Almost overnight, an honoured guest has, quite unconsciously perhaps, thrown down a challenge for Modi in the high stakes race for global talent or Human Capital, if you will.
The clue to this lies in Obama’s prefatory remarks. “Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs here,” he asked with his practised soaring rhetoric.
Mr Modi could ask the same questions in his aggressive thrust to deliver his millennial vision of <i> achche din <p> in ten years.
Right now, we know there’s no contest. Skilled and non-skilled Indians continue to tie their colours to mast of the Star Spangled Banner in ever-growing droves; few, if any, educated natural-born Americans opt to take an oath of allegiance to the tricolour.
Losing our doctors, scientists and engineers to the developed world is bad enough. The problem is, India also loses a host of mid-level skilled people – nurses and labourers operating high-tech machinery, why even economists, academics and journalists! — to not just the US and EU but to West and Southeast Asia too.
It starts with college admissions where ridiculous cut-offs, forcing potentially good students to choose between lower-run universities of doubtful provenance in India or an overseas education. Forget Ivy League, even seriously obscure US universities will do, on the assumption that American higher education, no matter from where, is like a BIS stamp on your CV. That, in turn, has a knock-on effect on the quality of our institutions of higher learning. As for skills training for workers suffers from that chronic Indian disease called governmental ennui.
Then let’s take quality of life in India, especially urban India, where skilled people mostly live. The list of negatives is so long it could outdo the Mahabharata. The short point is that there is no argument when it comes to deciding which countries are winning on this parameter.
To be fair, Modi had had an instinctive understanding of all this long before any other politician, and hopeful campaigns like Swachh Bharat, Smart Cities etc etc are all aimed turning India into a habitable place by global standards. It’s an ginormous by any standards.
So Obama’s relaxation of immigration laws will certainly dismay Republicans (wait for the eruptions shortly coming his way). It should alarm his Indian host for January 26 as well.