Jubilation in India over the recent visit by Bill Gates
contrasted with a singular ho-hum attitude about
the Prime Minister's trip to Washington. From the
perspective of hundreds of millions of Indians who
have never seen the inside of a house, the Gates
visit at least holds the promise of
trickle-down--more than what they can hope for
from Indian Americans' new found clout. PNS
commentator Sarita Sarvate, a physicist by training,
writes for India Currents.
It was more than sheer coincidence that the day India’s Prime Minister
Atal Bihari Vajpeyi arrived in Washington, D.C., Microsoft CEO Bill Gates
arrived in New Delhi. While the fanfare surrounding Vajpeyi’s visit was
restricted to the Indian American community — which used it to gain
access to Clinton — the jubilation over the Gates trip extended from
the Electronics Minister to the rickshaw wallahs to the poorest beggars
on the streets of New Delhi, gathering around his motorcade to see the
richest man in the world.
The two visits proved one thing: that India has finally arrived on the
American scene. I can recall a time when the only Indian known to an
average American was Ravi Shankar. The gala dinner hosted by
President Clinton in Vajpeyi’s honor, on the other hand, included many
well-known Indian American luminaries from Silicon Valley, the arts,
literature, and other fields.
At the dinner, President Clinton hailed the political influence that
Indian Americans, the richest and the most educated immigrant group,
are likely to have on American politics in the future. At the same time,
in New Delhi, Bill Gates declared India to be an IT (Information
Technology) superpower and asserted that the world could not live
without its talent.
So what does all this mean for those teeming masses that surrounded
Gates on his arrival in the streets?
Precious little, I think.
Indian entrepreneurs and software engineers have always asserted
that the electronics industry in India will spread the benefits of
globalization not just to the alumni of ivory tower institutions like
Indian Institutes of Technology but also to graduates of ordinary
universities and the rest of the population. This stance is predictable,
given that the Indian American community has a lot to gain from the
opening up of Indian markets to the West. Indian politicians, too,
have generally supported this “trickle down” theory, if for no other
reason than the fact that nothing else has worked so far.
Yet, I can’t help thinking of last summer, when I was invited to the first
meeting of the Indian American Women’s political coalition. A local
congresswoman and several Indian American women entrepreneurs
were to attend. “So what is the political agenda for the Indian American
women?” I inquired. There was a long pause at the other end of the
line before the head of the coalition replied, “Well, we are just
beginning to raise funds and to reach out; we haven’t got specific
issues in mind yet.”
“But surely,” I pressed, “before you begin to raise funds and contact
politicians, you have to have some idea as to what you want from
“Indian Americans don’t have time to think about politics,” she said,
“they are too busy making money.
“They are worried about mainstream resentment towards their huge
mansions, custom-built cars, newly acquired dot-com wealth. They want
politicians to be on their side.”
“Aha,” I said. “So the political aspirations of Indian Americans are
driven by their desire to protect their millions, not from any altruistic
It was a rhetorical question to which I expected no reply.
It is obvious that the gap is widening within the Indian community
between the haves and the have-nots, between those with stock
options and those without; between the dot-com rich and the rest of
us. Call it the digital divide if you will, but it is there.
And since we Indians remain as individualist as ever, with our personal
Gods and private morality, it is unlikely that any Indian American
political coalition will focus on the broad interests of the community at
home and abroad.
Instead, our political goals are much more narrowly focused. In fact,
they can be summed up in three words: prosperity, prosperity, and
more prosperity. For, it is the Indian elite that has “arrived” on the
world scene, leaving the populace behind. And it is the same elite that
is now donating vast sums of money to political campaigns, with the
hope that eventually favors will be returned.
As long as the democrats support us, we will stand behind them, but if
they are inclined to block our path, as their recent attempts to link the
H-1B visa Bill to Latin immigration amnesty have shown, we will shift
our support to the republicans.
And what of those teeming masses on the streets of New Delhi?
I can recall an anecdote from the OPEC heyday, when an Arab
gentleman wearing white robes was observed on Bombay’s Chawpati
Beach, showering rupee bills on a throng of gleeful beggars.
Now, that is Trickle Down Economics at its most demonstrable. So let
the trickle begin. After all, for a majority of India’s billion, it is the only