Asian Aerospace 2006 — the world’s third biggest air show after Paris and Farnborough, England –ended in Singapore last weekend with a fourfold jump in business, racking up $15.2 billion worth of deals. And the biggest spender was India, ordering more than $3.8 billion worth of planes. That’s $300 million more than the total business done at the last air show here two years ago. Indian Airlines ordered 43 A320 and A319 Airbuses worth $2.5 billion, another Indian carrier GO ordered 10 A320 Airbuses estimated by Agence France-Presse at $640 million based on the catalogue price while Indian low-fare airline SpiceJet ordered 10 B737 Boeings worth $700 million, according to Forbes.
The Indians were the darlings of the air show, said at least one Singapore news report, and my foolish Indian heart swelled with pride. Never mind that I might have never flown unless I came to work in Singapore, there are always ties that bind one to the motherland. I love Singapore, but of course I am thrilled by the remarkable turnaround in India’s fortunes. There was a time when people here used to say I would be a rich man when I return home. They no longer say so. Everyone is aware of India’s growing economic power.
Of course, there will always be nay-sayers. The International Herald Tribune yesterday ran an article with the headline, India’s War on Poverty: Easy Victory Unlikely. Take care of your own underprivileged, I say.
What the article says is true, but look at how far we have come. There was a time when there were just two Indian carriers — Air India flying overseas and the domestic Indian Airlines. Travelling anywhere in India usually meant taking the train. Ordinary people spent entire lives without flying even once. Planes were for the rich or those on a corporate or a government account. Now the middle class can fly as well.
Yes, there are still beggars on the streets, landless peasants in the villages, slumdwellers in the cities who do not even have a proper roof over their heads, let alone dream of flying.
That is a tragedy not about to end. Globalisation is increasing, not reducing, economic disparity.
But it is also improving some people’s lives marginally. Slumdwellers may lack proper amenities but some of them also have taperecorders and television in their homes. Some of them are also going to work in other cities, other countries. Among the Muslims, for example, there are workers who have worked in the Gulf.
An Indian’s economic status can no longer be deduced from his accent, his manners, his appearance or his lifestyle. And expectations are rising. People who barely speak English are sending their children to English-medium schools. New engineering colleges and management institutes have sprung up offering more students a chance to get a better education. Things are looking up — India needs more planes.