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In one of her recent television tantrums, the Chief Minister of West Bengal pronounced dramatically that 'the Government of India will have to choose between Bhawlmart and the Indian peepul' and I listened in stunned wonder. Did Mamata Banerjee notice how she demeaned our dear Bharat Mata by putting her on the same level as Walmart? Did she understand at all that India was a country the size of a continent and Walmart only a shop? Did she not notice how very, very poor the 'peepul' used to be in the days when foreign investors (including Coca Cola and IBM) were thrown out of India if they dared bring their money here? Did she not notice how few were drawn by our socialist allure?
Then I found myself answering my own questions. I remembered that Mamati-di formed her economic ideas in a time when the 'foreign hand' was India's most feared bogeyman. A time when foreign investment was viewed as a new East India Company. On top of this, she has spent her whole life in a state that was ruled by communists for more than thirty years. She could not possibly have learned to question standard wisdom or search for new political and economic answers. So if foreign investors do decide to take their chances and start investing in the Indian retail business, they should stay away from West Bengal and other states that are ruled by chief ministers of leftist disposition. But, that is not India's real problem. Our real problem is that the economic ideas that Mamata-di articulated so pithily are widely believed.
Not just by an older generation of Indians but by younger, middle-class Indians who in the past two years have rallied around the movement against corruption. And, it is not just new, young political leaders who believe that India is such a pathetic country that it can be destroyed by Walmart but NGOs, social workers and even (believe it or not) socialites. Together they constitute a mindset that is slowly but certainly eating into the economic gains made in the past two decades.