Saturday, February 23, 2013

For good news on India, forget Indian media. Read a Pakistani paper instead….

Indian media has decided that it is not going to give us any good news about the country. Good news simply doesn’t get eyeballs. Good news about the country is actually bad news for media – especially TV channels. For them, it’s the imaginative conspiracy theories (which was the family that got the bribe from Agusta Westland?), hyperbolic scam figures (Rs 70,000 crore CWG scam, when only one chargesheet for a total value of less than Rs 150 crores has been filed) and the morbid doomsday scenarios (Pakistan cuts off Indian soldier’s head; as if India’s conduct at the border is entirely Gandhian) that work the best. To turn to the positive stories, turn instead to a – hold your breath – Pakistani newspaper.

I am referring to yesterday’s Dawn and specifically to an article titled “India rises quietly and steadily”. The article relies in part on figures provided by the CII. Here are some of the highlights of the article for those who are unable to access the paper (though it’s easily available on

  • China has stolen the spotlight but the perception is that it is more of a threat than an opportunity for the region. Few have taken note of the rise of India which has been lying low. Through shrewd “camouflaging”, India has been able to avoid attention all these years.
  • At US$ 4.8 trillion, India’s GDP in terms of PPP has already surpassed Japan’s $4.5 trillion to rank third in the world (after the US and China).
  • India’s economy is one of the world’s fastest growing. In 1992-93, the size of India’s economy was $250 billion. Today it is around $1.8 trillion.
  • India is overcoming more than 200 years of poverty. It’s middle class is now emerging. There were 4.6 million middle class households in 1995, with annual income of 2-10 lacs. In 2015, the number of middle class households is projected to reach 60 million and 128 million by 2025. (note: these are households, not individuals).
  • There were 160 million “poor” households with annual income under Rs 2 lacs in 1995. By 2015, this number will fall to 143 million households (despite the huge increase in population).
  • While most of the developed economies are facing sluggish growth, India and other emerging countries have been able to post respectable growth rates. Last year, the US economy grew 2.3% compared to 2% for Japan and -0.5% for the EU. India posted a growth rate of 4.5% (note: it gets this figure wrong. It was more like 6.5%) compared with 7.8% for China.
  • These official statistics don’t tell the whole story. India is a leader in Information Technology. Its software engineers are working in every corner of the world.
  • Indian nationals hold key positions in finance and banking, capital and financial markets, and international institutions such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
  • Significantly India a regional nuclear power. While North Korea’s recent nuclear test has attracted negative criticism and Iran’s nuclear program has brought Western sanctions against the country, India’s test launch of a long-range rocket last year went almost unnoticed.
  • India has avoided much attention all these years while at the same time rising fast because it has walked a delicate line between superpower rivals. It does not upset anyone, except maybe in near neighbors, for historical reasons. It’s non-alignment policy is conspicuous. It has good ties with all countries. Its defence cooperation extends to all camps.
  • It emerged from British rule after the 2nd World War with an understanding of the West. And now it is looking East, particularly to Southeast Asia. In this aspect, India appears to be a better player than China in the regional and global arenas. Last year, trade between India and ASEAN reached almost $70 billion for both exports and imports. All the ingredients are there for India to become a regional power.
Now while India doesn’t need an endorsement from Pakistan for its economic achievements, it certainly helps to know that our neighbor allows such articles to get published. I don’t know when an Indian newspaper published such a glowing article about Pakistan. That’s the problem with Indian media. It tends to be parochial; and focused on dishing out viewpoints that it believes its readers will like. Truth is often sacrificed. I remember this was not the case in the past. Back then, Indian media turned the mirror inwards – towards the ills of our society – and helped in making the country better. It had the courage to point out the flaws in our society; talk directly to the people and ask them to change. Media was an instrument of progress. It led people onto a path of social and economic progress. It wasn’t just a business.Today, Indian media is focused on the negatives; and believes everything wrong is with the government and its institutions. Even during the Anna movement, Indian media failed to ask people to first shun corruption; or on analyzing the pitfalls of the Jan Lokpal Bill; it’s focus was only on accusing the government.

Maybe in the past, we had just the right amount of media. Today, we have a surfeit. In the mad mad fight to emerge the winner in the readership and viewership stakes, our media has surrendered to the lowest instincts of our society, doling out grisly stories and calling it news. India media is free, but it is tainted by political bias, uninformed reporting and even shades of yellow journalism.

The real truth is that India’s growth story is even today the toast of the world. Except that we hardly know it. Sometimes, it is important to look outside to get the real view of what’s inside. The Pakistani article does just that. I wish Indian media could shake itself up a bit, and remind itself of its important role as the 4th estate in a vibrant democracy like India….

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