The Competitive Indian

Last week I did some travel within India while on my trip here. On the Mumbai to Bangalore trip I saw something really fascinating. The flight was more or less on time. When it landed in Bangalore, the airplane had barely steadied itself after landing (still taxiing) when about a quarter of the passengers on board stood up and started taking their things out of the overhead compartments. The plane was still taxiing when there had formed a line at the door. The stewardesses repeatedly announced that the plane had not reached the gate and that passengers were required to be in their seats, but to no avail. These were people in a hurry.

On the next leg of my journey from Bangalore to Delhi I did not see this rush for the exit. Which is surprising if you know Dilliwallahs. So I wondered a little about it.

Later, I came to this conclusion – the people who formed the line knew that there was an aerobridge at the Bangalore airport. Therefore, if they got off the plane first they would actually get out of the airport first if they didn’t have checked baggage. In Delhi there was a bus to ferry us to the terminal and so there was no advantage in trampling over old women and children to be first off the plane. If my conclusion is correct, we are in for more stampedes as our airports modernize and have more aerobridges. Sobering thought, that.

In a more serious vein, is all this competitiveness good or bad for us as a nation? (Some of you may contest this conclusion that we are ultra competitive simply by pointing to our cricketing performance). I think that on balance it is good for us. While we do have to put up with the occasional dent in our Honda Accords from aggressive SUVs, it still has its advantages. It is Darwinism at its best. The students coming out of colleges today are tough. They know that if they don’t make it in the job market there is no social security safety net to break their fall. They also know that in the growing private sector the only thing that matters is merit. Hard work will pay. And when they do start making the big bucks, the marginal rate of tax is a moderate 30-35%. Compare this with the European social states where you can maintain a pretty good lifestyle on dole but if you make the mistake of working hard for a decent income, the state can take more than half of that away from you in taxes.

So the next time someone cuts into the check-in line at the airport in front of me, I’m going to think calm thoughts. Here’s someone who wants to get ahead in life, I’ll tell myself. May his tribe increase.

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10 Responses to The Competitive Indian

  1. Sunder says:

    Competitiveness in India is something many of us relate to – and I can relate to the situation you describe as I myself plan my seat on an flights in the US based on which airport has an aerobridge that connects at the front of the aircraft (in front of row 1) or middle of the aircraft (around row 10).

    But the question I often think about is – if this tribe is on the rise? With more middle-class children in India going to “International Schools” and expecting their parents cars (even if it is a Maruti 800) as the basic form of transport – there are fewer people in the educated middle class who are growing up with local trains and buses, competitive exams where one small mistake costs 10 places in the class, and pursue holistic learning which emphasizes learning more than winning. Are we looking at the next generation of Indians being less competitive and more satisfied with what they have – and thus leading to this tribe declining – and to what effect?

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  2. This sure seems to be straight out of Freakonomics.

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  3. Harish, I wouldn’t worry about that just yet. For every Indian kid who doesn’t feel the heat of competition because his parents are rich, there are a hundred more who are entering the rat race from small towns and villages.

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  4. Sunder says:

    The point about hundreds or even thousands entering the rat race from small towns and villages in India is valid – and this is the advantage of population. I would even add the urban uneducated or under-educated lower class to this. But these are then the mostly likely to be less progressive or even regressive in their thinking with the same competitive drive, and thus depending on overall economic and political climate, this population will have a high probability of being competitive for the wrong reasons.

    This makes it important for the leading edge of the population – the educated middle-class not to lose its competitiveness, or the forces of negative competition can begin to dominate. This competitiveness in India is not new, but the last decade compared to the previous few was a time when the leading edge (the educated middle class) had a adominating influence on the country as a whole. So – the cause for thought, if not worry, is on two fronts – every educated, economically capable Indian kid who does not feel the heat will weaken the leading edge just as much as the lack of penetration of education and progressive competition can drag everyone down.

    After all – one can be competitive in two ways – move as forward as you can getting ahead of those in front of you – or dragging everyone behind or in line with you.

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  5. What time was it..Perhaps, the folks just had a connecting flight to catch.!:)

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  6. Hi! Basab,

    I think it is a mistake to call this behaviour competitiveness. I think it is more boorishness. And we certainly do not need more of that in the country.

    The guy who thinks nothing about trampling over “old women and children” is also the guy who will think nothing about bribing the next government official he meets so that he can get ahead in life – Morality, Ethics and Legality be damned.

    The problem is that while the present lot of students (I am a visiting faculty at a couple of management schools in Mumbai) knows that in the “growing private sector the only thing that matters is merit” there also seems to be a growing feeling that the end justifies the means. The attitude of quite a few students seems to be: “If I have to trample an old woman so that I can get off the plane first I just have got to do it. The old bitch should have gotten out of my way in any case. Her fault that she did not.”

    The dent in our Honda Accords is frankly the least of the worries we will have if this tribe mushrooms.

    Nyayapati Gautam
    http://www.theindiastory.blogspot.com/

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  7. ila says:

    Hello,

    I had a similar experience but i didnt link it to the availability of an aerobridge.

    Foll. is the link of my post and analysis by others in case you’re interested in reading it.

    http://indianeconomy.org/2005/11/23/incentives-for-good-behaviour

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  8. K.A.V.Shetty says:

    I don’t agree with Pranab’s analysis. He has evidently not watched Indian behaviour closely. Indians in all towns have this bad habit of rushing and not diong things in an orderly fashion. I have seen air passengers rush in the mannerdescribed by him in all towns including Delhi. So do train passengers many of whom have this nasty habit of standing near the door with their luggage ten minutes before their destination is due to arrive. You will also notice many people getting up from cinema theatres 5 minutes before the movie is fully over. This is a well known Indian trait to be found in people of all States. Delhi, with its aggressive Punjabi culture, can hardly be an exception

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  9. K.A.V.Shetty says:

    I don’t agree with Pranab’s analysis. He has evidently not watched Indian behaviour closely. Indians in all towns have this bad habit of rushing and not diong things in an orderly fashion. I have seen air passengers rush in the mannerdescribed by him in all towns including Delhi. So do train passengers many of whom have this nasty habit of standing near the door with their luggage ten minutes before their destination is due to arrive. You will also notice many people getting up from cinema theatres 5 minutes before the movie is fully over. This is a well known Indian trait to be found in people of all States. Delhi, with its aggressive Punjabi culture, can hardly be an exception

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  10. Devang Kothari says:

    I agree with Nyayapati. I think we are confusing competitiveness with rude and anti-social behavior. I would hope that, as India’s standard of living increases, people would find ways to be better mannered and have greater consideration for others. I remember when I was growing up and we would take the S.T. (government) buses — there would be a huge crowd of people pushing each other to get in. For some reason, we could never assemble in a line. Therefore, I think Praban’s experience is nothing new, but the same old thing that’s been happening in India for the last 30 years – albeit it’s a plane instead of a government bus. However, I have great hope that 15 years from now our collective mentality would have changed quite a bit.

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