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The Indian dream

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Robin Lustig | 13:13 UK time, Monday, 8 November 2010

Ritula Shah is India, from where she'll be broadcasting tonight and tomorrow. She writes:

Fireworks were scattered across Delhi's sky throughout the Diwali weekend; the silver, pink and blue flames racing into the high inky distance and exploding in a shower of sparkles. India has plenty to sparkle about. Stock markets are rising and growth is heading for 9 per cent.

The optimism and self confidence of Indians is almost palpable. They believe in themselves and in their country in a way they didn't dare to before. The Obama visit has revealed that while India's communists and other parties of the left loudly voice their objections to closer ties with the capitalist superpower, the majority of people and politicians have abandoned any lingering Nehruvian doubt about closer relations with America.

The prospect of US investment creating education and job opportunities for Indians at home and in the States is just too alluring to be rejected in favour of some obscure political principle.

India has invented its own version of the American dream - anything is possible if you try hard enough - and if it's in your Karma - Indian belief in destiny shouldn't be underestimated. But despite the relentless fostering of the dream through advertising and the media, not everyone gets a fair crack at chasing it. India's middle class may be growing but the vast majority of the billion people who live here do so at or below the poverty line. For them, life is a precarious game of survival. Wandering about Delhi's tree lined streets. It's easy to forget the poor.

To put it bluntly, there aren't as many beggars and homeless people as there used to be. Many were forced to leave the city centre as part of the sprucing up of the city ahead of the Commonwealth Games. But take a trip by train out of Delhi, and there they are, living in makeshift, ramshackle huts, along the railway tracks. The country's wealth and positive attitude hasn't changed their lives.

The Obama visit isn't focused directly on poverty, but it is about increasing trade and thereby improving the economies of both India and the United States. President Obama is expected to agree billions of dollars worth of deals between US and Indian companies.

Here are a few numbers to think about. A recent report on global wealth from the bank Credit Suisse estimated that the top 10 per cent of India's population own more than 50 per cent of the country's wealth. The bottom 10 per cent own just 0.2 per cent. The inequalities are huge - and however appealing it is to believe in the dream, they're likely to get bigger.


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