- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 8, 2001

Sonia Gandhi, leader of India's opposition Congress Party, was in New York for lunch the other day, telling the Council on Foreign Relations about how her country, a mere third world nation, could teach the United States the superpower a few things, notably how to tabulate votes accurately, how to handle political defections and how to deal with electrical power failures.
Her message was that India is on the build; that it welcomed free foreign trade; that its help will come from the brainpower and capital of the "Indian Diaspora" that left Bangalore for the riches of Silicon Valley and Wall Street, and for whom it is now payback time; and that it will one day be a great power.
Mrs. Gandhi told her audience that she looks for a new regional stability stemming from the historic summit meeting with its nuclear neighbor set for July 14, when Pakistan's politically embattled President Musharraf journeys to Delhi to meet with Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee. The two are ready to discuss a package of peace measures involving the battleground Himalayan province of Kashmir, as well as most favored nation status for India, an issue that Indian officials see as a deal breaker.
But Ms Gandhi, who may well be the next prime minister if the Congress Party prevails in the next election, might be advised to consider her party's position on a few vexing economic and social issues that overshadow a country in many respects still trying to extricate itself at the margin from medieval times.
India's progress in the 54 years since independence has been uneven. One of the world's richest countries with vast arable lands, sunshine and rainfall, rivers and mineral wealth, its agricultural productivity is the lowest in the world. And with a surging population, now one billion, it has the largest number of illiterates in the world. With 36 per cent of its citizens scrabbling for a living below the poverty line, India has much to do to realize Mahatma Gandhi's dream for an independent and modern nation where Hindu and Moslem would live in brotherhood.
India needs to privatize. Its communications, transportation and banking systems are all government owned. All are grossly inefficient. When I was there in February, I heard that Indians prefer cell phones to land phones because the government owned land phone system offers unacceptable connections at exorbitant prices. Planes and trains get cancelled or delayed with routine frequency. The banking and currency systems obviously require wholesale restructuring.
India needs to ecologize. Its most sacred river, the Ganges, is a cesspool of pollution. In Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, smog caused by industrial waste is virtually unbearable. Inadequate hygienic and sanitary conditions, elaborated by the filth-ridden public lavatories of Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport, are pervasive.
India needs to legalize. While Mrs. Gandhi boasted of a rule of law unparalleled in the third world, there is virtually no protection for intellectual property, a situation that deters Western drug manufacturers from selling India needed medications, particularly to combat the AIDS pandemic and indigenous manufacturers from doing research and development on new pharmaceuticals.
India needs to educate its children. It houses the largest number of the world's illiterate, over two-thirds of whom are women. While at the high end, Indians are superbly trained and assume challenging and complex roles in the new economy, more than one-half of their countrymen drop out of school before the eighth grade, particularly in rural areas. This contrasts dramatically with China where nearly all children get at least 10 years of school education.
India needs to sanitize. Over 2.2 million die each year from preventable diseases. Levels of infant mortality in India are unacceptable even for a third world nation. Health care, in both prevention and treatment, is substandard, with AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria among the leading killers. AIDS testing is not even encouraged for reasons of cost.
Most economists say that globalization with its attendant increased movement of information, capital, trade and labor is the key to India's progress. This means foreign investment; and, indeed, there has been some interest.
Bill Gates says that he is impressed with the keenness of India's politicians to use the Internet in government and education. Global heavyweights General Electric and Citicorp are also bullish on India. They see the country as a great place to do business and predict that it will move to a more central role in the global economy.
Global insurance giant AIG has recently returned to India after 30 years to invest in a joint venture marketing commercial and personal lines of property casualty insurance. AIG says that permission to market life insurance is expected shortly.
But it will take a lot more. The tensions with Pakistan have made Kashmir a nesting place for terrorists and warlords. India defies international non-proliferation consensus as it secretly amasses a nuclear stockpile and a missile arsenal.
The threat of terrorism by fundamentalist sects gives the country's airports the air of a garrison state. Couple all this with a degraded infrastructure, a caste system that perpetuates an underclass, and one senses the awesome dimension of India's problems.
And there are appalling human rights issues as well. There is a generally acknowledged mistreatment of women at all levels of society, including tolerance of the barbaric practice of dowry murder where the family of the groom feels free to murder the bride if her family reneges on the marriage's financial expectations. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, 18 to 45 per cent of husbands physically abuse their wives.
There is harassment of Christian missionaries who in certain states have been the targets of murderous attacks. And this is only one aspect of a systemic repression of non-Hindu religions that seems to pervade the country. There is a cavalier official attitude towards police responsibility for disappearances and secret cremations of Sikhs in the Punjab that journalist Patwant Singh calls "the worst genocide in independent India."
Henry Kissinger notes that India has survived through the centuries by "combining cultural imperviousness with extraordinary skill in dealing with foreigners." This explains a foreign policy that has been largely geopolitical, staying aloof from foreign entanglements not affecting its vital interests. Mr. Kissinger sees India as basing its security in the south on the cultivation of friendly regimes in the arc from Singapore to Aden and in the north on nuclear weapons for potential use against Pakistan, China or perhaps Afghanistan.
The U.S. national interest in India parallels Mrs. Gandhi's position. It is to prevent regional warfare, promote democracy and stability, expand trade and investment, and invite cooperation on a host of global challenges, ranging from fanatic Islam in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan to drug trafficking and environmental degradation.
India's polity has been described as "the third moment in the great democratic experiment launched by the American and French revolutions." But, between the momentum and the moment falls the shadow.

James D. Zirin, a lawyer, is a partner in the New York office of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood.

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