Thanks to the support of Ashoka, a few weeks ago I visited India, one of the countries that will write the fate of the world in the XXI century. One of the most surprising things about this country is the richness of its past, the contrasts of its present and the aspirations of becoming a world power in the future. As an outside observer, I could not but marvel at the profound, almost schizophrenic, contrasts which coexist: a country where one of the most dynamic software industries in the world coincides with 456 million poor people, many of whom live on the same farming practices that Mark Twain described in “Travelling on the Equator” in the late nineteenth century. In India, a profound spirituality coexists with one of the fastest material accumulation processes of our time. It is also a country where several women have held the highest political offices while its society still has amongst the highest levels of discrimination against women.
Looking at its origins, many predicted it would not stay together after independence. After all, this is a country where 800 languages are spoken. India, however, has remained not only together, but in a democracy, the largest in the world. And it is precisely here that many find the answer: a diverse society could only stay together thanks to pluralism and the strengthen democratic institutions have been gaining over the years.
Its economic and political development has not come without challenges. The first one is lifting out of poverty hundreds of millions of its citizens. Another one, of similar magnitude, is overcoming corruption. On my visit to New Delhi, to a research center that advises the Parliament, I met with a parliamentarian from a mostly rural State. This woman, about 60 years old, did not speak English or Hindi (the most common language in India) neither did she understand the codes of the federal government’s bureaucracy. Therefore, she sought advice from my colleagues at PRS on how to disarm the dense network of corruption around a farming subsidy program which involved local authorities, judges and even officials of the Ministry of Agriculture. With my colleagues, we emphasized the need for transparent information and, above all, to win the support of the subsidy’s beneficiaries. Her “namaste” (I bow to you) at the end of the meeting left me mixed feelings: while I confirmed that corruption and political clientelism are the main enemies of the poor, I am certain that possibilities exist as long as there are people willing to fight.
Despite their differences, India and Ecuador share many similarities. To begin with, both are named after geographic references, as its name comes from the Indus River. Winston Churchill recognized the similarities when he said that “India is as much a country as Ecuador is.” In addition, both countries are highly diverse: ethnically, geographically and politically. However, unlike the democratic breaks Ecuador has experienced in recent decades, India has succeeded not only at staying democratic but further building a collective project for the future, rooted in its history and cultural richness, but not dependent on its essences.
Another feature of the “Indian model” that could shed light to our development process is the emphasis on moving towards a knowledge society. India is committed to changing from a commodity model to one that exports software and other products of high technological value. To do this, it has used the nearly 20 million Indians living abroad. According to Saxenian Anna in his study “The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in the Global Economy”, the Indian diaspora has enabled progress in the transition to a knowledge society. The capacity and entrepreneurship of migrants and the establishment of public and private institutions are two factors that allowed knowledge acquired in western universities and companies to transfer to India and in that way avoid the brain drain that has affected countries such as ours.
Looking ahead, Ecuador and India have many common challenges. Of rich and deep cultural roots, both countries must ensure that its diversity is no longer seen as an obstacle and becomes the basis of individual and social development. The country of 1.2 billion people and 500 languages has bet on democracy, not authoritarianism, as the process to balance the tension between tradition and modernization and build a clear vision of the future. In Ecuador, we still have the challenge of recognizing that we are a diverse society and that with more, not less, democracy we can build a country where there is a social commitment to ensure that, quoting the Indian economist Amartya Sen, all people enjoy of freedom and opportunity to live the life they value.