Thursday, August 14, 2008

It is India again!

Ring out the gloom on 15th August

From The Statesman

The policy of being too cautious is the greatest risk of all.
Jawaharlal Nehru

Freedom from fear is the freedom
I claim for you my motherland!
Rabindranath Tagore

India’s lumbering democracy has much to celebrate on the Independence Day, notwithstanding whatever happened in Kabul, Ahmadabad and Naina Devi. A rising power knows how to put down petty fires here and there.
India’s culture of “order-in-disorder” and free enterprise keeps gradually transforming the country into a vibrant economy; and in spite of the slow down, the economy is still likely to grow 7.5 to 8 percent for the year ending March 2009, though die-hard optimists still believe that 9 percent will be within the reach.

Quite a few years ago India crossed the critical juncture, that indefinable and momentous point when economic growth became irreversible, regardless of who would govern the country. Now with the realignment of political forces after the Dr. Manmohan Singh’s UPA government won the vote of confidence over the issue of nuclear agreement with the United States, liberalization of the economy will hasten.

The forces of economic growth and the marketplace have begun to dominate and would trump everything else including provincial and religious communalism. Indians of all karma, Dalits, Muslims, Brahmins and others, have come to understand that the way to prosperity is through entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur is a connector, a network builder, a boundary breaker. Look at Kumari Mayawati of Uttar Pradesh, for example.
India has not stopped exciting the world’s imagination and investors keep exploring its potentials. For many global investors India offers another boulevard of growth and diversification where they can put their resources to alternative productive uses. International investors want growth with protection for their shareholders and India seems attractive because its legal system including property and contract law is well developed. Tata Consultancy Services, Reliance conglomerate, Infosys Technologies, and Wipro are not the only companies for which India has become a world leader. There is a growing field of auto industry, biotechnology, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals, where Indian companies have built international brand names.

The global buzz that India is full of talented young people who can perform competitively continues. India’s self-esteem is rising; and so is the motivation to excel. Today a young Indian with a professional degree from an American university may want to work for an American company in the beginning of his career but eventually he dreams of returning to India and setting up his own business. Do not call it a reverse brain drain; rather it is the reinforcement of India’s brain power with fresh blood from abroad, a kind of perpetual loop.

India is gradually emerging as a global hub for specialized knowledge processing for global corporations. Knowledge economy depends upon extracting and creating new knowledge from databases and is in a sense value-added outsourcing. Although India is far from becoming a full-fledged knowledge economy, this is a persistent trend, apart from other growing fields such as genetic engineering and high-tech healthcare that will hasten the transformation of India in the next decades. But much more needs to be done to sustain India’s 9 percent growth.

One of the biggest hurdles for rapid economic growth in India, and no one can deny it, is the red tape, which takes nefarious forms such as expectations of under the table money; fear of the loss of bureaucratic power due to privatization; and apprehensions about foreign direct investment (The East India Company syndrome).

Let’s not forget that the primary goal of rapid economic growth and its ultimate measure is poverty reduction by generating opportunities for employment, especially for the rural population, who mostly depending upon agriculture. For centuries rural India has been held hostage to nature’s uncertainties. Technology can break nature’s stranglehold on the poor farmer. Most rural workers should be absorbed into agro-industry, manufacturing and service industries and that again will necessitate massive investment in building rural and urban infrastructure and upgrading the existing one.

Rising expectations at home and abroad are creating compelling conditions for the government to put its act together and become pro-active. India has no choice but to get out of the political inertia, upgrade its clogged roads and overcrowded airports, eliminate frequent power outages and scuttle the red tape.

India is increasingly becoming an integral part of globalized economy and is clearly thriving on the synergy between multinational corporations and its indigenous strength, which come from its top universities, democratic institutions and the ingenuity of its people for innovative solutions to complex problems. That is why the coming of global giants such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation to broadcasting and Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks to Bollywood is so important. Let there be collaboration and competition for India’s eyes and ears.

What is Ingenuity? It means transcending a system’s limitations by finding an alternative route to reach the same goal. When a creative and ingenious mind hits the wall, he or she gets fired up to find another way and improvises by transferring intelligence from one application to another. The challenge therefore is whether India’s ingenuity can be applied to undertake collective action to build reliable highways, ports, railroads, power plants and airports speedily enough to handle rapid growth.

Corruption is a serious problem in every society. The source of corruption is unchecked exercise of power, of course. Elected officials can be removed, though one might say cynically, only to be replaced by another bunch of hoodlums. But democracies do have methods of dealing with corrupt people in high places. There is a two-fold solution to the problem. Public accountability through media exposure, especially the Internet and television, as the American experience shows, is a strong corrective. Former US senator John Edwards, a hopeless seeker of the White House, for example, has been exposed by the news media for having an extra-marital affair while his wife has been fighting breast cancer.

Secondly, privatization could counter official corruption because it takes power away from bureaucrats and gives it to entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. But they too, as the American experience shows, abuse power. Nevertheless, if laws were enforced rigorously, the corrupt would find their rightful place in jails as many American CEOs have discovered. War against corruption and poverty will never come to an end.

On this Independence Day, let not gloom and doom take hold of us. It is our moral responsibility to create conditions that encourage risk taking and reward entrepreneurship. It is only through free spirited and full-blooded entrepreneurship that India can meet the challenge of becoming an India that our children and grandchildren can be proud of and the whole world can look up to.

(ND Batra is professor of communications at Norwich University)

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