- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2004

NEW DELHI — In the northern city of Chandigarh, a father mourned the death of his only son, a U.S. soldier who was the first Indian to die in combat in Iraq.

All of India mourned along with the United States over the death of Indian-born astronaut Kalpana Chawla in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster last year.

Indians today are linked to the United States in ways unimaginable only a few years ago. The two cultures are learning to interact more closely, particularly in the war on terrorism.

India sided with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and only recently turned from socialist-style central economic planning. New Delhi found common ground with Washington on ending the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, though most Indians oppose the invasion of Iraq.

Last fall, U.S. and Indian warships took part in antiterrorism exercises off the southwest coast of India, and commandos from both armies trained together in the Himalayas. Most recently, President Bush pledged increased dialogue with India on missile defense and high-tech trade.

“The expanded cooperation launched today is an important milestone in transforming the relationship between the United States and India,” Mr. Bush said in a statement.

But the ties run far deeper than economic and military connections.

In Maler Kotla, 90 miles from New Delhi, townspeople anxiously awaited the results of an election in a state few have heard of in a country most have never visited. One of the state’s favorite sons, Bobby Jindal, was locked in a November race for Louisiana governor, which he lost by 4 percentage points.

Had the election occurred 10 years ago, India’s lone television channel, state-run Doordarshan, would have included a brief statement in its daily news program, wedged between broadcasts of old Bollywood movies and reruns of “I Love Lucy.”

Today, news leapt quickly from mobile phone to mobile phone. Dismayed relatives logged on to Web sites. People sat at local teahouses, gazes fixed on televised images beamed straight from Baton Rouge, La.

The influx of high-paying jobs in this nation of 1 billion people has spurred the growth of a new Indian middle class. The cosmopolitan group is estimated at 300 million, and the National Council of Applied Economic Research says it is growing by nearly 12 percent each year.

“They’re pretty much aware of what’s going on in the U.S.,” said Anil Rajpal, of the New Delhi marketing firm KSA Technopak.

The wave of outsourcing by U.S. companies has boosted the interaction these young Indians have with Americans. The Internet and satellite television, through which Indians can watch HBO, CNN and ESPN, have also opened new windows to the West.

The United States influences “the way we speak, the way we act, the way we dress, how we eat and what we eat,” Mr. Rajpal said.

After initial rough patches, U.S. retailers have penetrated mainstream Indian society. Foods at McDonald’s restaurants, which offer Maharaja Macs and McCurry meals, “are no longer seen as American products, but as Indian products,” he said.

It’s a stark contrast with the India of decades past, when educated Indians left by the thousands for the United States because of the lack of opportunity here.

In 1991, the Indian government began encouraging privatization and direct investment from foreign companies. Since then, the economy has grown an average of 6 percent a year.

Nowadays, India’s major cities overflow with companies handling outsourced business from the United States and Europe. India’s technology companies earn about $6.5 billion, or two-thirds of their annual revenues, by providing software development, research and back-office services to U.S. firms, with revenues growing 30 percent annually.

Six-lane highways through Gurgaon, outside New Delhi, pass glittering towers of foreign giants like Microsoft, DuPont and IBM, which have “off-shored” operations to India to reduce costs. The city was little more than a shantytown 15 years ago.

U.S. firms initially come to India for cheap labor. They remain because the highly educated, English-speaking workers help generate ideas for their employers.

Their successes, though, have led to a backlash in the United States.

Eight U.S. states — Washington, New Jersey, Maryland, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Colorado and Michigan — have introduced bills to limit or ban outsourcing to non-American companies, though none have become law.

Despite the opportunities sweeping their country, plenty of young Indians still long for the United States.

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