Two stories (with video) about India to round out your weekend: First, the PBS weekly newsmagazine Now joined the India Rising parade with another story of India’s economic growth, focusing on the growing middle class and what it might mean for the world.
I don’t know if it is just me (it very well might be), but the program struck some rather dissonant chords.
On the one hand, there was the typical economic boosterism which fairly dominated the whole documentary, as exemplified by the main interview subjects: Gurcharan Das and Robyn Meredith. While I haven’t read the books Das and Meredith have written (they seem to be somewhat more sensible than the NYT’s Flatworlder), they are certainly boosters of India Rising (which, incidentally, was a slogan the Indian govt. was using to promote the country several years ago – and perhaps still is).
At the same time, the PBS guys were trying to raise two other concerns that might give the boosters some pause: the global economic impact of the growing Indian consumerist middle-class, especially on energy and commodity prices, and what that means for the US; and, the environmental impact of these same growing consumer demands from a middle class population that is already (by some estimates) larger than the entire US population. But somehow, they didn’t make much headway with these arguments, which were brushed aside by most of the interviewees (including the two mentioned above).
- Economic fears: oh well, what’s there to fear? The rising tide will surely carry everyone up, and even benefit the US economy for the consumer goods have to come from somewhere, right? Or, you should worry, and better start treating India like the superpower it wants to be! And yes, energy prices are a worry, but… isn’t it great how many Indians can now wander around in huge malls (bigger than the ones in America) and buy all these cool gadgets?
- Environment: well, that didn’t really get addressed much at all, even though the companion website talks about environmental issues. And when it did come up, Das said something that would make Julian Simon proud – basically something like “oh, don’t worry, we’ll surely find some solutions”.
I can sort of understand why the questioning kept bringing things back to “what does this mean for the US?”, given the show comes from US public broadcasting and it is too much expect PBS to ever get as broad a perspective as the BBC, which has been covering the India Rising story for some years now at much greater length and depth. Nevertheless, the whole documentary left me thinking they had a lot more story that didn’t get told, with all the hints about global warming, the environment, and David Brancaccio’s upcoming trek/pilgrimage to the source of the Ganga! I hope they do give us more, although the promo for next week at the end of this episode suggested they were moving on to another topic. Will the relegate even the Himalayan glaciers melting story to Brancaccio’s blog only? I hope not.
And after all that show of growing wealth, booming economy, and bustling malls, I’m left wondering once again: why can’t we save those tigers (the real stripy ones, not the economic metaphors) and the rest of India’s biodiversity while improving the lives of ordinary Indians? Why must India only aspire to tread in the same old environmentally destructive paths of superpowers like the US, rather than blazing a new enlightened trail where human well-being is reconciled with environmental well-being, so that the whole planet is a better place for everybody? Aren’t there people in India exploring such alternative pathways? Why didn’t Now choose to highlight some of those efforts and people engaged in them, instead of the same old mainstream economic growth bandwagon?
Meanwhile, the previous night, there was another, funnier, rising for India in the US cultural zeitgeist, for Hinduism got the Colbert Bump! Although, if you go by what the nice old Indian lady told him, there is no conversion to Hinduism, so what exactly will bump up? Hmmm… what do you think? In any case, you get a fairly accurate if very very abbreviated gist of Hinduism – enjoy: