - think of aid as an investment - the returns in India are higher than in most other parts of the world.
But poverty there is. There is prosperity too. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself says, in India you can find four centuries coexisting. Including of course the 21st century.
Rich Indians are world class rich. The spending middle class in India grows by the population of Australia every year at least. India is first World competitive in a growing number of economic sectors - obviously in IT and the out-shoring/off-shoring success of the last few years.
Increasingly in bits of biotech; in pharmaceuticals - India will soon, if not already, be the world's biggest generic drug producer. Engineering too.
I personally think that one of India's big future economic growths will be in agricultural exports - once they break out of the subsistence and protected/managed farming to produce higher value added crops, responding to market signals. India ought to be feeding the entire Gulf.
India probably has the longest, proudest, tradition of mathematics in the world.
It was Indian mathematicians who discovered zero. India discovered Pythagoras' theorem 300 years before his birth.
Indians today have a natural technological bent. And a huge technological drive.
A visitor to China and India will contrast the lack of modern infrastructure across India. The airports, the roads, the ports - all of these need a generational upgrade. And it is not just physical infrastructure, it is drinking water and proper distribution of power. …