India’s Pathways to Success

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Where does India stand today economically, socially and politically, 75 years after Independence? Where should it aspire to go from here in the next 25 years as it touches the milestone of 100 years of Independence in 2047?

We must look at where India lives and how to put everybody to work

Mr Ganesh Natarajan, Author

India at 75 is a mixed bag of many missed opportunities as well as many successes. If India has to be a true success story without any hype, what are the pathways to make that happen? We did six months of research on where we are. The bad news is, 60 crore Indians still languish in a fair amount of poverty. We are lagging in health, clean fuel and multiple other areas. There’s also a concern that keeps popping up: Are we truly a collaborative liberal democracy? Does everybody have an equal voice? When we look at the positive side, one thing that India can be justifiably proud of is its digital economy. The Digital India opportunity is a trillion dollar by itself—not just the UPI, Jandhan, Aadhar and mobile. We also found a lot of improvements and initiatives in the national education policy. In the recent budget, we have seen a huge focus on infrastructure. The work that is happening on roads and railways is very substantial. Then we picked particularly five or six sectors to focus on how India can build purpose.


The first is, the economy itself. If you look at the three large economic contributors, which is agriculture, manufacturing, and services, India is proud of the fact that we are very strong as a services economy, but it’s not adequate. The entire technology industry today gives jobs to 53 lakh people. When seven crore people will be looking for jobs in the next seven years, we are far behind. So clearly, the manufacturing economy has to grow up. Thanks to the productivity-linked incentive (PLI) schemes, areas like specialty steels, food products and electronics are really scaling up. That’s really good news.

We are now the fifth largest economy in the world and will become the third largest by 2028 or 2030. But just economic parameters for a population of 140 crores, is not enough. We must look at other enablers. Agriculture has to be much more productive. 52% of our country is engaged in agriculture, contributing less than 20% of GDP. Services has to move from largely concentrated in 10 to 12 cities to a more widespread level, across 3000 cities and towns. This means that a certain amount of reverse urbanization has to take place. For instance, in Bangalore traffic, we literally crawl. This is true in Delhi, Mumbai and even Pune where I live.  So, urbanization has to be put under a microscope.


The second thing we’re looking at is mobility. Thanks to Covid, instead of people having to get onto buses or vehicles to come to office, they are working from home—if not all the time, a large portion of the time. That’s an advantage. We’re also seeing a large investment in the green economy. Green jobs are being created. I chair the government of India’s initiative, ACES—Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared vehicles. It is going to change the pace of work. Today, we find that trade is no longer restricted to large trade organizations like WTO. We talk a lot about bilateral trade. Vietnam has succeeded in really being the China plus one, by just making multiple trade deals with everybody in ASEAN. India also has an opportunity if we really build bilateral relationships with 20 to 30 large countries and that will boost our exports.

Women’s Participation

Another very critical issue is women’s participation in the economy. I serve on the board of an entity called ‘Educate Girls,’ which works with tribal girls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, UP and Bihar. Most tribal children dropped out of school during Covid; you may be shocked to note that 70% of the girls who dropped out in those areas, have not gone back to school. This is a disaster waiting to happen, because it means that they’re now working in the farms or at homes and are not getting educated.  

The next focus area is our investments in science, technology and innovation.

To summarise, the key sectors are agriculture, manufacturing and services. We must take care of the enablers. We must look at where India lives and how to put everybody to work—not just the youth of the country but also the women to work, wherever they want to work. We must also focus on futuristic thinking using of STI (Science, Technology and Innovation). Then, we will get a much better record.

Ours was denial-driven innovation

Dr R A Marshelkar FRS, Co-Author 

I’m extremely proud of Indian science. 2020 was a year of pandemic but it was also a year of science. It was a year of Indian science. When the pandemic arrived, we had no diagnostics. We had no vaccines, no therapeutics, no understanding of the basic virus. And our scientists were so fantastic that they delivered it all. We talk about 200 crore plus jabs. But where did they come from? Covaxin was developed by Krishna Ella of Bharat Biotech and you can see what difference it has made. It is a totally indigenous product. All these came about because of the deep investment that we have done in science over decades. It did not happen overnight. That’s just one example to show how important science is and how science actually delivers to the nation. Science solves; technology transforms; and innovation creates an impact. We must take an integral view of all this. We must recall the history of how we grew. As a poor country, we had to do lots of things on our own and technologies were not very easily available. Our techno nationalism really drove the initial part of our development.

Ours was denial-driven innovation. When we could not get a supercomputer, we developed our own C-DAC. When we were denied cryogenic engine technology, we said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and developed our own cryogenic engine. We were denied technology connected with nuclear energy, and we developed our own. That denial also came by some of the things that we self-made. For example, we were a completely closed economy and we did not open to the world economy. It was only in 1991, that we actually opened up to competition. It is competition which drives innovation. Otherwise, it is all inhibition and imitation. So, we’re late starters in that aspect.

Inclusive Innovation, Affordable Excellence

In innovation, inclusive innovation is very important for us. Even today, we talk about India at 75. Nobody talks about Bharat at 75. Inclusive innovation has the definition of giving access equality, despite income inequality. It is not regarding getting less from less, making some or the other happen, but making high technology work for the poor. Making high technology work for the rich is very easy. Making low technology work for the poor is also very easy, but making high technology work for the poor is very difficult.

Just to give an example, I have instituted an award in my mother’s name—Anjani Mashelkar Inclusive Innovation Award. I’m not a great believer in best practice; I’m a believer in next practice which will become the best practice for others. I hate copying. This is the 12th year of the award and it’s amazing what young people have been able to do in their late 20s. For example, detecting breast cancer is a painful process and it is expensive. Mihir Shah, one of the awardees, has developed an ultra low-cost portable device to screen women for breast cancer and which costs just $1 to do the test. It is going to 25 countries now in partnership with GE Healthcare.  It’s an incredible technology and completely non-invasive. We have also developed a portable ECG. You don’t have to go and lie down and then have the 12 leads connected. In a simple process and in less than five minutes, you can get your ECG. It has gone to eight countries and about a quarter million of these devices have been sold. These are all about getting more from less. That is the speciality of India—creating affordable excellence.

The other good news is that India has become a research and development hub. In 1995, I had given a talk about India’s emergence as a global R&D. At that time, Dr.Manmohan Singh was the finance minister. Nobody then believed me. I was talking about Indian talent and the intellectual capital per dollar that we can create. Indian IQ generates IP for the world. In fact, some companies generate one-third of their global IP from Indian talent. The faith in our Indian talent is the base.

What can we do better?

The first thing is ease of doing science, technology and innovation in India. That is a challenge. There is a bureaucracy, where procedure becomes more important than the performance. I’m afraid we are still not out of it. We need to work on that to make it easy. Science and technology needs investment. We have the highest intellectual capital per dollar. That does not mean that we can give less money and take out more. The most important part is that for 50 years, our investments have remained 0.7% of GDP. I have been a member of science advisory committee to the prime minister for almost 30 years. Our past PMs Rajiv Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh, with all sincerity, promised to increase this. Our current honourable PM also said in 2015 about increasing this but it has not happened so far. This is a serious issue and I request our political leadership to look at it. The most important part of that is that when you look at the other figures like 2% or 3% or 4% investment in science and technology in other countries, 70% of it comes from industry. Our ratios are exactly the reverse. Therefore, our industry has to invest more. That is a very critical part.

Embrace Uncertainty

The other part is about taking risks. If we want to lead, we have to take risks and do things which others have not done. We created NMITLI—The New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative. Indian industry had worked in areas where markets and technologies were certain. But we said, ‘No. Let’s work in areas where technologies are uncertain and markets are uncertain.’ Fuel cells were not even being talked about 20 years ago—no markets, no technology. We went into it. Today I’m very proud to announce that KPIT Engineering has indigenous fuel cell developed jointly with CSIR’s National Chemical Laboratory in Pune, which is ahead of the state-of-the-art. It takes 400$ per kilowatt as against the state-of-the-art, which is 1000 to 1200$ per kilowatt. 95% of the components are from India. That is because we took risks and moved forward. The other thing is, of course, trust which is extremely important in the end. That is where I think we have to go a long way. Public procurement policies have to be aggressive in order to move forward.  

I have been the chairman of Reliance Innovation Council and they have grown exponentially. One day, Mr. Mukesh Ambani told me, “Doc. We must leapfrog.” I asked him, “Do you know why the frog leaps? Because it’s afraid of the predator and so, jumps a few feet. Do we want to do that because we are afraid of the competitors? Or should we not pole-vault?” The size of the pole is the size of our aspiration.

You can see number of areas we are pole vaulting today. Look at the mobile data consumption. In 2007, we were 156 among 231 nations and then came Jio with four rupees per GB. The miracle happened. We moved from 156. We did not leapfrog. We wanted to be number one. We continue to be number one in other areas too, such as the digital payments. Of course, we have to do it in many other spectrums. That is where technology and policy will have to go together.

For example, light emitting diodes (LEDs) have very low carbon footprint. From 0.2% to 88%, we jumped in seven years and it’s a world record. Because we did demand aggregation. The price was reduced from $7 to $1. There have been so many other innovations too. It is possible to make a radical transformation with speed, scale and sustainability, with the spirit of not leapfrogging but pole vaulting.  

Our pathway should be defined by our genius

Mr S Kannan, IRS

Whenwe find our own genius, we succeed. This is most important for India. UPI and so many other things are our own answers to our own unique problems. One more area where India has done remarkably is GST. I come from that world. This is Indian GST, which has now fairly succeeded in five years’ time and come to some stable state. There were so many pessimistic people and doomsayers. There were so many questions raised: Should we adopt Canadian model or some other model? So many delegations went all over the world in 20 years, but suddenly, we found our genius. We said that we will have our own GST with multiple rates of duty. You may call it distortion but there is no such thing as a pure GST, just as there is no such thing as a pure vaccine.

We found our own vaccine and got our results. We have shown to the world that we can even export. So, India’s pathway to success should be our own pathway. Our pathway should be defined by our genius and our genius has to be derived from our own historical experiences, culture and ancient wisdom and which we have got so much in plenty. Some distortions happened in the history that we created. We could not create an inclusive society but now we are progressing towards an inclusive society. We have become conscious that every man has to be taken with us in the progress. 

Be a Participating Democracy

We should become not a voting democracy or electoral democracy but a participating democracy. We don’t seem to be participating in our democracy. There must be our contribution and value addition, in some small way, whatever be that small way. There can be only one prime minister but there can be millions of voters and participants in a democracy.  

The next thing we need is that there has to be a continuous monitoring mechanism, in which citizens should participate through an audit mechanism. If somebody says that a target has been achieved, somebody should validate it. That validation should come from the citizens. If for example the Prime Minister says that 11 crore toilets have been built, fine but there must be a level for validation of it from the citizens. If somebody declares that 10 lakh trees have been planted, there must be a social audit and public awareness about that project. When everybody becomes a participant in the process, they become aware of the goals.  

A Decade of Parity

We have created a situation where celebrations exceed achievements. What is required is grievance redressal mechanisms at the lowest level. I come from a department where the grievances are so high. At the same time, we tend to speak as if we have solved all the grievances and everything is hunky dory. There are seminars and discussions everywhere on a celebratory note. If an individual has got a grievance, that grievance is lost. He or she is not able to get the grievance redressed in the easiest way and at the lowest level. There are trivial issues which go to the Supreme Court. This indicates one thing—that nobody in the chain is willing to take decision and responsibility for a particular outcome. Let us hear both sides. We must create this decade as a decade of parity.  

Success must be value-laden and value-dependent

Dr L S Ganesh

For India to succeed, we need faith in ourselves, integrity, a sense of duty and resilience. Indians are very creative and creativity is in our genes.  We will go places. We will occupy the place that we should be occupying. All of us want India to be a peaceful, prosperous and progressive country. We cannot be all these, without being a powerful country. We must develop very advanced, physically non-violent weapons. This may be sound crazy but it is definitely possible. Historically, we have not latently exploited another civilisation or society.

Don’t measure some aspects of life. Don’t measure success or the love of your mother. You must experience success. Success must be value-laden and value-dependent. Somebody may be successful because he is the richest person or the greatest batsman or the greatest musician in the world. For me, success means that I must be at peace with myself and the rest of the world.