Sunday, January 21, 2007

DK in India #1

After a three and a half hour delay at Gatwick (high winds), a ten hour flight and forty minutes over the slightly smoother tracts of land, known here as "roads", your humble Devil has arrived in India; more specifically, he and Trixy have arrived in Kerala (pronounced Keh-rue-la), the immensely long state that runs down the east coast from Goa to the very southern tip of India.

It is, as might befit a Devil, as hot as hell; our resort has only recently been hacked out of the jungle, and it is coconut and date palms that dominate the landscape. The sounds of the jungle remind us, in this small resort of Isla Di Coca, of how close India is, as do the raggedy shops and houses that lie just beyond the drive.

In this small, spotlessly clean enclave, however, colonialism might still exist. Whilst the staff are, as we were warned, incredibly laid back, they are friendly and eager to serve rather than obsequious and deferential. The uniforms range from black trousers with a light airtex t-shirt to the rather more formal attire—indicating some hierarchy?—of formal black trousers, dress shirt and black bow-tie. As I sit here in my long, linen trousers and shirt-sleeves, I am irresistibly reminded of Neol Coward's Mad Dogs And Englishmen... ("go out in the mid-day sun").

Of real interest to me, is the local edition of The New Indian Express left on of the bamboo chairs outside our room every morning (though Trixy is rather more enamoured of the yoga and massage sessions on offer).

The colloquial anachronisms in the paper are, in and of themselves, amusing enough—where else would one read about police having "nabbed the villain"?—but it is also interesting to observe the politics here; this is especially true of Kerala which was the first place to elect democratically a Communist Party and this CPM still rule at present.

It is not entirely unsurprising, given the traditional desire of Communists for control (not least of the press), that The Indian Express seems to be somewhat anti- the Kerala state government. Nor is it particularly shocking that much of the Kerala government's policy seems to consist of Five-Year Plans and other such remeniscences of Soviet Russia. What is clear is that Kerala's labour-laws and lack of tax breaks for the IT sector have ensured that—compared to somewhere such as Bengal (The Express's comparison, not mine!)—Kerala is still struggling for any income other than that derived from tourism (and, of course, agriculture).

The inefficiencies inherent here are summed up by the fact that, even with the mix of Sunni Muslim, Hindu and Christian religions, most shops are shut on a Sunday: apart from the government facilities (including off-licences, museums, etc. as well as the inevitable bureaucracy), which shut on a Monday. Good news for taxi drivers hired to drive tourists into the towns on two days instead of one: bad news for everyone else.

All of the excitement in the greater Indian economy seems to centre around IT of some sort. There is a healthy market in Indianmanufactured "cell-phones" which has seen off at least one Chinese attempt to enter the market and promises to stymie the bid from another Sino company. Indeed, mobile networks seem to be extremely healthy (my 'phone has the option of connecting to several networks, all of which appear to give good roaming coverage); it is notable, however, that 3G does not seem to have penetrated here as yet (one doubts that India has the free bandwidth as yet).

The latest Nasscom annual report on the Indian animation industry shows 2006 revenues of $354 million—up 24% on the previous year!—earned by a mere 16,500 employees. This amounts to nearly $21,500 per employee, in a country where the average wage for someone working in the tourist industry is about $12 per month ($144 per year).

Animation revenue is forecasted to rise to $869 million by 2010; the same report puts Indian computer game revenues at $48 million, forecasted to rise to $424 million by 2010. (Interwebs access here is, obviously, somewhat intermittent, so if anyone could look up the latest GDP figures for India and work out the proportion that these two sectors occupy, your humble Devil would be most grateful.)

However, the single most significant thing is this: I have seen Europe mentioned only in connection with one thing, and that is the treatment of Shilpa Shetty in the Celebrity Big Brother house.

The EU has not been mentioned once, over three days of close reading of the newspaper, in terms of economics or politics. If we are concerned that Britain is not of any importance in those areas, then we are correct. If we were to posit that we are more of a force as a member of the EU then, as far as India is concerned, we are sadly deluded.

There has been, for instance, no mention of Gordon Brown's visit; indeed, what would be the point? For although The Gobblin' King is supposed to be in India for "trade talks", we all know that he has no power to negotiate any trade deals since trade is an EU competence. It seems that the Indians—in a country with an education rate of 94%—are not stupid enough to believe that our Cyclopean Chancellor's presence is of any significance whatso-fucking-ever.

No; here in India, the only countries of any significance are China (as a military and economic rival) and the US (as an economic model and military protector). Let me repeat this: the EU has not been mentioned, not even once, in the entirety of three days of newspaper coverage. A more potent demonstration of the utter irrelevance of the EU in this wider world can barely be imagined.

That said, India is obviously struggling with the same ind of outmoded and protectionist labour and trading laws that have plagued Europe, particularly during the 60s and 70s. There is a very strong trade unionist movement here, especially in Communist Kerala.

The crucial difference, though, is that—whilst the EU seems to have caved in to protectionism and inefficient labour demands—the India government seems determined to try to push towards liberalisation of labour and free trade.

As a preliminary, the government is setting up Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in which state labour laws and tariffs will be suspended, and tax breaks will allow businesses to trade with a considerable advantage.

There are downsides to this policy; there seems to be a particular worry that the government will simply award the land in these SEZs to its friends; indeed, there is a call for these SEZs to lead to further transparency in, and stronger, land trading laws. This reminded me of the theory (that Timmy, amongst others, has argued) that the more stringent the land possession laws, the more free the people are.

There is much concern, especially amongst Ghandi's opposition party, about the consumption of arable land by these SEZs. However, as The Express has pointed out, the amount of land approved for the SEZs is only 0.2% of India's reputed 267 million acres of land and that, actually, the best way in which to enrich the country is, as many of us have argued, to move away from peasant farming and into high-tech industries.

The Indians, it seems, have the right ideas. Which is why, of course, our pals in the EU are so worried about its progress; they worry that the EU will become an irrelevance. As I have illustrated, it is already too late: by 2050, the Commission's own figures estimate that the EU will generate a mere 10% of the world's GDP. But even now, the EU is utterly without significance in this swiftly-growing part of the world.

There is hope for Britain, however. There is an immense amount of respect accorded to the British here, especially in Kerala which, being relatively little known as a tourist destination, has yet to suffer the depredations of the lower class of British yob. Their only knowledge of the dregs of our society seems to be in the stories of the Big Brother House; the worst levels of contempt will hopefully be countered by a wonderfully nuanced article by Colin Todhunter, writing from London and published in today's Express, which essentially points out that we British are ashamed of the BB contestants and, hey, every society has its fuckheads and we are pretty ashamed of the scum that crawl from under our rocks too, doncha' know, old chap.

I have argued for some time that we should withdraw from the EU since we derive no benefit, either locally or globally, from such an inward-looking, protectionist and corrupt agency. Having perused the papers and talked to people here, that conviction is stronger than ever.

Your humble Devil has often argued that Britain could, in effect, act as a clearing house of the world; a bridge between our old Commonwealth (after we had begged for forgiveness for selling them down the river in exchange for EU membership), the US and the ever-growing markets of Asia. Even were this not a viable proposition (as some commenters have argued), it seems to me that there is considerably more to be gained by allying ourselves with the US rather than the EU.

As I said earlier, the US is looked up to as both protector and economic model, the apeothis of what India could be. When India becomes the huge world-power that it will, barring some unforeseen and catastrophic disaster, it is to the US that it will cleave, if only to provide a balance to the potentially aggressive China on its doorstep.

And suddenly, of course, the EU's decision to court China rather than India makes sense, if looked at in the light of Old Europe's anti-Americanism. Can it really be so petty? Unfortunately, I believe that it can be, and is. If the EU continues to encourage China then we will soon not be seen as a mere irrelevance: no, we shall be seen as an active enemy of India.

Think of it; two world power blocks, one consisting of the US and India nd the other made up of China and the EU. Now, your humble Devil is a betting man, and he usually wins (as the £160 profit on a £40 investment at the Boxing Day races will attest!), and my money would be on India and the US to come out top.

The EU have chosen the losing side in this war of trade and influence: it is time that our politicians realised this and pulled Britain out of this disastrous experiment, re-aligning us, instead, with the side that is going to come out trumps.

It's not too late: so can we leave the EU now?


Anonymous said...


It sounds like Saltcoats or Skegness with sunshine.

Anonymous said...

Two emerging giants, with huge populations and rapidly growing economies. One a totalitarian one party state, the other a raucous democracy. Which one does the EU choose? Well China of course, the ideology is so similar.

Anonymous said...

Colin Todhunter's article in the Express here

Anonymous said...

The Shilpa Shetty article by Coln Todhunter has been shifted to: