Impressions of India — New Delhi . . . via New Haven
My wife (Sahar Usmani-Brown), who became a U.S. citizen this year, grew up in New Delhi, where her parents continue to live. I recently traveled there for the fourth time in the past dozen years — my first trip to India since an April 2014 visit that occasioned “Notes from a Nation of 1.2 Billion.” With that population now estimated at 1.25 billion, some impressions follow in this latest installment of an urban travelogue.
Our last trip came during the 2014 Indian national elections, which brought Prime Minister Narendra Modi (formerly leader of the state of Gujarat) and his BJP to power. Since then, Arvind Kejriwal of a rival reform party (AAP) has been elected in New Delhi. As the newspapers reported during our stay, the Delhi and national governments are often at odds over how to address challenges from the economy to the environment. (1)
Economic Growth, Yet Extreme Inequality; Continual Striving
The Indian economy continues to advance relatively quickly. For example, India surpassed China as the top foreign direct investment (FDI) “destination” in 2015. The $63 billion in “greenfield” projects topped the U.S. (at $59.6 billion) as well as China ($56.6 billion). Yet as in China (and as in the U.S. around the “Great Recession”), there has been over-building in portions of the real estate market (more below). Moreover, this vast country has hundreds of millions of people struggling at subsistence levels, in both rural and urban areas — where begging, sometimes by children, is just one indicator. Drought has worsened the plight of many (more on that below, too).
Still, trends of upward mobility, continual striving, and links between the indigenous and global economies are all evident. Workers commuting, children going to school, older students contemplating college and prepping for entrance exams, families consuming, international brands expanding — Delhi and its surroundings display all of this. From Accenture and Amazon to MetLife, Oracle, Honda and Uber (engendering controversy in India as in the U.S., over pricing and from cab-drivers), the signs are widely visible.