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Up the value chain

India has learnt that profits are made by adding value and quality and by creating an esteem for India.

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Sell clay, and you are selling a commodity. Make it into a pot and you have manufactured a product. But if in the end, you send a designer bowl to the markets, then you have a brand and all the big ticket profits. It has taken it a while, but there is growing evidence that India has internalised this simple reality. This is the secret of success in world markets: create true value first and then create an illusion of even greater value. India's legendary knowledge edge and its skilled, industrious workers are right now updating the act that said it all first: the Indian rope trick.

Up from copra:

When the British left in 1947, they left India with a mindset that it wasn't fit for anything more than exporting jute, copra, tea, spices and cashew nut. 'You stay with commodities and leave manufacturing to the industrialised nations,' seemed to be the message. Quite unwittingly, India's central planners' response of *making* India into a giant, seemed to confirm just that: Indians were not there yet. The one debate that won't die is how Fabian socialism delayed India's date with its genius. Do skip the debate. That date is at hand.

When economic reforms began in the nineties, it had largely to do with dismantling domestic controls. There was no need to clear the way to the world markets: it lay open. Some captains of industry feared hordes coming through the open doors;after all, they had been beneficiaries of a closed-door India. But the doughty neo-Indian entrepreneur saw the open door as an exit leading to the world beyond. In just over ten years he has changed India's economy and its image.

It is best to savour the changes by surveying the current scene. And it is best to begin the survey with jute, that so epitomised India. Today jute is making a style statement. It is no longer used as just sacking material. Indian application research has made it a candidate in the list of interior and accessory designers worldwide. On another front jute is being promoted as a geotextile, a class of material that is used in huge quantities in civil engineering works. Khadi is not far behind either, in its climb up the value chain. It is not a politician's badge any more. [In fact the pols wear less of it these days; is there a profound meaning in that trend?]. Khadi is haute couture. Today, the word itself is a brand that evokes and enhances India. Earlier this year, a media report quoted Giorgio Armani: "The khadi made in India is among the most skin-friendly fabrics we know. In fact the day isn't far when khadi-based designs will rule the world." The Gandhi inspired Sarvodaya Ashram, Delhi supplies fine, vegetable dyed khadi to Gucci, Donna Karan and Armani.

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