Poverty and Riches in Booming India: Tomorrow's World Power Turns 60
It's been 60 years since India won its independence and the country of Mahatma Gandhi is now on track to becoming a global power. But the country's new prosperity remains elusive for many, with millions of farmers still leading lives of abject misery. SPIEGEL visits five very different places to see what India's future holds.
India celebrates 60 years of independence on August 15.
Shyama's mother later told her about the fireworks and the street celebrations that night, and about the historic words of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru: "At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom." But one man, Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation, was not celebrating that night -- because millions of people were still starving and because independence also meant partition of the former British India into two countries, India and Pakistan. Instead, Gandhi stayed at home and fasted.
An untouchable, a man named Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, had written much of the new country's constitution. It was designed to create a country in which all citizens would have equal opportunities. "If things go wrong under the new constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad constitution ," said Ambedkar, "What we will have to say is that man was vile."
Over the course of the country's history since independence, it periodically seemed that things would indeed go wrong. But now that the Republic of India is turning 60 on Aug. 15, the world no longer mentions the country in the same breath as tales of poverty and hopelessness. Today's stories about India are tales of success.
The legacy of the 1947 partition can still be felt in India, especially in disputed Kashmir.
Like the country, Shyama is now almost 60, but she looks younger. She sits in her office in downtown Delhi, wearing a pink sari. She has large, dark eyes and a narrow nose with wide nostrils that makes her look almost aristocratic. She wears her dyed black hair piled up on her head in a hairstyle similar to the one favored by her idol, Indira Gandhi, India's third prime minister.
As a general director of Delhi Transco Limited, the city's electric utility, Bharti is at the highest level she can be promoted to in her career as a civil servant. She has four telephones on her desk, and her business card reveals that she has four university degrees. "As far as education goes, I'm a Brahmin," she says, laughing.
She earns 42,000 rupees, or 760, a month. Her husband receives a government pension. The couple is provided with a driver and a car, a company mobile phone and a large house with servants. The Indian state treats its civil servants well.
Shyama Bharti managed to complete her ascent into the upper middle class long before today's new generation of social climbers, who make their money as call center agents and IT specialists, came on the scene. About 200 million of India's 1.1 billion people are already part of the middle class today, a number that is expected to increase to about 600 million by 2025 -- figures that are enough to make investors delirious.
The West has long realized that India is on its way to becoming a global power. The giant country is expected to be the world's third-largest economy within the next three decades. India and the United States signed a joint nuclear treaty only two weeks ago. India has been de facto accepted as a nuclear power, and its next goal is a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. The country's elites are literally bursting with self-confidence.
Indians who read newspapers can marvel at the daily stories of progress in their country, and of its rise to prominence. India launches an Israeli spy satellite into space. Indian automakers plan to acquire Jaguar. Free wireless Internet in all of Bangalore. Domestic flights doubled in the space of two years. Bank accounts opened for each and every resident of the state of Himachal Pradesh.
At the same time, India's infrastructure remains a problem. Its roads, buses and airports are in a woeful state of disrepair, and power outages are common.
A trip through India is a lesson in glaring contrasts. India is a land of the future, and yet parts of it are still a long way from the present. It is a country of the fabulously rich and the desperately poor, of Hindus and Muslims, wooden plows and nuclear power plants.
Shyama Bharti will go into retirement on Aug. 15, her 60th birthday. She and her husband will move to her old village, Gurgaon, which has since been engulfed by Delhi's southwestern suburbs. The land the couple bought there 20 years ago is worth at least 100 times what it cost them to buy.
SPIEGEL traveled to five different parts of India to get a glimpse of the country's future.
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2007
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH