After having spent about 97 minutes while watching the Third US Presidential Debate themed around foreign policy which took place yesterday, I am very disappointed to state that it had nothing substantial from the Indian point of view because the word ‘India’ was not even used once during the over one and a half hour long confrontation between the two candidates ie President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The only interesting development for Indian diplomats and foreign policy analysts to take note of from the debate was the refusal of Governor Mitt Romney just like President Obama to divorce Pakistan and his decision of continuing to aid the troubled nation (if elected president), which he described as a technical ally but as one which was not acting like an ally. Romney also expressed support for the controversial drone attacks which the Obama administration has been carrying out in the tribal areas of Pakistan. While Governor Romney held Iran to be the biggest national security threat to the United States, President Obama described safeguarding religious minorities and empowering women in the Middle East as a big challenge. Both the competitors vowed to strengthen the American military by increasing the defense budget and to get the economy back on track. Lengthy discussions were held regarding the tense situation prevailing in countries like Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Israel and Pakistan. While references in some form or the other were made to nearly all powerful nations be it Russia, France, United Kingdom or even tiny players like Somalia and Turkey, it was China which seemed to be the one occupying the position as USA’s biggest competitor as both the candidates sounded increasingly worried about the economic tactics employed by the Communist nation. It’s really a shame that a country like India which is aspiring to become the next global superpower couldn’t manage to crawl into the centre of the debate even for a second. It’s just indicative of India’s insignificance at the international forum due to its spineless and non-committal foreign policy.
When Barack Obama assumed the Oval office, an omnipresent wave of optimism swept through the entire land of dreams. America’s first Afro-American President arose like a Messiah and promised hope for millions of those who were causalities of the recession which was propelled by the ill-actions of the Bush administration. Three years of Obama’s term as President have passed and not much has changed. Many of the key reforms which Obama envisaged for the economy were blocked by the US Congress, owing to the domination of the Senate by the Grand Old Party of Republican’s. The phenomenal rise of China and the ability of other developing economies to provide cheap labour further escalated the onslaught on the US Economy. Many have even tipped that Obama will be remembered as the President who chaired the untimely downfall of America. The sluggish growth rate coupled with record levels of unemployment have left the average Americans sulking. American lawmakers have also failed to come up with an effective plan of action to tackle the debt crunch. Obama’s desperate bailout packages have also failed to resurrect the falling crest of the United States.
The ‘housing’ sector has been one of the biggest victims of the falling purchasing power of the Americans. However, it isn’t a total rip-off as is being portrayed by many media houses. Obama has tried to get the economy back on track with exemplary valour. Some have touted Obama’s siding with masses by cornering out the corporations for all the blame as Obama-Socialism. A resurgent ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement against the ills of capitalism has sent further shivers down the spines of Wall Street Capitalists and Capitol Hill itself. Elections in the United States are slated to be held in 2012 and the Republican primaries are already underway. Amid all this action, a significant development has occurred. Some say that this is Obama’s way of mixing legislating with populism. Obama has maintained all along that he would show no mercy while dealing with companies that ship jobs out of America and his warnings have finally catapulted in the form of an Anti-BPO bill.
The Anti- BPO Bill has bipartisan backing and intends to put a brake on the federal grants and tax concessions being given to those companies who ship jobs out of America. The protectionist legislation aims to discourage companies from outsourcing. The bill maintains that a call centre will have to disclose its location to the customer and on customer’s request they will also have to divert the call to a call centre based in the United States. Even though Senators have maintained that they aren’t taking any steps to prohibit outsourcing but they’re pretty clear of the fact that it needs to be avoided. In America, the cost of skilled labour is comparatively higher and therefore companies prefer foreign markets over domestic ones. The cheap cost of skilled labour in developing economies helps conglomerates in increasing their profits by cutting down on overhead expenditures. Some analysts say that such sort of a measure will prove disastrous and detrimental for the average US buyer. Since corporations won’t be foraying out, the input cost incurred by them will accelerate because of the expensive domestic market and Americans will have to pay more for services which could have been given to them at a cheaper price by a company who had outsourced the assignment to some developing economy. Some economists do admit that it may lead to higher prices but overall it will be beneficial as companies will stay in the States and create jobs which will in turn lead to an increase in employment and per capita income which will invariably lead to the betterment of the purchasing power of the Americans.
While this populist and protectionist legislation may appear like a ray of hope for many in America but it has surely set the alarm bells ringing for many offshore BPO havens, India being one of them. The Indian BPO industry along with the likes of Philippines, South Africa and Mexico continues to be one of the biggest in the world. India’s BPO industry is valued at a staggering 11 billion dollars and employees thousands of tech-professionals. The shutting down of BPO’s in Indian cities will lead to widespread unemployment and will also shatter India’s hope of turning Bangalore into the biggest tech hub on the planet. India’s BPO industry had been facing some stiff flak from employers because of the lack of skilled labour and was trying hard to maintain commendable standards of work but this legislation may turn out to be the final nail in the coffin for them. Some BPO workers remain unfazed and claim that this legislation will turn out to be a blessing in disguise for India as it will reduce the dependence of the Indian IT industry on the United States.
Whatever maybe the outcome of this proposed protectionist legislation but one thing is for sure that India’s BPO industry is surely on collision course with the West. As lawmakers in America try to strangle outsourcing, it will be a great challenge for the Indian BPO industry to climb past the hurdle and establish itself as the numero-uno tech-hub of the world so that Bangalore ceases to be called as the ‘Buffalo of the East’ and Buffalo assumes the title of ‘Bangalore of the West’.