From “basket case” to world power, India has come very far in a half century.
Question: How has the West changed its view of India?
Cyril Shroff: If one looks at the history of India after independence in 1947, for the first 30 to 40 years I think we were effectively given up as a basket case because we made various attempts through socialism to effectively alleviate poverty and keep growing but that model didn't work.
So even when the pre-90s when we spoke to foreign corporation of foreign businessmen who wanted to do business with us, we were always a land of opportunity but an opportunity whose time have not yet come. The attitude I think really changed from the early 90s when the liberalization or our second economic freedom really began and this picked up momentum I would say into the latter half of the period between 91 till now.
Currently, I think India is looked at with a lot of respect across a number of dimensions. Let me enumerate a few. It’s looked at as a safe environment in which, thanks to the rule of law, one can do business and no one really has lost a lot of money in India. On the contrary, people have made enormous profits. The fact that we are built upon private sector concepts is also a great comfort.
The second dimension I think is the India people are regarded as very intelligent, skilled in maths and science, very comfortable with things ranging from philosophy to music to the arts and that’s something which fascinates the world as well.
India is developing a lot of soft power, and it’s not just about us providing outsourcing and call centers to the world. We are providing a lot of thought and a way of life. I think we’re also respected for fundamentally a non-violent belief thanks to our religious roots whether it’s Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, we contributed more religions to the world than any part of the world and that’s something which does find its way into how the world looks at it.
At some point of time everybody has a spiritual need and somewhere or the other you find that Indian connection. So our culture is making a big difference and, whether it’s our curries or movies like "Slumdog Millionaire" or whether it’s just the Bollywood numbers to which a lot of the world is rocking, I think India's soft power is going up. And we are contributing a lot of entrepreneurs to the world as well whether it’s people like Lakshmi Mittal or Indra Nooyi or thinkers like Amalti Singh. This is all happening because of there’s something fundamentally right and thoughtful about Indian society. That’s how I see it. I may be wrong, but that’s how I see it.
Recorded on: April 29, 2009