But hang on. There is another India the foreign visitor meets as he departs our improving airports. The journey to the 5-star hotel may have been sanitised, courtesy better roads and the absence of defecating slum-dwellers on the highway. Still, the "other" is very visible at traffic lights, parks, shrines, monuments, railway stations. Here one encounters sub-Saharan poverty cheek by jowl with glittering affluence. How do these two Indias coexist so peacefully, asks the pesky foreigner. Perhaps its belief in karma or kismet? Or just plain helplessness?
To argue thus is to invite trouble from those puffed up with pride (and a little prejudice) about how far and how fast our recently unchained republic has progressed. The poor must learn to be patient. First, they must somehow acquire "merit" and then "compete". This proposition might seem reasonable if the disparities in our society—between the rich and the poor—were acceptable and not so shaming. Superpower India managed only last week to officially ban child labour! No doubt, we are a full-fledged capitalist country and, in such a system, certain levels of poverty are required to oil the wheels of free markets. The difference between India and any other first world country, or even a developing country, is the yawning gap. Only in the Congo and Rwanda is the gap between the haves and have-nots wider.
The world, rightly, sees India as a rising money power, but it also sees India as a country where some people eat grass, sell their children, hawk their kidneys, commit suicide so that their families can get state compensation. Economic superpower? Yes. And no.