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AUGUST 11 , 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 31 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK

Power players
Who is shaping the new India? Here are three of the many talented nation-builders who have come to the fore in recent years. While they represent different regions of the country and various political ideologies, they fervently extol economic reform and development, and believe India is moving ahead — as they are.
By ROGER MITTON New Delhi

ALSO:
Worth Knowing: Look out for these people. They will have a role to play as India grows and develops

Advocate of Wealth

ARUN JAITLEY, 47, below left, gets most people's vote as the man who best epitomizes the way India is changing. Says an Asian diplomat: "Jaitley is the modern face of India, a brilliant man with a clean image." Waspishly articulate, impatiently dynamic and with a star-studded background in law (including a stint as solicitor-general), this bespectacled former student leader from Delhi was imprisoned during the 1970s Emergency declared by then-premier Indira Gandhi. Always right of center, he rose through the ruling BJP's Youth wing to join the party's topmost national executive committee in 1991. But Jaitley has never won a constituency seat and instead sits in the Upper House — a fact that may preclude him from ever becoming prime minister. Until recently, he was minister in charge of disinvestment (privatization), with the task of persuading the private sector to take over some of the nation's dinosaur public companies, such as Air India. He says it was no easy task, made more difficult by resistance from anti-reformist cabinet colleagues. "Some people may oppose economic reform for reasons of political advantage, but change is gaining acceptability," he says. "The people want investment to come in, both from the private sector and from overseas." Now law minister, Jaitley wants Indians to view material gain as a good thing. "There was a time when success was considered elitist and mediocrity was the norm," he says. "Today, success is excellence. The time is now coming where, in terms of growth and development, India is going to occupy center-stage. We are becoming relevant on the regional map. In fact, we'd like the regional map to begin with us."

Energy Source
RANGARAJAN KUMARAMANGaLAM, 48, right, is a soft, genial bear of a man with a ready laugh and husky smoker's voice. Born into a Tamil Nadu political dynasty (his grandfather and father were both ministers), he has kept up the family tradition, becoming a minister in 1991 when he was in the then-governing Congress party under prime minister Narasimha Rao. He left two years later. "I resigned from that Congress government essentially because of its half-hearted reforms and political policies," he says. "I was in Congress for 30 years, but it has now become a motley crowd of sycophants." Kumaramangalam is now a gung-ho member of the dominant BJP — unusual for a Tamil, given that party's strong Hindu ethos. Tagged a gadfly for jumping parties and looking after his own interests, he retorts: "That's not fair. I joined the BJP because they seem more clear about what they are doing." Having held various portfolios, he is now in the key ministry of power. In a country the size of India, this is a Herculean task — and one where it is almost impossible to meet expectations. A World Bank report released last month warned that India's creaky infrastructure — including its power supply — could stymie its economic resurgence. Kumaramangalam admits: "There is a lot still wanted, no doubt about it. But we've already improved vastly. When I came to this position, we were about 18% short of our power needs. Now we are only 5% short. This is not just due to additional capacity, but to improved efficiency in production and distribution." As for India still lagging behind its Asian rival, China, he says: "They will be a little ahead in the short term because their economic system is not transparent and because they have an authoritative government. They can say, 'You want to invest here, I can give you the go-ahead and not be questioned.' In India, you are answerable. In the longer term, though, we will not just catch up with China, we will outstrip them. China has never been democratic; India always has been."

The Extreme-Right View
SURESH PRABHU, 47, above, hails from India's financial and economic powerhouse state of Maharashtra. He is disarmingly pleasant and soft-voiced considering he is a member of the neofascist Shiv Sena. The radical pro-Hindu party's leader, Bal Thackeray, was recently arrested for allegedly contributing to Hindu-Muslim riots in Bombay in 1993 in which thousands were murdered. The charges were dropped last month. Prabhu tendered his resignation as a symbolic — and politically astute — gesture of support for his temporarily beleaguered party boss. As expected, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not accept it. The premier's coalition government would likely collapse if Shiv Sena left — and, besides, Prabhu is too valuable to lose. First appointed to the cabinet in 1996, he is now in charge of chemicals and fertilizers — a tough job in still largely agrarian Indian. There always seems to be a stream of people waiting to see Prabhu in his office in the decrepit old government complex. This is partly because of the minister's easy accessibility, which he advocates as a deterrent to bureaucratic delays and corruption and as a conduit for new ideas and views. Prabhu says the world is finally noticing his country. "I believe India can be the next engine of growth for the global economy."

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