Two faces of India: Tom Peters On Excellence

I AWOKE in New Delhi a few weeks back to these headlines in the local newspapers: Kleenex-Huggies set to enter India; India to play key role in GE growth; Spanish trade delegation to visit India.

In my room at the Maurya Sheraton Hotel & Towers, the world was at my fingertips by way of AT&T's Definity Voice and Data System 75.

Downstairs, a group of 100 very senior seminar participants were gathering and raring to go - and my experience in Bombay two days earlier suggested they would be perkier than the 600 American executives I had addressed in Orlando, Florida, the week before that.

This was India 1994. But what about the armed roadblocks we had seen on the drive in from the Bombay airport, a response to bombings a few months ago? And what about my walk the night before the seminar? Out of the Sheraton, then, one street later, down a dirt lane where half-clothed children squatted to defecate and a line of men stood urinating along a wall. You can imagine the stench.

Such blatant contradictions notwithstanding, it's no wonder that India is a priority for Kimberly-Clark (Kleenex), GE and the Spanish. The 250 million or so Indians in the middle and upper classes (about 40 million of whom make over dollars 40,000 a year) add up to a well-off population equal in size to that of the United States.

Moreover, these people 'want quality and are ready to pay for it', according to the South Asia head of Lintas, the advertising agency.

What a change. In the summer of 1991 India almost defaulted on its international debts. To the world's surprise, the prime minister, PV Narasimha Rao, responded with vigour and began to rip open the doors to a closed economy.

Many referred to India's economy as the 'licence Raj' - a vestige of British colonialism. New Delhi told companies what, when and how to produce, where to locate, what technologies to use and whom to take on as partners.

India's state governments were worse. 'Armies of inspectors', as one commentator put it, traversed the country making sure companies accurately attended to the elephantine load of paperwork, licence renewals, and so on required by further armies of underemployed form-creating bureaucrats.

Has it all gone away? Hardly. State governments still get in the way and duties are still high. The planned sale of flabby state enterprises is going slowly.

Asea Brown Boveri, which has invested heavily in India, has been waiting for approval to produce a new high-tech locomotive since 1987. But most licences at the federal level have been abolished. Bank reform is progressing. The average tariff is heading down from almost 90 per cent to 25 per cent.

Access to technology is improving and foreign multinationals can set up research and development facilities in the country.

The proof, of course, is in the doing, of which there is plenty. GDP growth is up from about 1 per cent in 1991 to 5 per cent, inflation is down sharply, and foreign exchange holdings have gone from pocket change to about dollars 11bn.

Most important, foreign investment - a dollars 200m trickle in 1991 - is flooding in at a rate of more than dollars 2bn a year. Approvals for Indian businesses to collaborate with big foreign firms jumped from one in 1990 and five in 1991 to 49 in the first six months of 1993.

India's trade with China doubled in 1993, and US exports to India rose by 37 per cent. The government has recently issued licences to Coca-Cola and McDonald's.

IBM, which was booted out of India in the 1970s, is back, as are AT&T, Walt Disney, Raytheon, Morgan Stanley and Sara Lee.

In Bangalore, heart of the entrepreneurial south, Singapore's Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong cut a ribbon in January to launch Information Technology Park, a wonderland that may employ 16,000 software and electronics engineers. Nearby, Motorola engineers are designing components for Iridium, the hand-held satellite phone system. The company's chief for Central and South Asia said opportunities in India were 'without parallel'.

The statistical litany is overwhelming. And I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and energy of all those I met, not to mention the spectacle of running with hundreds of joggers in saris, Nehru jackets and Nike shoes on the seaside promenade in front of my Bombay hotel at 6.15am.

Yet, unlike my newfound Indian friends who practise denial so artfully, I did not become inured to the desperation just a millimetre below the surface.

Thirty per cent of the world's poor live in India, and at times I felt the fingers of each one scratching at the windows of my taxi in hopes of a tiny handout. One hundred million Indians are unemployed, several times that number are underemployed - and the country's population grows by about a Canada a year, or more than 20 million people.

So which India is it? The one that ranked 123 out of 160 Third World nations on the UN's Human Development Index? Or the India that GE and Motorola are betting will become an economic power?

I am excited, repelled and confused in equal measure. And I think, in the end, that's about the right take on this most extraordinary country.

TPG Communications

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones