The winding queues outside foreign embassies for visas may not be getting any shorter, but it is not of desperate Indians anymore wanting to make a career in the west. They are mainly students wanting to experience studying abroad or of well heeled tourists. Instead, Indians who were working abroad for many years are now making a beeline for India. They want to come back home, work here and live a life they longed for.
The India they see today is not the India they left around ten to twenty years ago. It now has the ability to offer good jobs, attractive salaries, comfortable lifestyles, good education for children and also a lovely shopping experience with affordable prices. No more is the west seen as the land of the rising son. India is the fastest growing economy in the world after China.
A couple of years ago, India's main concern were losing its young educated talent to the west. It is no more a source of worry. The young are staying back of their will as there are opportunities galore in India. A ticket to go west may be still attractive for further studies and thereafter, a short stint at a job to gain experience of working in a different culture, a different country.
But after that, they are looking for opportunities to wing back home in a changing India to take up challenging jobs. Welcome to reverse brain drain. Earlier, every middle class father and mother dreamt of their son or daughter finding a slot in any foreign country to work and settle down in. Not anymore. A growth of eight per cent in the last few years, had added a new confidence.
Shubham Rai, who found a good job at Kotak Mahindra after his MBA, has now quit it to be on his own. At 25, he has emerged an entrepreneur. He has whipped up an online service that helps people rent houses or anything for that matter without having brokers fleecing you. The changed market situation has helped him find the courage to do this, he says, and would rather be in India experimenting with new things than go abroad and do a boring job. In many ways, Rai symbolizes the new India where the youth have a different dream. India is their playground. Rai knows the risks he has taken, but is confident of doing well in a buoyant economy.
India still has its contradictions, but that is okay, the west has its ones too. There is no racism here, life is inexpensive, houses are affordable and the joy and freedom is incomparable. Says Ravi Kant Singh, who threw a highly paying job in Singapore to work in New Delhi: 'I did not regret even once after coming back. I love the free air here, the new job opportunities and the joy of celebration.'
Fareed Zakharia, one of the most respected journalists in the United States who now an editor with Newsweek International, wrote that in the last ten years he had not seen any country like India in the world which had captured the world's imagination at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The perception of India is changing rapidly in the eyes of the world. No more is it associated with a dungeon of poverty. It is seen as a vibrant democracy in the throes of positive change. For the first time, India is being seen as one of the biggest emerging economies in the world. No wonder, foreign players are all over India wanting to invest in it in hope of spinning a fortune in the years to come.
If the world's largest democracy had finally had the confidence to put up a sign in Davos that read, 'India Everywhere' it was with good reason. Incredible India, may be the Tourism departments golden slogan, but just sit back and think. The Indian growth in numerous sectors has been incredible. Outsourcing, IT, real estate and the media have become icons of growth and promise.
Privately run companies have been India's great success. It has shown what private enterprise could do breaking away from red tape and bureaucracy that has straddled public sector enterprises since independence. The booming telecommunications industry, created by intelligent government deregulation and re-regulation is a shining example of what the new India can do.
So, it is with good reason that the world wants to court India. If the United States has made friendly overtures in the recent past, it is only because they know that their future is linked to doing business with India.
Foreign Direct Investment is up with new players coming in everyday. India is looking outside to invest. Oil majors are all over the place competing with the world in investing in oil fields. Automobile majors are also eyeing foreign takeovers. Ditto for steel magnets.
A survey by Indus Entrepreneurs, an association of Indian IT professionals in the United States showed that 60,000 of them have returned home. What is the reason? Lifestyles that were as good as the ones in the US, the need to shield their children from western influences and the economic turnaround in India that offered attractive salaries were the main reasons.
Apart from this was the fact that the Western economy was slowing down. Pink slips were a fear that was hanging like a sword and the fact that immigrants would be the first to take the brunt, were other reasons. India atleast ensured that they would no more be victims of racism and one could ensure that children benefited from the rich Indian culture and way of life.
The IT boom in India has thrown up numerous opportunities. This is one reason for the NRI's wanting to come back. This has been mainly seen in the cities of Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Chennai. IT firms are more than happy to receive them as they have a global worldview and an experience that is vital for Indian companies that are growing globally.
A 2003 study by Goldman Sachs predicted that India will be the fastest growing economy in the world over the next 50 years. In another ten years, its economy will be larger than Italy and in 15 years, larger than Britain. By 2050, its per capita income will be 35 times the current level. Indian companies are growing rapidly with yearly gains between 15 and 25 percent.
Look at how the Tata group is growing. Just around ten years ago, it was collapsing and workers feared becoming jobless as its units in Pune were on the brink of closure. Then came, it's indigenously made car, Indica, and it was back to business. Today, it not only makes cars and trucks, but also is into steel, software and consulting. There are many such examples.
In the last four year, Japan has awarded the coveted Deming Prizes for managerial innovation to more Indian companies than their own. As the economy grows and develops, there is more money floating around. The highest personal consumption in the world is in the United States is 70 per cent of the GDP. Guess who comes second? It is India with 67 per cent. China is 42 per cent.
The credit card industry is growing at the rate of over 35 per cent a year. This may not necessarily be good news as individuals and families are now moving towards a lifestyle of living in constant debt. They move from month to month on plastic money-just as the west does. But living on loans is no more seen as a bad thing. A lot of youngsters today pick up a flat even before they are in their thirties-as loans are easily available. All this has resulted in a noticeable change in urban India forcing the NRI to look at India differently. It is no more the country he left a few years ago.
India today is on the verge of blooming into a truly independent democracy, hopeful, boisterous, vibrant, empowering its citizen economically and politically and open to change. What the NRI who is returning finds particularly attractive is the fact that finally India is getting off its shackled and over-regulated private sector. It has ended the license Raj.
Let us however, not gloss over the reverse brain drain and romanticize it more than it deserves. It is a good thing that is happening as India stands to gain. But India needs to do a lot to put its act together. There are serious problems that need emergency attention: More than 300 million people are still living on less than a dollar a day. India is home to 40 percent of the worlds poor. It has the largest number of Tuberculosis patients and the second largest HIV population.
It has a huge slum population in every city, but even in the slums things are changing. Slum dwellers are entrepreneurs doing small business and many have color televisions and a fridge.
India has to deal with growing casteism, communalism, terrorist attacks, crime and urban chaos. It has to improve governance if it has to grow consistently. It has to cut down poverty levels. It has to improve educational standards, push up vocational education and deal with rising unemployment due to its huge population.
If the reverse brain drain has to be ensured, India has a lot to do. It must learn from China on how to take a courageous leap. In 1960, believe it or not, India had a higher per capita GDP than China. Today, it is less than half of the Asian giant. South Korea has the same GDP as India 58 years ago. Today, it is ahead by 13 times. According to the United Nations Human Development Index, India ranks 124 out of 177, behind Syria, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic. This is gauged by income, health, literacy and other development parameters. Female literacy in India is as low as 54 percent.
Politicians in India have hardly been the stuff icons are made of. But for a change, India has got Dr. Manmohan Singh, one of the brightest economists today as its Prime Minister. He was the one who opened the economy in the early nineties, the fruits of which we are reaping today.
To Indians both inside and outside, it feels good to see the country headed by a man who not only understands issues like education, economic growth and empowerment of his people, but is also known for his honesty and simplicity. He has been involved in no scandal and is unlikely to ever be in one. He is definitely one of the best leaders India has had at the helm. He has got a finance minister and a commerce minister who are hammering out reform as much as they can despite, a myopic left party that is a part of his coalition government.
The real challenge for him is to make good economics and good politics go together. But that is not so easy.
'Brand India', has come to signify many things to those outside India. Today, India brings images of an Asian tiger straddling the economic highway. India is a nation of youngsters with dreams of economic growth, prosperity and well-being. In a country that is the fastest growing free market economy, it may well become true.
India has done well despite its politicians. That is no mean achievement. It speaks volumes of the resilience and tenacity that Indians have. No wonder they have done well wherever they migrated to. Now, ofcourse, the new story is of how they are coming back to India to see a new life, a new day.