February 20, 2005

The India You Never Knew?

The latest issue of New Scientist features a special report on India's rapid rise towards becoming a knowledge superpower, arguing that it is India's intellectual capital that's behind the rise and not its 'cheap labour.' It's an India story that's largely been ignored by mainstream US media. The special issue features stories from India's advances in space programme, in nuclear physics, genetics, pharmaceuticals, mobile phone network distribution and also about expatriate entrepreneurs returning to India, internet connected villagers and innovations in astrophysics.

Much of the recent gains have roots in India's heavy investment in education during Nehru led (socialist flavored) India of the 50s and 60s. The real push however came in early 90s when cash strapped India decided to go the market economy way. In the budget speech to Indian parliament that outlined the economic reforms, India's finance minister famously quoted Victor Hugo -- "No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come".

The Indian economy hasn't looked back ever since. Washington Times recently called India the fourth largest economy in the world and CIA predicts it to be a competitor to the US by 2020. The prediction may well be on its way to realization if Indian leadership is any indication. The finance minister of early 90s, a noted economist and father of Indian economic reforms -- Dr. Manmohan Singh, is now India's Prime Minister. We also have a visionary President who has authored several books and worked as a rocket scientist before his current job.

The excerpt below is from NewScientist.com (my emphasis).
India: The next knowledge superpower

There's a revolution afoot in India. Unlike any other developing nation, India is using brainpower rather than cheap physical labour or natural resources to leapfrog into the league of technologically advanced nations. Every high tech company, from Intel to Google, is coming to India to find innovators. Leading the charge is Infosys, the country's first billion-dollar IT company.

But the revolution is not confined to IT. Crop scientists are passionately pursuing GM crops to help feed India's poor. Some intrepid molecular biologists are pioneering stem-cell cures for blindness, while others have beaten the odds to produce vaccines for pennies.

And the country is getting wired up as never before. Mobile phone networks have nearly blanketed the country and the internet is even reaching remote villages.

Looking skyward, India's unique space programme has fought international sanctions to emerge as key player in India's development. Meanwhile, India's nuclear industry is boldly building cutting-edge fast-breeder reactors.

However, there are dramatic problems of poverty and infrastructure. To transform the nation, Indians will have to change their way of thinking about science and technology, take risks in research, and deal with the issues of education, infrastructure, bureaucracy and corruption.

New Scientist Special Report on India
BBC profile of Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh
BBC profile of Indian President, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam
Books authored by the Indian President
India is the fourth largest economy in the world: Washington Times
India will be Economic Giant predicts CIA
Slideshow of Infosys campus, India's most well known IT company
(The campus facilities put Googleplex to shame. They include swimming pools, Asia's largest video wall, one of Asia's largest gym and three food courts inside a building designed on the lines of Sydney Harbor Opera House. Another Infosys building houses what is world's largest single location training facility.)

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