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Harbingers of hope for India in 2010?

Soutik Biswas | 11:05 UK time, Friday, 8 January 2010

Indian boy with tricolour paint on his faceHas India's "Deciding Decade" begun? A study, done by a Delhi-based economic research firm along with a leading newspaper, thinks so. It says that India's GDP can grow at an average annual rate of 9.6% for the next 10 years even if there were no reforms. Incomes will double, the middle class will burgeon and urbanisation will proceed at breakneck speed.

Now the bad news. Even with this scorching growth, more than 250 million people of a total population of 1.3bn will still be "very poor" in 2020, the study says. That's not all: not even 100 million Indians will be graduates or post graduates despite the growth. Clearly, without radical reforms in education and infrastructure taken up with missionary bipartisan zeal, millions of Indians will still be hungry, poor and illiterate. Are India's politicians and bureaucrats up to the task? On present evidence, hardly. But we all live in hope.

The decade has also begun with a rash of good news stories. The government is planning to give out passports within three days of verification, make compulsory baby seats in cars and provide cheaper food for the poor. At least one state is launching madrassas or religious schools where English will be the medium of instruction. The government is also promising to introduce more women-friendly laws, harsher punishment for sexual crimes and fast track courts. All this just proves how much ground India has to cover. And Indian governments are famous for making announcements that take months, sorry, decades to implement. So we will wait and see.

But there is a piece of truly good news that holds out hope for India. Bihar, India's basket case state - poorest, most lawless, underdeveloped - appears to have clocked the fastest rate of growth during 2008-2009. If the Bihar government is to believed, the state's growth rate - 11.4% - is higher than India's industrially developed states. It is being attributed to good governance, buoyant revenues, increased government spending and a swelling unorganised private sector. If this is true then Bihar has all the makings of a miracle economy.

Bihar's remarkable "turnaround" shows the way for India, in a way. It also proves, as political philosopher Pratap Bhanu Mehta says, that "for the first time in modern Indian history, Indians, including the very marginalised, have a sense that change is possible: our destinies are ours to shape".

A sobering thought to keep in mind though. Impressive growth figures are unlikely to stun the poor into mindless optimism about their future. India has long been used to illustrate how extensive poverty coexists with growth. It has a shabby record in pulling people out of poverty - in the last two decades the number of absolutely poor in India has declined by 17 percentage points compared to China, which brought down its absolutely poor by some 45 percentage points. The number of Indian billionaires rose from nine in 2004 to 40 in 2007, says Forbes magazine. That's higher than Japan which had 24, while France and Italy had 14 billionaires each. When one of the world's highest number of billionaires coexist with what one economist calls the world's "largest number of homeless, ill-fed illiterates", something is gravely wrong. This is what rankles many in this happy season of positive thinking.


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  • 1. At 2:00pm on 08 Jan 2010, BakedBeans wrote:

    I have two expectations.

    1.Congress out of power
    2.Make love but say no to babies if you already have one.

    Bihar is not ruled congress.Is that a reason I donot know ?

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  • 2. At 2:24pm on 08 Jan 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    The bankers, the investors and the politicians all paint these wonderful pictures. The recent past and the financial collapse was a systemmatic failure of political oversight, or collusion between the monied and the politicians. This relationship exist in most countries and the fate of each will be the same. It is not growth, but sustainable growth that is important. That requires a greater distribution of the wealth, the development of a sustainable middle class and opportunities for the poor in education and employment. Politicians always like the quick fix and that is why things fail and when they fail it is the poor and the middle class that pay the price. If India wishes to follow the model of the West, bubble and burst, then expect the same results. The number of new billionaires is a reflection of the problem not the solution. The building of a strong internal economy based on something other than cheap labor is needed. The poor remain poor and the new middle class is happy to escape that fate and now concentrate on maintaining what they have gained. Remember, economist were saying that the fake growth in the West was actually the beginning of a pattern that would go on forever, they were wrong...again. Competitive greed is a poor basis for an economy. There are also costs to the environment and the health of the people tied to such growth and that never seems to be reflected. The allure of gold can be so blinding. The bankers will want the Soul of India as collateral.

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  • 3. At 4:24pm on 08 Jan 2010, divya wrote:

    There is no hope for india if we base our hopes on callousness like this:
    In previous decades people would not have stood around and watched a man die. This is no longer the country of Gandhi.

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  • 4. At 10:11pm on 08 Jan 2010, BakedBeans wrote:


    Accountability is missing from everybody here.Sad.

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  • 5. At 07:41am on 09 Jan 2010, Gurudev wrote:

    "As long one child goes hungry ,we have long way to go."
    "Wipe Every Tear From Every Eye"

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  • 6. At 08:17am on 09 Jan 2010, NedKelly wrote:

    Congratulations India; your economic growth has been tremendous. However, growth is not everything. One can't just focus on growth while turning a blind eye to popultaion growth, which has been growing out of control in recent years. If you are unable to provide a quality life for your bottom 250 million (and growing), don't expect the more comfortable corners of the world (eg countries with population stability) to take up the slack.

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  • 7. At 08:50am on 09 Jan 2010, common indian citizen wrote:

    no govt institution work in india every body is deaf they even dont let a common man work whatever he tries to do with even his resourses.i dont what is the authencity of the economic data is given by govt.i think economicaly there is hypertension all over globe us,europe,japan have checked their blood presure and trying to control it.but indian'are so dumb that they have not even checked their bp and living in euphoria that their econoy is very in hypertensin happen if u dont control it its a silent day economy of india will happened 1n early part of 1990's when indian central banker have to raise foreign exchange by its gold reserves.they are again doing the same mistake.they wake up when everything have gone happens in in bollywood movies that police is always late

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  • 8. At 09:13am on 09 Jan 2010, rshahdeo wrote:

    Though I might be labeled a cynic, I do not see us progressing to these rosy predictions as there is much talk and little action in my country. Politicians are busy filling their coffers, corporates plundering national resources, an apathetic executive, a tainted judiciary and people who do not seem to care much.
    If we are to progress, the government should consider serious investment in 5 things - education, education, education, education and education.

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  • 9. At 09:49am on 09 Jan 2010, Harinder Pal Singh wrote:

    Survey.. its just from few stats, and according to indian population its too less.
    In reality I am sure the figures are more horrifying. Let me tell you one thing for sure in India. The guys who are rich are becoming rich and poor i can't even explain how they spend every day of their life. they pray every night, please god don't wake me up for next day. i am done for the life.

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  • 10. At 10:59am on 09 Jan 2010, MotaMaal wrote:

    I am from Bihar. I know there has been tremendous change in attitude of government compared to earlier government of Lalu/Jagannath Mishra.
    But again, poors are getting poorer n rich are getting richer. Media, education,production, manufacturing...almost everything is under the control of rich people. So everything you see on TV /newspaper is in their favor, their interest and to promote their interest.

    Everyday new product , like Smartphone/car /tv/games will be launched but never heard of similar announcement in the field of education. We rarely hear investment being made in education.

    Politicians are never interested in letting people get educated and get wise. As long as people are not educated, not aware of their rights, better for politicians . politicians can keep filling their black coffers. Madhu Koda is a good example. Shibu Soren is not willing to be left behind either.

    After all this,I would appreciate Late Sri Narsimha Rao and Current PM Manmohan Singh who are the real hero behind whatever we can cite as a good thing. Manmohan singh should stress upon Education as well.
    I wish we had leaders like Manmohan Singh only who are technocrat and well educated.
    Nitish Kumar is another leader like him, Nitish is Civil Engineer by education.

    Doctors/professors/engineers and similar technocrat people only should be allowed to come into politics. Not like Madhu Koda who has no background of education or good credential to rely upon, I may sound harsh for deprived people but thats the reality.

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  • 11. At 11:08am on 09 Jan 2010, Dinesh Sood wrote:

    Incredible India - has one of the incredible beginnings of 2010 in Tamil Nadu as reported yesterday:

    Growth of the might of Media is encouraging in deed.

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  • 12. At 11:31am on 09 Jan 2010, Frederick Dsouza wrote:

    The best way to live people for all people of this world is to get rid of money. Live without money . Help each other just for the love of it. Join the free economy movement and be a freeconomist.

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  • 13. At 11:58am on 09 Jan 2010, Victor wrote:

    I am sorry to be harsh, but there is no way around it: India's present growth is a huge bubble, which will, at some point in the future, burst with devastating consequences for the country. Anybody who has read Jared Diamond's "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", which is a real eye-opener everyone should read, and knows something about India's terrible environmental/social problems will come to the same conclusion. Throw in other factors (political, economic) and you have a perfect storm brewing over the subcontinent.

    1) India is damaging its environment at a rate which is probably the most unsustainable among large developing countries - mostly because India's environment is the most fragile and most threatened by the climate change. Underground water level is rapidly dropping, soil is being salinised and poisoned due to irrigation and fertilization (more than a third of available arable land might actually become useless in near future with predictably devastating consequences for the rural population), urbanization is progressing far too fast for the cities to be able to effectively take care of things like waste water, trash, industrial pollution, etc., and while all this is happening, climate change is turning more land into desert and nutrient-depleted wastelands. Once the glaciers in Tibetan plateau disappear, India's rivers will lose much of their water during the dry season, crippling agriculture-dependent populations living along them.

    2) India's population, unlike China's, is still booming and the authorities are seemingly doing nothing against that. Today, India's population density is comparable to that of the Netherlands - one of the most densely populated countries in Europe and one of the most developed. The problem is that the land on which Indian people live can hardly sustain them at present numbers and living standards. With diminishing amount of natural resources, booming population and increasing consumption (which goes with higher living standards), India won't be able to sustain its people. The first to collapse will be the super-poor and hyper-populated northern regions.

    3) India's neighbours are even worse off: Bangladesh is going to collapse soon, because its population has long surpassed any sane density levels - and it won't even need rising seas to erase 1/3 of the country, - Pakistan is increasingly unstable, unfriendly and in possession of nuclear weapons which will be used against India one day. The resulting disaster will only make the environmental situation more unbearable. The only question that remains is whether the collapse triggers the nuclear war, or vice versa.

    4) India is much more multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual than comparably large China. This makes it more vulnerable to ethnic/religious strife once the environmental/social situation turns for the worse. I don't rule out genocidal civil wars in the future, desperate people are capable of anything. India can suffer a Rwanda-like scenario in the next 30-50 years.

    5) Instead of addressing the main problems (overpopulation, pollution, soil degradation, illiteracy, climate change, etc.), India's government seems to be more interested in military build-up (it is building nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, ballistic missiles, buying new jet fighters and tanks...) and other prestige-gathering activities (for example, it plans to send Indians to space in 2015 - I can't think of any other reason but national prestige). With attitudes like these, the collapse stops being a possibility and turns into certainty.

    To conclude, I expect that in the next 30 to 50 years, environmental stresses and overpopulation (together with other factors I mentioned) will undermine India's economy enough to trigger a large-scale social collapse. Starting in its poorest regions, or possibly abroad, it will spread across northern India and eventually turn India into a giant Rwanda/Congo/Sudan-like mess. At some point, tensions will lead to a nuclear war with Pakistan, destroying Pakistan in the process and further devastating the remnants of northern India. Central government will collapse and the less damaged states will try to save themselves from the waves of hungry and desperate refugees. One way or another, the country's population will be severely reduced, perhaps by more than one third.

    I told you I was going to be harsh.

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  • 14. At 12:25pm on 09 Jan 2010, Aniket wrote:

    I do not understand why the author needs to keep showing that no matter how fast India grows it will still be a country with millions of people who are poor, hungry and illiterate.
    So what is his suggestion? Should the government stop investing in programmes for economic growth and concentrate more on eradicating poverty in just 10 years? It is really unreasonable for him to say that by 2020 there will still be millions of Indians that are "hungry, poor and illiterate". In a country of 1.3 billion people there will surely be millions who are below poverty - atleast for the next 10 years and so will they be in China.
    Also, comparing China to India saying that it has able to eradicate 45 percentage points to Indias 17 is again silly. Well China has been growing at 10% for almost 20 years and India at 8% for 10 years so the difference is quite obvious.
    I do aggree that there need to be reforms in education such as to increase the research and development in India along with the basic school education. But give the country some cannot do everything at the same time...actually no country can do it. And constantly reminding that still so many people will be poor, hungry and illiterate is not helping any cause.

    I would be more interested to read any constructive ideas from the author regarding development rather than reiterating facts that we are all aware of.


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  • 15. At 12:32pm on 09 Jan 2010, RaniV wrote:

    One of the key focuses, as many have said already has got to be controlling further population growth. Education, education, education should aim for sterilis....n after one child, in the interests particularily of the poor, as much as the not so poor.
    The mantra of the average person, should be away from; get educated,get married and have 2 children, with many not being able to get educated anyway.The 3rupee/Kg rice, if it exists, should come with contraception advice and obligations. Having children is not a panacea, but borrowing from future generations. Am I being too optimistic to forsee a new genre in Bollywood film making...

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  • 16. At 12:47pm on 09 Jan 2010, Emily wrote:

    Leave it to BBC to make something horrible out of something good. Well done BBC. The sky is falling.

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  • 17. At 12:58pm on 09 Jan 2010, DF2 wrote:

    Congratulations India. This is an honor indeed. However the current poverty rates must be addressed or else the huge income gap will eventually lead to unrest. I am not familiar with the ground situation in India but I would think it may be prudent to have some form of enforced birth control as practiced in China. From the statistics it seems the very poor have larger families which are stretching their already limited resources thereby burgeoning the problem. The government does not seem to be addressing this issue.

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  • 18. At 1:27pm on 09 Jan 2010, Ashok wrote:

    Most of the comments are negative.
    There is the proverb "If there is water in well,then only water will come out"
    So far India was short of money for their projects including iirredication of poverty.It's now that money is coming due to foreign investments and industrial growth.
    Naturally businesses and industry are carried out by rich people in every country and they are bound to get major benefit.The point is let first money comes in and let moneyed people grow.Once the wealth created,the distribution starts and that's what government is doing.It is time consuming in a democratic country like India unlike China.ON CAN NOT EAT AND LAUGH AT THE SAME TIME.
    Those who have commented negative,I ask "Have any one visited a village in India.Have they checked the upliftment there? Their increase of income per capita.Statistical figures and media can not 100% right.They go by their vested interests or by preset mind.
    The other aspect of the issue is the combined effect of governing by states and federal government where the democracy comes in the way despite good intentions of federal government.For example look at the progress in Gujarat or change in Bihar.........the same federal govt.!
    I do agree the progress is slow but progress is there.SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE.The overall bubble expands slowly,it shall never burst.Be sure.India's population itself is an asset which has attracted foreign investment.It takes time to educate and engage them.Rural India currently doing same job by promoting agriculture and infra structure.One can see result just in another five years.
    Bubble?Let add bubble elsewhere bursted mainly due to housing and faulty management of Banks.In India housing is short of requirement.Banks are run very well.Where is the question of bubble?I am asking my learned friends.!

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  • 19. At 1:33pm on 09 Jan 2010, DBannen wrote:

    A strong, prosperous, democratic, India can only be a good thing for Asia. I'm not sure how more madrassas counts as "good news story" though.

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  • 20. At 1:59pm on 09 Jan 2010, zebmina wrote:

    I think there are some difficult issues here that are all intertwined into a Gordian knot. Politics and influence-peddling are at the apex of this pyramid. Politicians need to have an under-privileged class that is under-educated and under-represented, so that they can continue their stranglehold on power and wealth (it's no surprise that there is such a disparity in India between the poor and the super-wealthy). Not that there is anything fundamentally wrong about being super-rich.

    The second problem is population. Educated Indians tend to have small families, but the masses of poor uneducated Indians have no incentive to have one or two children -- for them, a large family is seen as a means of survival, and potentially having more hands available to do some work and produce income for the family. So how do you break that cycle?

    The third problem is education. Does it really help the situation to have millions more with a college degree? I would suggest that some type of vocational-driven educational system would work best. Indians, rich or poor, educated or semi-educated, need to have a sense of pride that how they conduct themselves within the context of a greater India, is important.

    The fourth issue is one of pride in India, and by that I don't mean pride in the size of the armed forces, space exploration, nuclear weaponry, etc. I mean the basic pride of land, and the drive to keep the environment around you clean and safe. I have been to India countless times, and never cease to be amazed at the amount of filth outside one's home. And yet, invariably the inside of one's house is sparkling clean. A house gets constructed, and construction debris stays around for years... Lovely buildings are built, and yet open drains and sewers surround the building.... Dirt and dust everywhere (is India fundamentally more dusty than Europe or the USA?)...

    Why is it difficult to extend one's sense of personal hygiene and cleanliness to outside one's four walls? I have never been able to understand that.

    Please take my frustrations as an indication of how much I love India and Indians. If I didn't care, I would not bother commenting.....

    Peace and Prosperity...

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  • 21. At 3:37pm on 09 Jan 2010, Shubhendu Mohanty wrote:

    A lot of Indians boasts of the so called "Indian Culture" , which in my opinion is oppressive, phony, and of selfishness. We Indians have to break free from this cocoon and need to give ourselves a big boost to change us culturally. It is only the Indian culture, that promotes, dowry, corruption within public office bearers, police bribing, rash driving, spreading filth and so on. Unless we change ourselves socially, no amount of money or growth can bring any positive change in our society. A bigger economy without positive social changes will only create more rift between poor and rich, powerful and common man.

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  • 22. At 3:44pm on 09 Jan 2010, loser321 wrote:

    Good points, the GDP of Bihar basically means that if there is good governance even for a short period any state has a ability to rise and prosper.

    Its unfortunate that India is ruled by Congress once again. the top two states in terms of GDP are ruled by non-Congress. Why is that? Why is inflation the highest during Congress rule? Lets compare two countries, Japan and India. One got independence in 1947. Japan just had two nuclear bombs dropped in 1945 during WWII. Now compare the rise after that period. Japan till the last few years had a GDP only next to USA. It was the second richest country. Was it something to do with India being ruled by Congress all these years? Why?

    I sincerely encourage all Indians to ask these questions. Its the right time to ask this question, after that will be too late. Once we have the answer, we should remember it.

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  • 23. At 3:45pm on 09 Jan 2010, Prabir Chakraborty wrote:

    I take objection to "If the Bihar government is to believed, the state's growth rate - 11.4%" and in the same article you write "in the last two decades the number of absolutely poor in India has declined by 17 percentage points compared to China, which brought down its absolutely poor by some 45 percentage points." there was apparently no trace of doubt on claim of China. Let me be very objective, I believe to a great extent the genesis of Indias problems lies in its oft repeated philosophy "do your job don't worry about result". I almost tend to think this to be a reason for the nation to cross 1bn mark in population and continuing. It is not that India will rise and shine, it is just that it has to, for others to follow. Indians are not raciest for their skin is Golden brown, half way from either end of spectrum. Most of them are atheist so there really is no religious bias. It is just that there were situations those made us subservient for a long time. We do not waste time in trying to find out 'why' for we do not believe in looking back. We have been designed to look ahead for we have our eyes in front, don't we?

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  • 24. At 08:39am on 10 Jan 2010, Arkanshu Rath wrote:

    What about the Indians working outside India, just because they can make more savings in shorter time doing the same work abroad. Lets see whether new ways open up for them, so that they can return to the home land and still be happy.After all India is our Mother Land.

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  • 25. At 09:40am on 10 Jan 2010, jhnhgs75 wrote:

    I meant to say big thanks for your hugely informative writings Soutik. I've been travelling thru' and across India few times and am about to embark upon yet another tour, so I am a very keen observer of a lot of things written here.

    I'd like to see India economically growing even stronger in the future, but have some reservation in regards to importance we give to a blind GDP growth. As you have mentioned, this does not necessary translate into a better living for all. For few, yes, certainly. I was bewildered to read, back in 2007, that 5 out of 10 riches men (according the Forbes) were from India. Yet poverty was all around us to a such extent that sometimes I felt ashamed of my good fortunes in this life. However, the Indian government was more keen to spend it's money on jet fighters, navy ships, space exploration and other meaningless stuff, rather than to comply with it's own pledge to UN to eradicate kids poverty by 2015 and also lift it's poor out of that dreadful hole.

    So it begs the question: why? Is it because of a corrupt politicians? or is it the cast system culture? or is it a blind greed of few? or combination of all?

    Best Regards

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  • 26. At 8:56pm on 10 Jan 2010, Axe of Parasuram wrote:

    We have a long way to go, but things are getting better (I only very despair at how slowly).

    To those Westerners who predict our doom and wish to do harm to us, I say: this is not the India of the 1960s or even the 1980s. India is a young country, and the younger generation is confident, assertive and does not have the reflexively servile and self-loathing attitudes of the older generations. You would be better off staying out of the way of India's progress.

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  • 27. At 1:41pm on 11 Jan 2010, uk2001 wrote:


    I have a wish list for this decade….
    1. Setting up a country wide most modern, efficient accident and emergency response system, so that nobody dies in the streets and homes unattended. Its response time should be max. 5 minutes.
    2. Complete separation and independence of police from administration and Government where political masters run the show.
    3. Rescue and shelter at every village from summer heat, winter chill and flood.
    4. All public services for the citizens should be conducted from distance via. Call centre, online, email or post. There should not be any direct interaction between the citizen and the Govt. officer which would reduce corruption at working level.
    5. Right to information, right of education, punctuality, respect to all jobs and no- corruption should be taught from the early years in the school.
    6. Set up target driven judicial system where any case should be completed with specified number of days.
    7. Complete ban on foundation stone laying ceremony and inauguration ceremony by nonsense politician. Only mega projects could be inaugurated by the PM or President. This will stop politicians play game with the local development.
    8. Complete ban on those political parties who call bandhs and disrupt public life or destroy any property or deface the towns and villages with ugly graffiti.
    9. Efficient and inclusive health system which would also act as a safety net for the people. This would free up the disposable income and make the economy better!
    10. All people facing criminal charges should be banned from taking public offices till they are cleared.
    11. Political parties should be compelled to publish all their financial details and name of the donors above 1lakh rupees.
    12. Central Government elections should be open to the National parties only. If a National party forms a front, then only the regional parties could take part in it as a member of the front. But changing the front from the day of filing the nomination should not be allowed.

    If at least 10% of my wish is fulfilled every year then by default not only this decade but also many more could be termed as the decade of India.

    A Kar

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  • 28. At 01:49am on 12 Jan 2010, David wrote:

    I used to chat with an Indian friend online--lost contact--and he worried that with globalization young people will forget Indian culture as opposed to say Japanese and/or American and/or--awkward, sorry--European culture.

    Do you think this is true or do you think that perhaps the world will become More influenced by Indian culture? (music, film, books)?

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  • 29. At 03:45am on 13 Jan 2010, rjha90 wrote:

    This refers to the comment on the growth rate of real gross domestic product of Bihar for 2008-09. Unlike what the article says national income figures are not collected by state governments but by the Central Statistical Organization of the Government of India. So, it is not the Government of Bihar that is claiming that Bihar is growing fast but the Government of India!
    I think you should ensure that the information you provide is accurate or do you think that you can take liberties when writing abut India?

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