Coming of Age: India at the Table

Just as he reached the top step, just a breath away from his throne, the crown prince hesitated. Am I worthy? he asked, knowing fully well that he was as worthy as any other King in the Land. Now, full of doubt – he had but two options – one to step up with humility, or two: to brazen it out and take his prideful place.

This story came to mind when I reflected on India’s place in the world.  It has taken 60 years for us to be invited to the table. We are now a country that people watch out for. Years of work by individuals, organisations and governments have brought us to the boardrooms of the world. We invent, we create, we make, we teach, we think and we get things done. We are indispensable in the machinery of the world. And yet, we seek a definition of our place in the world.

For cogs we will not be, nor shall we be the machine operator. We are brash enough to claim our entitlement, yet often not patient enough to demonstrate that we have earned it. We know that we have a voice that cannot be ignored, yet hesitate for we also know that we have a voice that is not heard. And then, we tell ourselves with due pride and confidence: we have something important to say, and like every young person coming of age, we teach ourselves how to be heard.

This is visible on every major platform in the world. The debate on climate change, the nuclear fuels issue, the seat at the United Nations. We are significant in the debate on pharmaceutical patents, and cannot be ignored in the discussion on terms of trade at the World Trade Organisation. We have a point of view that will not be cowed down by tradition, for we speak both for ourselves and those that cannot. Often, we seek to upset the status quo, always claiming the moral high ground – for we play by the traditional values of fairness and opportunity.

That is often not how we do the deal though. Our corruption is famous, only followed by descriptions of our poverty. We are the poor cousin, yet we seek parity with the rich relatives at the table. The table that fosters the entitled, must now show that it acknowleges us, must feed us too.

Does this make us many friends or do we make ourselves look pushy. Do we care, for what we seek to do is make our way into the echelons. We have proved it with our economic power. We have the markets the companies of the world seek, we have the labour and skills the world needs and we have enough of both for us to claim the throne.

And yet we hesitate. And show our youth. Often we are too humble, often too brash. On the world stage, our naiveite is painfully visible. We stumble and we learn, for that is the only way we will learn. We are too arrogant to seek mentors – or know the dangers that fosters.

How does one learn to enter the club?

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