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It seemed like India had turned corner, once the 2014 election results were declared. The country had a brand-new prime minister, with a grand image makeover, and representing a party with a solid majority in the Lok Sabha. Youth and old alike seemed to agree that a new chapter in India history had begun. Then came the jolt of ‘demonetization” in 2016, but that did not affect the support the government had from his party or the people. The 2019 elections provided an even bigger majority to the government, which seemed like an affirmation of its socio religious policies.
The story on the economic front, however, was an entirely different one. Economic growth had already started shrinking, and COVID was right at its door. Amid this Chaos, the government announced a scheme known as self-reliant India or more popularly referred to as “Atmanirbhar Yojana.” Almost three years after the scheme was announced, the response was lukewarm at best, and the government realizing the writing on the wall, turned to free trade agreements with other countries signifying its sharpest policy reversal, compared to the withdrawal from RCEP agreement in 2019. from Agreements with Australia and the UAE have already been signed while the ones with Canada, Israel, European union, and the UK are being negotiated.
This begs the question, “what is the right progressive model for a country like India?” Is it the failed protectionism of the 70’s and 80’s or is it the unapologetic capitalism and a ‘ so called free market economy’, which advocates a choice based, competitive economy and promises the “survival of the fittest” based on cheapest outsourcing, exploitation of workforce in other countries to deliver the cheapest goods to the client. Well, for a diverse, populated country like India, it is neither of the two. While India should be a major competing force in the capitalist economy, it should also focus on bringing its sizable percentage of underserved, underprivileged population out of poverty and into at least the middle class. There should be at least a two-pronged approach to even attempt to resolve the issue.
To compete in a capitalistic economy, the first step for the government, in collaboration with the corporate India, is to create opportunities for a larger pool of organized workforce (which has some form of longer-term economic support such as retirement pension, superannuation etc., to reduce reliance on government jobs). with fair, consistent workforce regulations with optimum corporate governance. At present, the organized workforce stands at less than 10% of the total workforce.
For corporate India, to drive up profits, compete globally and to create inorganic growth, it is important to create a culture of reward-based innovation program. The research and development budget in corporate India is meager as a percentage of revenue, with a very narrow focus on true innovation. The reward-based innovation program can create differentiating products and technologies, which could be used/licensed/sold anywhere in the world. To achieve this, the age old and archaic patent laws need to be reviewed and revised.
The second & a more socialistic approach, is to promote organized small to medium sized industries (including startups) in small towns and non-metropolitan cities, and encourage them to conduct systematic research and development for captive environment such as agriculture-based products, traditional medicines, sustainable & non-food competing technology etc. Besides helping people to bring down the cost of life, this approach can generate more local employment, slow down migration of people into big cities and bring additional infrastructure and development jobs to these cities.
This is obviously a small part of the approach. Greatly improving the quality and availability of higher education, infrastructure development in right areas, focus on alternate energy sources (nuclear), streamlining politics with people and infrastructure development to reduce focus on caste and religion based politics, increasing women as well as minority participation in workforce to maintain social harmony ( key to growth) are some of the parameters that play a big role.
India cannot follow any other model for its progress. The key is to develop a specific model, divide into bite sized segments, prioritize based on regions and implement it regionally rather than federally. Finally, the growth must be sustainable over a longer period, rather than being rapid and short lived.
These pieces are being published as they have been received – they have not been edited/fact-checked by ThePrint.