Dateline Delhi: GSOH not required

In austerity Britain, it's the absence of activity that tells the story; fewer cranes on the horizon and boarded up shops.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Delhi is one of the places where the new global economy is being shaped

In other parts of the world, you can watch the movement in the tectonic plates of the economy, often as you sit in a traffic jam.

Stand on the Bund in Shanghai, and watch the water-borne trade power by on a packed super-river-highway, as sky-scrapers take shape in the business district.

Delhi is such a city too. Since I was last here eight years ago, India's population has risen by more than 200m, the economy has boomed, and much of the city is transformed and transforming.

I've come here because it's one of the places where the new global economy is being shaped. There are vital decisions being made here this year which will have big impacts on India and the rest of the world.

Every little helps

One of them took place only last week, and it mirrors one of the most contentious issues in Britain's local economies.

After a fierce political row, the Indian government agreed to let multi-national supermarket retailers open for business in the country.

This was first announced in November. One of the reasons was that the disorganised nature of Indian retail means inefficient distribution, and a poor supply chain with little refrigeration means astonishing amounts of food rotting in the heat.

But the proposal met with a ferocious backlash, and was withdrawn only days later.

Its opponents argued India's small scale shopkeepers should be protected from the exploitative and destructive power of Walmart, Tesco and Carrefour, citing research from the countries they already dominate.

As there are an estimated 12 million small shops in India, employing 40 million people, with many more stall-holders and hawkers, and as they are the people who dominate the street, it's a formidable lobby for any politician to anger, particularly one in a fractious coalition.

But the withdrawal was itself withdrawn, and it seems, India's traditional retail sector is to be shaken up, on conditions including a minimum levels of local produce.

This is an illustration of a wider struggle within India's soul and over its economic interests, as to how open it wishes to be to the world. It has fantastic exporting potential, and much more so if it could sort out some dismal infrastructure shortcomings.

But it also has great importing potential, and Indians are reluctant to open up on others' terms.

That's at the heart of trade talks between the Delhi government and the European Commission, which could have a big impact in Britain. More on that from me later this week.

Matrimonials

But in the meantime, a read of the Sunday Times of India gives an insight into the nature of globalisation at a very different and personal level.

The 'Matrimonials' supplement is packed with small ads placed by parents looking for good matches.

The numerous classifications in these classified ads shows how obsessed many people remain with caste.

But what's changed in recent years is the international outlook of the qualifications being offered and sought. To be qualified overseas is a huge lift in the marriage stakes, particularly with an MBA, but it is very helpful also to be working for a reputable multinational corporation (MNC) in India. No need for a Good Sense of Humour, and few are concerned about smoking or not.

These are commercial matches being sought for future earning-power as much as breeding - for which looks help too.

Typical examples, at random: "Delhi-based, high-status Rajput family invites, for beautiful 32-year old 5'2" Masters girl, government job, 6 lakh rupee package (£7500). Seeks boy in same caste."

"Brahmin family seeks beautiful B.Tech/MBA girl from highly professional/business family for smart, handsome boy, aged 28, 170cm height, B.Tech, MNC consultant. Presently in Sydney, 75 lakhs per annum (£94,000). Father is company director and younger brother in IT business property in Delhi. Boy visiting India during last week of January."

"Indian Institute of Technology/ Indian Administrative Service match for convent educated B.Tech MBA fair, very beautiful girl, 5'2"/born '86. Status family. Caste no bar."

"Seeking Sindhi boy for Sindhi girl, MBA, born July 83, 5'3", working in London UK for a luxury brand."

And so it goes on, page after page, just as you can find online, each one a tightly packed, yet richly-detailed and insightful peek into parents' aspirations, the importance placed on education and work with status, their outlook to the Indian diaspora with its huge variation in earning power, and the high-value placed on international credentials.

Do the math

That's not least because of the problems with the quality of much of India's home-grown education.

In other parts of the Sunday papers, there are stories warning that India has fallen to second bottom in the world league for school maths, ahead only of Kazakhstan.

Another reports that next month's government budget will address the need for 20,000 new secondary schools (it already has 123,000) if the country is to raise its skill levels from elementary schooling for the masses.

That's another story I'll be reporting on later this week, and again in more detail with a special report on the global jobs market later this year.

Would like to meet...

In the meantime, here's one of the Sunday Times of India's small ads with a particularly rich back story:

"Reputed business family of Vancouver seeks alliance for their daughter born/brought up in Vancouver, born April '81/5'6", slim, very beautiful. Graduate economics (honours), British Columbia University, graduate germologist and jewellery designer from GIA (New York). Managed three luxury jewellery companies and is now running her own diamond jewellery company. She is vegetarian, spiritual and rooted in Indian culture. Fond of cooking/music/dance, travelling and leads an active life style. She had an arranged marriage in 2006, that lasted less than a year and is an isseless divorce. Boy should be handsome, professionally qualified, age not exceeding 36 years, and height not less than 5.9", permanently settled in North America, should be able to provide financial/social security and cherish eastern/western values".

It's those final four words - "cherishing eastern/western values" - that carry so much baggage for India's decision about its economic destiny.

And with all that bling, this might even have the makings of a Bollywood movie.