Why visit India on the Eve of 2012?

Thirty-nine Columbia Business School students will embark today on a two-week trip to India. My excitement for the trip boils down to three words: democracy, capitalism and culture.  I hope to dive into each of these areas and come back to NYC with a new perspective, new dance moves and new recipes.

Democracy: India is the largest democracy in the world.  About 344 million people voted in the 2009 parliamentary election for Manmohan Singh’s party.  That is absolutely enormous compared to the 307 million people living in the US today, of which only 131 million people voted in our 2008 election.  Politicians in the US often hold up our political system to be a ‘perfect union’ and a ‘beacon of freedom’ to the rest of the world.  But the truth is: we have a lot to learn from the successes and struggles of other countries, especially in light of the gridlock in Congress over the last six months.  The Indian parliamentary system has certainly seen its fair share of dysfunction due to the preponderance of parties, but I’m interested to hear from local government officials about how they are able to navigate bureaucracy to get things accomplished.

Capitalism: Indian GDP is expected to grow at 7.6% in 2012 compared to the 1.7% growth expected for OECD countries.   A recent Economist article predicted that India’s growth rate is expected to overtake China’s by 2013.  This article explained that “Indian capitalism is driven by millions of entrepreneurs all furiously doing their own thing… They are less dependent on state patronage than Chinese firms and often more innovative: they have pioneered the $2,000 car, the ultra-cheap heart operation and some novel ways to make management more responsive to customers.”   The CBS students on this trip will have the chance to meet with executives and entrepreneurs from some of the most successful telecom, media, financial services, industrial and social enterprise companies. We will have the opportunity to hear first-hand about what differentiates them, and what we can do better in the US.

Culture: I love naan, coconut-based curry and saag paneer.  But my tastes are decidedly American and undiscerning when it comes to Indian food.  I plan to learn as much as I can about Indian food and beer while I’m abroad, while avoiding ‘Delhi Belly’ at all costs.  I also can’t wait to see Bollywood in Mumbai or dance bhangra on New Year’s Eve.  Like many others, I absolutely loved the movie Slumdog Millionaire, but I realize that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Indian cinema and dance.  I just hope I don’t embarrass myself too much as I’m learning new dance moves.

Regina Lee ’13

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