Lagging we may be, but India still regards us in awe

There are still huge numbers of middle-class Indians who aspire to places at our great universities, love the idea of red double-decker buses and adore Shakespeare

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The Independent Online

I should think it impossible for anyone who isn't a fascist to spend 10 days in India – as I have just done – and not be full of cheer about the current state of mankind and optimistic about its future. It's true that no country in history has ever seen either absolute poverty or relative inequality on the scale of modern India, yet India's emerging middle class – the very demographic that has spent weeks in uproar over the gang-rape, torture and murder of a student in Delhi – will drive this century into the next.

In dozens of conversations with family, friends and acquaintances, I received confirmation of ideas familiar to readers of this column and also a clearer picture of the enduring appeal of Britain, the imperial retreaters. On the former, let me just say you cannot witness the state of lower middle-class schooling in India without concluding that our own school system is disgracefully inadequate.

Much of the middle-class is privately educated, with many families spending two-thirds of disposable income on school. Put simply, they work much, much, much harder than we do, with a ferocious approach to discipline. School days are an hour longer in Pune (add that up over 11 years of schooling). My cousin's five-year-old is basically fluent in English, his fourth language. I know I harp on about it, but the fact that your children are only learning one language, and that too French, is bonkers.

Vast numbers of middle-class Indians still dream of coming here to study, work and raise families, as my parents did. They aspire to places at our great universities, love the idea of red double-decker buses and adore Shakespeare. The business-minded like the idea of a time-zone between New York and Asia. For the rest, the two most common attractions, other than a strong currency, are language and law.

Most educated Indians speak English, which makes us infinitely more attractive than, say Madrid, Paris, or Berlin. And for those accustomed to crooks in every corner of public life, English law is an object of reverence. The idea that you can walk down the street and not be hassled by bent coppers and not give bribes when starting a company, is much more attractive than we realise.

So we retain advantages as a result of our history that Indians relish, even as our country is falling behind. I actually get the strong impression that the Coalition understands the problem. I just don't think they – or anybody, for that matter – has a solution, because the forces shifting power to the East are unstoppable.