THE world hit seven billion people last week, and I think I met half of them on the road from New Delhi to Agra here in India. They were on foot, on bicycle, on motor scooters. They were in pickups, dented cars and crammed into motorized rickshaws. They were dodging monkeys and camels and cows. Somehow, though, without benefit of police or stoplights, this flow of humanity that is modern India impossibly went about its business. But just when your mind tells you that this crush of people will surely overwhelm all efforts to lift the mass of India out of poverty, you start to notice a pattern: Every few miles there's a cellphone tower and a fresh-looking building poking out of the controlled chaos. And the sign out front invariably says "school" - engineering school, biotechnology school, English-language school, business school, computer school or private elementary school. India is still the only country I know where you can find a billboard advertising "physics degrees."
All these schools, plus 600 million cellphones, plus 1.2 billion people, half of whom are under 25, are India's hope - because only by leveraging technology and brains can India deliver a truly better life for its masses. There are a million reasons why it won't happen, but there is one big reason it might. The predicted really is happening: India's young techies are moving from running the back rooms of Western companies, who outsourced work here, to inventing the front rooms of Indian companies, which are offering creative, low-cost solutions for India's problems. The late C.K. Prahalad called it "Gandhian innovation," and I encountered many examples around New Delhi.
David Fuller's view India has redefined urban sprawl and the
poverty is horrific. However, India also has what will soon become the world's
largest population, exceptionally favourable demographics, democracy and above
all, enviable intellectual capital.
If you are put off by India's problems, and many investors are, go to Singapore for civilised order and pristine infrastructure.
However, if you are looking for the next economic superpower after the USA and China, one can still buy into India near the ground floor. I would not be surprised if India's stock market (monthly, weekly & daily) takes off shortly after the Reserve Bank of India reverses its current policy of monetary tightening. Clear evidence of this potential will be seen when the Index next maintains a clear break above its 200-day moving average, which is currently being tested along with the overall downward trend evident since last November.