Independence Day – Singapore & India

Today is India’s 61st Independence Day.

Last week, I attended Singapore’s National Day celebration at Trident Hotel, Nariman Point, conducted by the Singapore Consulate. It was on 9th August, on a rainy afternoon. I met a number of Singaporeans, and Indian businessmen with interests in Singapore. We were welcomed by Mrs and Mr Chin, Singapore’s Consul General in Mumbai. It was interesting to see that most small talk around the room was business- oriented, given the business mindset of Singapore government officials. One always gets the feeling that Singapore is indeed a MNC organization.

Ofcourse, there were a few families and talk of the challenges of living in Mumbai, schooling, etc., but it was clearly a time to relate to each other with some business introductions ! Lots of cards were getting exchanged. Most people were formally dressed, while I was in a red T-Shirt ! The food was of Singapore origin, lending a pleasant air and smiles around the room, when discussion turned towards “Nasi Goreng”. Singaporeans do miss their favourite food in India.

Today, there was no such meeting – India is too vast to hold such meetings anyway. However, the government and most schools followed protocols and officially celebrated the hard fought independence. I am sure Indian missions around the world would have done something locally to celebrate the day. In Mumbai though, it appeared that most people preferred to celebrate the independence day at their respective offices and institutions the previous day itself, and finish it off. It was raining heavily as well. As this year’s independence day falls on a Friday, it is a 3-day weekend, and people might have wanted either to laze off or head out of town !

However, I noticed that there was a huge traffic jam in the evening, with rains also playing a spoil sport. People generally seem to be out shopping. It is ofcourse, good for what appears to be a weakening economy. Consumerism cannot be stopped in India, I guess. There exists an insatiable, unmet demand for almost everything that is consumer demand driven. News that IT and BPO companies are slowing down and reducing their hiring did not seem to be having a real impact. Which I thought was good overall. Feelings and sentiments have an overpowering impact and influence on any nation’s economy, and if these are not overly impacted by minor pullbacks, that can only spell positive news for the economy.

India has a long way to go before it can attain the status of a “developed” economy like that of the U.S. or a Singapore, or Japan. There are lots and lots of unfinished government business and left over initiatives which have gone into cold storage. It appears that political compulsions are driving decision-making at the highest levels of the government – keeping the forthcoming elections in mind. While any incumbent government anywhere in the world would do likewise, the Indian environment calls for bold initiatives from apolitical influencers, who could redraw the society and infrastructure in double quick time. Lot of time has already been lost, and the sense of urgency needs to prevail in whatever societal progress that can be accomplished. It may be asking for too much, I know. But all of us have to contribute in some manner. Old ways of doing things won’t do any longer. Radical transformation of the society, infrastructure, and the economy is called for, which would mean that the power has to shift to private hands and government gets out of most businesses. Government, ofcourse, needs to provide a level playing ground, physical infrastructure, and equality/fairness in its treatment, but has to necessarily get out of any utilities and business.

There is no faster prescription. Even Singapore has not achieved this in full – government is still involved in many businesses and industries, or holds equity in many successful ventures. But that is not and never a government’s primary purpose.

A qualitative transformation of Indian society based on egalitarian principles but driven by privatized businesses in all areas of economic activity would create wonders and propel India into the First World league within a generation. Hope that this Independence Day could be the turning point for such a blueprint.

Have a great and long weekend !


Vijay Srinivasan
15th August 2008