Arcelor’s Guy Dolle may have puckered up his nose at the thought of being taken over by a company that was “full of Indians“, but the fact remains that Mittal Steel, despite its name and the passport of its promoter, is not an Indian company. It is as European as an ABB, a Renault, or a Nokia. Yet, its successful bid for Arcelor is being treated by most Indians as a victory for the country. Granted that LN Mittal is still an Indian citizen, but it must also be borne in mind that his investments in India till date are insignificant (and lower than, say, IBM’s or Cisco’s). So how does one explain the media frenzy and public interest in this deal? For that matter, why do we, as a nation, spend so much time following the careers and achievements of people like M. Night Shyamalan, Amartya Sen, Sabeer Bhatia or Gurunder Chaddha, all people of Indian origin, who have achieved success in the West. In fact, we extend this frenzy even to David Beckham’s Hindi tattoo and to Uma and Maya Thurman’s Indian first names.
We now have enough home-grown heroes in almost every field of human endeavour, but in the popular psyche, success in and recognition from the West – even on a relatively modest scale – counts for as much if not more than achievements at home. This points to a crucial flaw in our national character: a lack of self confidence. The roots of this can, perhaps, be traced back to the racist and Eurocentric education system imposed on India by Thomas Babington Macaulay in the 1830s, much of which remains unreformed till this day.
But things are slowly changing. The process of economic reforms has led to unprecedented social churning. Non-metropolitan India, long derisively dismissed as PLT (People Like Them) by the Wogs, is now aggressively claiming its place under the Indian sun. Just look around: small towns, and even villages, are throwing up new superachievers everyday. India is slowly, and in spite of herself, waking up to her true potential. Once this process gathers critical mass – and the logic of empowerment underlying reforms will ensure that it will do so in a few years – we will, as a nation, be able to place foreign and domestic achievements in perspective and do justice to our home-grown heroes as well. Meanwhile, there’s no harm in celebrating Mittal’s consolidation of his position at the top of the global steel industry.