If I ask you, which country you would like to travel? and give you a free choice, most probably you will spell ‘The United States of America’, a city upon a hill, as Americans claim.
But why is it so, I wonder, why is it not Japan or China notwithstanding such close geographical proximity?
Ok, let me give you one more choice, so where would you like to go if not the USA? Probably you would say, not Japan or China again, but ‘United Kingdom’ or Britain, whatever you call it.
Now, you see, you are able to draw some explanation, these include, our exposure to their language and culture, thus, we might find ourselves relatively more comfortable in these countries compared to others, but the story does not end here, we have to delve deeper, this is also the purpose of this writing.
Our colonial past, where Britain turned India’s skin inside out causing it huge devastation and deterioration, is certainly one major contributor to such choice. Britishers introduced English education (certainly not with good intentions), as a result, ideas such as sovereignty, democracy, rule of law, freedom, liberty, equality, universal adult franchise, etc… mushroomed in modern Indian society. Which later on became driving forces for national movements.
Apart from these political ideas/concepts strong economic growth, rapid industrialization, advanced weaponry, material well-being, and high quality & standard of living of English people attracted elites of Indian society.
From here on it was nothing but a ‘trickle-down effect’, Indian elites desired to experience the English way of life, the middle-class aspired for elites’ experiences and the poor wanted to look like the middle class.
Post-independence India, being skeptical about western countries’ intentions and having fought hard and protracted battle against colonial power turned inward. It employed non-alignment policy (not joining any power bloc during the cold war) and pursued protectionist economic policies, and emphasized state-led growth, thus, becoming an autarky.
As a consequence, India’s interaction with the outside world significantly reduced up until 1991’s ‘balance of payment’ crisis which was followed by LPG reforms. Apart from domestic reasons, the implosion of the USSR, which was our significant trading partner during that time, and the rise in oil prices due to the Iraq war are stated as prominent causes of this crisis.
But what makes me more curious is, despite not interacting vehemently with the western world post-independence for almost 40 years. We still have awe, even after 75 years of independence, towards western countries predominantly USA and UK. Why? albeit we still continue many legacies of our colonial past, English education being one of them, it does not suffice to answer it.
Unquestionably our ‘falling in love’ for English culture or western culture was precipitated because of Britain, however, in the post-independence era, it has been sustained by the USA.
USA’s material and technological advancement aided most to sustain this love. Further, its capitalist, free and open market economy model, finally, in 1991 winning over Soviet’s communist state-led economy model played a critical role in establishing its dominance over the world, thus, rendering it a place of reverence, power, and authority in the comity of nations.
Not to forget international organizations like the UN and Bretton woods institutions like IMF and World Bank which are predominantly USA funded-initiatives to establish ‘world order’, further compounding its power and dominance over other countries. This is the very ‘world order’ which China is challenging today.
Post-USSR when the American model felt most attractive and Global South (referring to poor countries) was in dire need of external assistance including India, the USA used these international organizations to put pressure on developing countries to open up their markets for American companies, therefore, you see, IMF loans always came with a lot of conditionalities and India was no exception.
With the opening up of markets and the arrival of US MNCs came material and technological advancement. As the Indian economy grew, the middle class started expanding, with it, India got huge buying power, thus, making India a huge market.
Indians now could experience a plethora of American goods and services which in turn exposed Indian people to the American way of life and values, hence, making us relatively comfortable when we travel to the USA, as we have already to some extent have experienced their way of life.
‘Consumerism’ is one such value that advocates buy even if you don’t need it, buy it on EMI even if you can’t afford it.
McDonald’s, Dominos, Pepsi, Levi’s, Netflix, Amazon, Google, YouTube, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, etc… became the biggest and most efficient ‘culture spreading’ tools that sustain American soft power over the rest of the world, therefore, making the USA most attractive among all. Netflix and Prime Videos are the best performers among these.
Hence, our first choice is ‘USA’ and not ‘China’.
If China becomes successful in its adventure of dominating Asia, if not the world, our choice in the coming decades might change.