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    South Asia
     Jul 7, 2005
Why Indians love America so much
By Siddharth Srivastava

NEW DELHI - A recent survey concerning India and the United States has set off a debate here. Contrary to opinions in many other countries, especially Muslim-majority ones, the survey by the Washington-based Pew Global Attitudes Project states that America's image is the best in India.

"Fully 71% in India express a positive opinion of the United States, compared with 54% three years ago," the survey says. Favorable opinion of the US in India was higher than any of the countries surveyed, including Canada (where it declined from 72% three years ago to 59%) and the United Kingdom, where it dipped considerably from 75% to 55%. Indians also had the most favorable opinion of the American people - 71% compared to 70% in Britain, 66% in Canada, 65% in Germany, 64% in France, 61% in Russia and 43% in China. The survey was conducted among 17,000 people in the US and 15 other countries from April 20 to May 31.

A healthy majority of Indians view Americans as "inventive" (86%), "hard-working" (81%) and "honest". Fewer than half associate the negative traits "greedy" (43%), "violent" (39%), "immoral" (33%) and "rude" (27%) with Americans.

Indians, however, echoed similar sentiments that at least one more country should check US military might. In India, 81% want a rival to US, compared to 74% in China and Russia. There was also dwindling support in India for the US-led "war on terror" (52%) , as well as the invasion of Iraq.

Though the survey was released in the second half of June, discussions continue to range about why Indians view America in such high regard, and better that what the rest of the world thinks. Some of the logic is rooted in the socio-economic interactions between the two countries.

Indian-Americans: Ethnic Indians in the US number a healthy 2 million, creating a conservative constituency of over 10 million friends and relatives back home who have a direct stake due to the benefits flowing from the US, such as in money sent "home".

It helps matters that Indians in America are doing quite well for themselves, raising aspirations. A study titled, "We the People: Asian Americans in the United States", released by the US Census Bureau, confirms that Indians are the best-educated, highest-earning, youngest and most likely white-collar workers among all major ethnic groups in the US, including native-born Americans. They are also among the top earners. Indian men had the highest year-round full-time median earnings ($51,900), more than the Japanese ($50,900) and well ahead of the national average ($37,057) and the Asian average ($40,650). Overall, the Japanese have the highest median family income ($70,849) followed closely by Indians ($70,708). Both were way ahead of the national average of $50,046.

Business Process Outsourcing: To add to the economic benefits is India's BPO outsourcing industry, which is growing courtesy of the US economy. Despite a virulent anti-outsourcing campaign in the US, a couple of daring financial frauds orchestrated by Indian call center executives as well numerous instances of abusive and racist hate-calls, there is a lot at stake.

A recent McKinsey report on the information technology-enabled (IT) sector has revised the previous global figure of US$17 billion to $21-24 billion by the year 2008, with India slated to garner 25% of the offshore market, of which the US is the largest source (60%). Estimates suggest that 200,000 to 400,000 jobs, mostly for a young international population, have moved from the US since the outsourcing trend began in the 1990s. The highest projection is by Forrester Research - a loss of 3.3 million jobs by 2015, including 1.7 million back-office jobs and 473,000 IT jobs - which will create a dent in the US job market of 140 million, and not the wreck everyone fears.

Apart from creating a section of the Indian population that has directly benefited from the US economy, there are other reasons for Indian affinity towards America. It is to do with culture, foreign policy, the command of the English language and the American way of life.

Quest for excellence: India until the 1990s was a different country. It modeled itself on socialist Russia, its Cold War ally since independence in 1947, where the individual was subsumed by the might of the state and bureaucracy. In the 1970s and 1980s, the only way to breach the stranglehold of the state was to move to the West or the Gulf countries, where Indian entrepreneurs excelled. Doctors and engineers were in demand in the West, but formed a very small percentage of the youth who wanted to break the shackles that forced everyone to conform to an abstract higher good dictated by the thoughts of Karl Marx and the rest.

This, many observers say, was a complete antithesis of the way Indians are and have been for centuries. Like Americans, Indians have done best when allowed to excel in an uncluttered environment where individual excellence is recognized. The pursuit of high performance and efficiency, rooted in liberal values and individual rights and democratic principles, is where India and US stand on similar ground.

The 1990s brought in change, economic liberalization and a management ethic. Giants such as General Electric and IBM set up offices in India, and other symbols of American gastronomy jumped in - Pepsi and Coca-Cola, Pizza Hut, KFC and McDonald's have fed an army of Indian kids.

Television: Another great binder has been television, and similar entertainment tastes due to the absence of a language barrier. Just a decade back there were no foreign channels in India, only boring government-controlled television. Satellite television has brought symbols of American life into Indian homes, including kids grown up on MTV lingo, Friends and HBO and who sound more American than the Americans. CNN and Fox are staple channels. They follow Christiane Amanpour in Africa as much as a pregnant Britney Spears or a heart-broken Jennifer Aniston. Mr and Mrs Smith registered a good opening, while Angelina Jolie is the woman most Indian men would like to possess (Brad Pitt remains the perfect hunk). Talk show host Jay Leno's jokes, including his takes on the Michael Jackson trial, abound.

Foreign policy: One critical aspect has also been American foreign policy in the past few years. Despite the revelations of the snide Richard Nixon-Henry Kissinger remarks against Indians in the early 1970s, there is a growing realization in India that the US wants to move beyond its Pakistan fixation of the past. There is more sensitivity to India's fight against terrorism. The tag of being the big bully of the world and the criticism of the invasion of Iraq remains. But Indians, too, now see foreign policy as such - an instrument through which a country should further and secure its own benefits. This has been the one basic tenet of American foreign policy for a long time, and one which now brings the two countries closer.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist.

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