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World's Largest Democracy India; India and US from one democracy to another

By David WinderStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 26, 1980


The Soviet Union has Pepsi-Cola. China has Coca-Cola. Japan has yielded to McDonald's and Britain has taken to Baskin-Robbins. Even Yugoslavia is ready for Pizza Huts.

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India has none of these American concoctions. It did have Coca-Cola until quite recently, but the soft-drink company withdrew because it refused to hand over its secret formula to the Indian authorities.

Modern Indians wear jeans instead of saris or dhotis, but they come from Hong Kong, not the USA. There are hamburgers, but they are spicy in the Indian fashion, while milkshakes often come sprinkled with coconut.

Hollywood, the mass purveyor of the so-called American lifestyle, makes its appearance, but it is by no means as pervasive as it is in the rest of the world. Movie guides in big cities like Bombay and New Delhi usually show about 12 Indian movies to every three American movies. This is because, for all its glamour, Hollywood's film output is well below that of Indian producers, who are the world's most prolific moviemakers.

All in all the visitor has to look hard to find the American connection. It is not because India is anti-American. It is because India is determined to maintain its own identity and to be self-sufficient.

India, in fact, is so self-sufficient that it makes everything from toothpaste to tanks, from matches to MIG-21s.

Instead of accepting outside goods and influences, India tends to export its own -- particularly to the Middle East, where Indian doctors, engineers, computer specialists, teachers, fan manufacturers, and boilermakers are a conspicuous presence.

"We have become very Indian," says a Bombay manufacturer who exports dyes and chemicals. Like many Indians, he insisted that India is influenced by neither the United States nor the Soviet Union.

There is one area, however, where India needs American expertise and recognizes its dependence: sophisticated US technology. Indians regard American electronic equipment, for instance, as ahead of the international field.

On the defense side, the Indians, because of their 1971 Friendship Treaty with Moscow, are heavily dependent on the Soviet Union. But what they are given and how it is given does not always sit well with the Indians.

At dusk one evening this reporter was drawn by the sound of organ music waiting out of the windows of St. Thomas (Episcopalian) Cathedral in the heart of Bombay. The church, built in 1718, is the oldest English building in Bombay. Seated at the organ was an Indian Navy commander passing time in the city before being assigned to his new ship at Goa.

After practicing the organ, he spoke of his Navy experience and commented: "Nearly everything the Russians sent us is marked 'secret.' They wouldn't tell us anything, so we would send the stuff back to our research boys. They would check the circuits all the way back until they found out what was going on.

"As a result," he said, "we can now do things better than the Russians. They were surprised, for instance, when they found out that we now get twice the range on our missile radar scanners than they got."

The remark is significant not only for Indians' estimate of Russian material, but for their own worth.

The insistence of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, to lay a solid scientific foundation for the new nation by building numerous research laboratories, is apparently paying off.Today India has the largest skilled-manpower pool in the world after the United States and the Soviet Union.