Turns out it wasn't only Americans who begrudged the success of the million or so well-educated, well-spoken Indians who had seized their jobs as computer programmers, research analysts and call-center specialists. Resentment had also been building among the half-billion or more Indians whose hard lives in rural areas and teeming urban slums had barely been touched by the high-tech boom, the rising tide of foreign investment or the arrival of cappuccino bars and sleek new Mercedes-Benzes.
Now, a week after they turned out the Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Vajpayee, it is clear their aim was not to turn back the economic liberalization of the past decade, but to insist that its benefits trickle down further and faster. That was the message of the 71-year-old Oxbridge-trained economist tapped as the new prime minister after Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi took herself out of the running for the top job.
"We need reforms, but reforms with a human face," declared Manmohan Singh. His words, along with his reputation as the architect of India's economic liberalization during the early 1990s, were enough to reassure investors -- particularly foreign ones -- into nearly erasing the 11 percent plunge in the Mumbai stock index in the two days after the election results were announced.
The betting now is that Singh has no interest in rolling back what has been done to dismantle the "license raj," a suffocating mix of central planning, protectionism and over-regulation.
Although he has made clear he won't fully privatize profitable state-owned oil and gas companies, he is said to be eager to cut back on massive state subsidies to politically connected farmers and businesses and invest the money instead in badly needed roads, airports, power plants, schools, health care and education. And he is likely to push India even further to open its markets to foreign products and investment, particularly those that would help India realize its potential not just as an exporter of high-tech services, but as a low-cost producer of textiles, computers and generic drugs.
Singh's political alliance of necessity with the Communist Party may require him to hold off on labor reforms that would allow companies to fire unneeded workers. However, these are Communists of a more practical bent. After all, the Communist-led governments of Indian states such as West Bengal have sold off money-losing state enterprises and lured IBM and Hewlett-Packard by banning strikes in "strategic" export industries.