Having lived under the reign of Indira Gandhi, I never thought India would one day become a foreign investors’ darling. Yet there it is: India is now the most attractive country in the world for foreign direct investment after China, beating even the USA, according to management consultants AT Kearney, a report picked up not just by the Indian papers but London’s Financial Times as well.
True, India trails a long way behind China. The $5.3 billion invested in India in 2004 was only one-twelfth the $60.6 billion ploughed into China.
But India’s success is all the more remarkable because, unlike China, there is still considerable resistance — notably from the communists — to the growing foreign presence.
Typical is the attitude of the leftist government of West Bengal state, centred around Calcutta (Kolkata), which welcomes American technology, but protested when Americans held a joint exercise with the Indian air force at an air base in the state. West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, a man of culture and usually good sense, even said he would have welcomed a military exercise with the Russians or any other country but not with the Americans. That the protesters gathered outside the air base dropped their placards and rushed to see the action when the exercise got under way is a different story, of course.
The point is India is attracting not just any old foreign investor but the leaders in technology, top names like Intel and Microsoft.
Bill Gates promised to invest $1.7 billion in India over the coming years. Indians following the news will know that, of course, but they should go online and read the reaction in Redmond and Seattle. Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports the concern there about more jobs going to Indians than to Americans.
Microsoft officials are quoted trying to soothe those fears but such fears are very real in today’s global economy. Indian engineers can be employed for only one-sixth the cost of Americans. The relentless logic of globalisation dictates the obvious. Microsoft is an American company — yes, but it is competing in a global market.
We look for value for money, the best bargain, when we go shopping — not whether the product was made in our country. If we as consumers judge products by their price and quality, and not by the country where they are made, how can we expect the producers and manufacturers to run their businesses on patriotic ideals or simply in the national interest?
The Economist magazine used to mock Euopean governments for trying to prop up "national champions". I myself had a go at the communists earlier in this post. But what if their fears about foreigners are not entirely unfounded? Americans in Seattle also are expressing the same fears.