• World

For Richer or for Poorer

2 minute read
Simon Robinson

India, they like to say, is a nation of contrasts, and boy, was that ever true in the past week, with contradictions constantly tugging at the soul of the nation. CEOs of some of the world’s biggest companies gathered in New Delhi for the Global Forum of FORTUNE magazine, TIME’s sister publication. U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson swung through to talk at the Forum with globalization guru Thomas Friedman and to meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to lobby for the U.S.-India nuclear deal, which is at risk of rejection in the Indian Parliament. German Chancellor Angela Merkel began a four-day trip designed to boost trade and to talk to her counterpart about global warming. And was that Washington’s elder statesman Henry Kissinger quietly slipping through the lobby of the Imperial Hotel? Indeed it was.

The high-level visits reflect India’s new importance. Its economy is now a trillion-dollar heavyweight growing at 9% a year. On Oct. 29, its main stock index went through 20,000 for the first time, boosted by $18 billion in foreign funds this year and up almost 40% since January. Investors from around the world want a piece of the action.

But New Delhi had other visitors — less famous, not so powerful, but strong in number and just as pivotal to India’s future. Filing into the city in well-organized columns, around 25,000 protestors ended an almost four-week-long walk across India to highlight the fact that they have missed out on its economic boom. The poor, mostly landless peasants are demanding land reform. The government says it will look into the issue. It would not be the first Indian government to say it will do so.

Most Indians agree that if their country is to continue to grow, closing the massive gap between rich and poor is imperative. The calculation is not just political — the nuclear agreement stalled because the left-wing parties that support the government do not want to deal with the U.S. — but brutally practical, too. Singh has said India’s greatest threat is that its low-level insurgencies will turn more deadly. India will be a true success when those in the quiet columns of dignified marchers know that its prosperity extends to them.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com