Ravi Agrawal

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Growing up in India, I remember our middle school civics teacher telling us clearly: caste discrimination was a thing of the past.

And yet, not really.

Yes, the system that forced so-called "untouchables" to clean public toilets was outlawed; yes, the importance of one's caste was eroding as India grew more middle class, especially in the big cities. But we all knew that caste clung to us all. It was everywhere.

In many cases, it was broadcast in our surnames. Political parties were created to cater to castes. Marriages and business alliances were plotted to further them. Castes stuck together.

And then there was the national quota system.…  Seguir leyendo »

India, the land that gave birth to four religions and enshrined both secularism and free speech in its constitution, has been having a curious debate these past few weeks: Has the world's biggest democracy become an intolerant nation?

Ironically, average Indians have been more than tolerant when it comes to enduring a lengthy political -- and politicized -- thrust-and-parry on the topic, one that has been playing out incessantly on the country's some 400 TV news channels.

But beyond the theatrics, the reality is that intolerance is a serious issue with important ramifications -- both social and economic.

The debate itself has mushroomed out of two separate, disturbing trends.…  Seguir leyendo »

In politics and life, expectation is everything.

The India I have observed for the past three decades has generally had low expectations. This shouldn't be surprising: the average Indian makes less than 1/20th what the average Singaporean or American takes home. And Indians have by and large tried to make do -- with their own incomes and with the deficiencies of the state.

Businessmen would conjure up loopholes because they were defeated by the system; Indians talked of "frugal innovation" -- there's a single word for it in Hindi, "jugaad" -- in part because major Western-style R&D projects were a pipe dream.…  Seguir leyendo »

If there were an annual prize for the "World's Most Hopeful Economy," it would likely go to India. After years of disappointing returns, the world's largest democracy rediscovered vigor in 2014. Stocks rose by a third; foreign investment grew by a quarter; the economy at one stage expanded at its fastest pace in two years. Beyond economics, the public mood seemed to lift: There was new hope for a young and tech-savvy India, unburdened by the failures of the past.

One man dominated the headlines, peddling optimism: India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi has fashioned a role for himself not only as CEO of India Inc.…  Seguir leyendo »

If you believe the mood here, India is going to be the next China, the new frontier of global growth.

Stocks are up 25% since the start of the year. Foreign investment is back. The rupee is stable. World leaders are in town regularly to meet the new government and strike business deals -- the latest being Britain's George Osborne and William Hague.

They've followed a long line of top envoys from France, China, and Russia to visit India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in May.

Amid all the diplomacy, Modi himself has been mooting big, ambitious ideas: a plan to build 100 new "smart cities," a proposal to launch high-speed bullet trains, and a pitch to make India a "global Walmart" for space technology.…  Seguir leyendo »

Narendra Modi

Indians want their version of the American Dream. Even the Chinese Dream will do. And so they have voted for a man who promises more for less: more development and growth, with less government and red tape.

For India's 1.27 billion dreamers, their new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a known commodity. His simple mandate is to do for India what he has done for the north western state of Gujarat in the last 12 years: conjure up Chinese-levels of growth and prosperity.

But for Modi's counterparts in Washington, Beijing, and Islamabad, India's new leader is considered a wildcard. Will he be aggressive, or a dove?…  Seguir leyendo »

He hasn't even been sworn in, yet India's next Prime Minister has already changed the world's biggest democracy. Narendra Modi's stunning, crushing victory at the polls this week reverses a trend that was beginning to define India -- the localization of politics.

Since independence in 1947, with each passing year there have been new and increasingly influential regional parties catering to local interests, cultures, languages, beliefs, castes, religions. The result has been a steady dilution of power: in three decades, no single party has been able to form a national government on its own. Instead, New Delhi witnessed the formation of a series of coalitions, sometimes beholden to the whims of fringe members.…  Seguir leyendo »

Here's the best way to understand the new India in 30 seconds. Watch this commercial—or better yet, if you don't understand Hindi, read on.

A smarmy-looking politician addresses a rural gathering, promising to give the people access to water. His speech is interrupted by a boyish young man, a villager, who pulls out his smartphone and plays a YouTube video for all to see: it's the same politician, making the same promises at the last election, years ago.

"I might be from the village," cries out the young man, "but don't think you can fool me!" The commercial—marketing an Indian mobile service provider—cuts to its familiar Hindi jingle, loosely translated as "no making fools of us anymore, no making fools of us."…  Seguir leyendo »