Slumdog Millionaire winning eight Academy awards has to be seen in a different light than just plain and simple quality of movie-making. The US has always had a way of winning markets through other means than the obvious. Beyond the glitter and the glamour of winning the Oscar there seems to be a concerted effort on the part of the US to reach out to India. And it is not just India that is suddenly on US radar, and also it is not just because of the on-going conflict in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The changing equations in the newest world order were reflected in Hillary Clinton'sfirst trip abroad as Secretary of State which created history of sorts. Her comments on choosing to travel to Asia was telling: ?I have come to Asia on my first trip as Secretary of State to convey that America'srelationships across the Pacific are indispensable to addressing the challenges and seizing the opportunities of the 21st century.?
If North Korea was up to its usual bellicose self-threatening the world with even more nuclear tests, the situation in Afghan-Pakistan border is precarious with a bought-out peace deal with the Taliban. To add to all these woes is the looming economic crisis in the US which only gets worse with ever passing day. The Indian economy, by far has shown resilience with a 6%+ growth, even as industrial production showed signs of recovery last week. ?The deficit in infrastructure in India makes any fear of depression look unwarranted. For example, in the first 50 years after Independence we have built only 11 kilometres of roads every year. The NDA government emphatically rode the infrastructure story and now it is unstoppable. The GDP growth can be perked up to comfortable levels just by developing infrastructure and allied activities?, said a participant at the recently-held Essar Steel infrastructure conclave in Mumbai.
Interestingly, speaker after speaker at the conclave spoke of the success mantra of Narendra Modi government in Gujarat. It was not just about politics of business which has made Modi popular; the quality power situation, tendering processes, single window clearances, friendly bureaucrats and department officials, co-ordination between various ministries, all-inclusive growth pattern and the overall conducive nature of governance in the state came for industry appreciation. The best examples of good governance were reflected in the facilitation of mega projects like ports and SEZs. It wasn'tthat the industry representatives were trying to curry favour with the Gujarat government by such effusive accolades. The appreciation for Modi was genuine as there was no government representative other than Kirit Parekh, member of Planning Commission on the dais.
But for the US, more than conflicts and flashpoints around the world the government is consumed by the economic slowdown and its effects on domestic jobs. If Japan has a zero per cent interest rate regime and still witness growth sluggishness, India with 8 per cent PLR has yet to show any major slump in economic activity. It is not that the situation is comfortable in India, it is simply that Indian growth story is quarantined from the world'sfinancial market mess. Software industry and sectors dependent on it like real estate have taken a body blow in the global meltdown. The decision of the government this week to build one million homes for the poor is yet another of those measures aimed at stalling fall in growth rate, but how much will finally see the light of day is anybody'sguess. Unlike China, whose dependence on the world markets has made most of its export units languish in ruins even while tens of thousands of factory workers have been laid off, the recent spate of stimulus packages announced by the Indian government in response to the demands made by industry bear testimony to the fact that if growth story is intact, the next government at the Centre will have some leeway in introducing measures to help the small and medium enterprises sector. The small and medium sector is the one which is hardest hit by the recessionary trend. The government is yet to come up with a bail-out package that can assuage the fears of the sector, especially when liquidity has been sucked out. The small industry is still looking expectedly at a interest rate correction by the central bank. One factory manager in Thane-Belapur belt told this reporter that in the US ?the stimulus package was delayed by four days and that somehow was considered a blemish in President Obama'smanagement skills. Here in India the government takes months for crucial decisions and Indian industry bears it all with a grin?.
The attraction of Indian markets is not lost on US investors and industry. Young, prospective property buyers recently swarmed an affordable housing exhibition in Mumbai that took the organisers by surprise, which only brings out the pent up demand to the fore. If the Academy Award goes to Slumdog Millionaire, the US is just sending the right message to India about its keenness to engage this billion plus market. To take it as a front for Hollywood-Bollywood alliances alone will be a mistake. More than filmmakers, it is the large number of film watchers in this country that the US is trying to befriend. Also, as it happened with Russia, Iran and Venezuela the US also knows that India is a perfectly decent country to engage with. The economic might does not raise the hubris of this country.