As I watched Dr. Manmohan Singh, India’s Prime Minister first pay traditional tribute at the Raj
Ghat, the memorial built for Mahatma Gandhi the father of modern India and then unfurl the Indian flag I was struck with a sense of awe. Awe because India has achieved the seemingly impossible, built a democratic open society with a population of over 1 Billion diverse people with multiple differences in languages,religions and culture. I guess Gandhi figured out the moral path in an absolute brilliant fashion. His model was "Ram Rajya" the Hindu ideal kingdom of Lord Rama where the king and Lord Himself is extremely careful about public opinion and carrying people along
with both government and personal actions. By being able to dovetail modern western democratic notions to ancient Indian ones the Mahatma formed the foundation that allowed Dr. Manmohan Singh an Oxford Ph.D. in Economics and a minority Sikh to
become Prime Minister and be acceptable to a bunch of sometimes difficult coalition partners. Awe because India’s President is a woman Pratibha Patil who replaced Dr. Abdul Kalam a rocket scientist who is also a muslim. Awed because the President of the ruling Congress Party ( the Mahatma’s party) is an Italian catholic Sonia Gandhi who dresses in a saree and had given up the chance to become Prime Minister, thus striking a chord among India’s masses because this is exactly what the Mahatma would recommend and Lord Rama would approve!
On the ground however, poverty is still widespread and Dr. Singh emphasized that there was no success without ensuring basic living for all. He talked about healthcare and pensions for the 65 plus who are below the poverty line. Dr. Singh referred to the need for electricity and roads that have become, with drinking water, the top priority for Indian democracy in contrast to the more basic food,clothing shelter theme of the eighties. Dr. Singh was silent about controlling corruption but then the multiple newspapers and media have a great time doing "sting" operations to catch politicians and officials on the wrong foot as does the vibrant Bollywood film industry.
I wonder whether it is just the sixty years or the ability to dovetail traditional democratic values, that makes democracy work in a relatively poor and populous country. In any event , democracy does work and Dr. Singh announced opening up of many more schools and Universities to thunderous applause. The goal was to eventually provide opportunities for low cost college education to 20% of the people. Just being able to read and write was not enough according to Dr. Singh, people needed to do better on the knowledge front to be able to contribute to the new global order.
So what has this got to do with India being a great global knowledge partner? Simply this : that an open democratic society allows other global partners to know what is going on with minimal effort.
For example, a few emails or well placed skype calls might get you a fast "on the ground" view from an Indian partner’s friends and enemies! The picture may not be always pretty but at least you get the picture – not something you can say for partners in other countries with more closed political systems.