Eye on India QuickVotes
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India's global role
This year India has managed what many consider to be the ultimate balancing act: it has strengthened ties with both the U.S. and China. In July, Washington and New Delhi worked out an unprecedented agreement that rewards India as a responsible nuclear power, opening the way for greater cooperation in nuclear energy.
Apart from meeting the growing energy needs of India, the United States's step is loaded with symbolism: Washington's public commitment to help India become a world power is a radical departure from decades of mistrust between the world's largest democracies.
Separately, New Delhi has moved to resolve long-running disputes with Beijing. India also is becoming a major defense buyer, purchasing equipment from Russia, Israel and now the U.S. All this adds to India's strategic influence and might, some of which was on display when the country rushed military assistance to other tsunami-hit nations within hours.
India's economic success continues to make headlines, but poverty is everywhere. India's economic engine Mumbai generates a third of the country's GNP, yet is home to one of the biggest slums in Asia.
The problems around Mumbai mirror nationwide challenges. An estimated 390 million lower-caste Indians live on less than $1 a day. Millions of Indian children live in abject poverty. Many women, as well, face harsh conditions in a country where, sociologists say, there is a traditional preference for males.
Additionally, India is confronted with a variety of communicable diseases and a fragile infrastructure to treat the ill.
India's steady growth is promising and rising investment levels spell hope. But the one problem every potential investor warns about is India's failing infrastructure -- a poor road network, a potable water crisis, overcrowded, and underpowered cities.
China spends more than eight times what India outlays on infrastructure, while the cost of infrastructure in India is 50 to 100 percent higher, according to a report from JM Morgan Stanley. Additionally, as much as 60 percent of electricity generated in India gets no revenue, while China's highway network is seven times larger than India's, most of it funded from road maintenance fees, vehicle purchase fees and other government revenue sources.
Across India the trend is moving from copying the success of other nations to creating unique products to appeal to a global market. In the pharmaceutical industry, for example, Indian companies have long been known as an inexpensive source of generic drugs. But under new global trade rules, the industry is spending more research money to develop new medicines for the marketplace. (Full story)
Other industries are taking off in India, as well. India's space program is known as one of the world's thriftiest. Instead of sending men into space, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) concentrates on launching educational, research, weather, and imaging satellites -- to promote what it calls a "people friendly" agenda with a budget one thirtieth that of NASA.
Now ISRO is looking further, with a project to launch "Chandraayan," a satellite to probe the Moon in 2007. The project puts India into direct competition with China's space program, and has already won offers of collaboration with the European Union and the United States.
India has one of the youngest populations on Earth. The youth is expressing itself in vibrant ways, from educated young adults thriving as workers in the outsourcing industry, to outright entrepreneurship.
And then there is India's pop culture icon: Bollywood, which cranks out hundreds of movies a year. Only the big-budget epics made by Hollywood in the United States have a bigger global impact. And Bollywood stars are flamboyant, larger than life figures.
The youth culture is not only influencing Indian tastes, but the global marketplace.
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