Gates in India: Whats the bottom line?

NEW DELHI – Capitalist entrepreneur Bill Gates was in India at the beginning of Nov. His much-publicized India tour got no attention among poverty-stricken rural masses, but Indian political leadership, excluding the left, and business magnates have celebrated it as a big carnival.

He also behaved like a demigod. He made donations, gave unlimited promises and assured Indian authorities that he will visit again within fifteen months. He plainly instructed New Delhi to go ahead with globalization. His main announcement in New Delhi was the decision of Microsoft to invest $400 million in India over the next three years. “This is the largest investment by the company, excluding hardware, outside the U.S.,” Gates said.

Globalization maniacs in India welcomed this announcement cheerfully. They simply neglected the fact that software developing is not the solution for a country of which half of the population is going to bed with an empty stomach.

“India has so much potential to provide world-class IT (information technology) services and products that the future of computing power will depend largely on its contribution to global software development.” As Gates explained his argument to invest in India, it was clear that he had those with consumer power, the Indian middle class, in his mind. West-looking new techno-savvy youth from large cities who admire Gates will be in his net, too. Gates wants this brain power as cheaply as possible.

Another $20 million fund for a project named SIKSHA (means education) by Microsoft revealed his sugar-coated business interest and his will to exploit the huge Indian market. SIKSHA is a project which will make over 80,000 teachers and 3.5 million students across the country computer-literate. Gates told the media in Hyderabad computer literacy and computer-oriented education are essential for India to become a developed nation. That same day 30 dalits had died from starvation in Utter Pradesh.

Microsoft is also planning to set up 10 million academies for computer education in collaboration with State education departments and about 2000 partner-driven school laboratories. These funds are serving only his business writings. After completing their computer literacy program, at least one third of the students will start to use different Microsoft products. That is the real profit that Gates wanted.

India will overtake South Africa in the number of AIDS victims soon, which is another “discovery” by Gates. According to Gates, 25 million people will be afflicted. So he decided to give $100 million to the Indian government through his charitable institution, Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation.

According to the statistics of the World Health Organization and the National Aids Control Bureau, 25 million is magnified. Hard-right Indian officials are also saying that number is too great. It is still a debatable subject for the Indian intelligentsia what Microsoft’s interest is. One reason may be to help their client medical company. The Gates Foundation has agreed to give the money without any pre-conditions and India’s government is free to spend it in any way. This gives the Indian ruling class the opportunity to use it in corrupt ways instead of spending it on AIDS awareness.

One interesting irony is that Richard Stallman was in India at the same time as Gates. Stallman is the best-known proponent of free software and the Linux system. He got little media attention, compared to Gates. Yet, Linux users gave him the warmest welcome. Stallman spent most his time in Goa, which has a large number of Linux users, and in Kerala, where his Free Software Foundation (FSF) is headquartered. His communist credentials helped him to get support in Kerala. But Stallman failed to convince Indian policy makers and the business community about his “copyleft” idea, instead of the capitalist copyright.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org