India ready for big leap?
Dr. D.K. Giri
Prof. International Politics, JMI
The 8th Global Entrepreneurship Summit held recently in Hyderabad was India’s largest start-up incubator. The choice of India as a venue reflected the recognition of its growing capacity as one of the world’s large economies. However, it would need to do a lot more to actualise its big power aspirations.
In all 1500-odd international delegates from 150 countries attended, half of those being women, given its title: “Women First Priority for All”. It mobilised women entrepreneurs, innovators, business networkers to the IT-Hub of India and the biggest delegation belonged to 38 States of US, led by Ivanka Trump, daughter and advisor to President Donald Trump.
Since its inception in 2010, the previous seven Summits were held in Washington DC, Istanbul, Dubai, Marrakesh, (Morocco), Nairobi, Kuala Lumpur, and Silicon Valley (California). It was for the first time, the Summit was held in South-Asia. Interestingly, any international business congregation is hosted by China sometime or the other, but the GES has not touched China, and came to India.
The main Summit was preceded by 40-odd focussed discussions across India on diverse aspects of entrepreneurship. Notably, there was one conclave devoted to “activating, connecting and empowering young citizens across India to become entrepreneurs, innovators and job creators.” The discussions were path-breaking for the unemployed groping in the dark.
Entrepreneurship was discussed in all its diversity and entirety. The running theme across the sessions was “Women Changing the World”. As samples of the sub-themes, there was, “Grass-roots Grow: Women in Emerging Markets”, “E-Commerce by women as a critical tool in scaling entrepreneurship”, etc. This stemmed from the universal concern that Gender divides on access to technology, nutrition, health and many other areas in countries preventing women, their families, and their communities from achieving their full potential.
GES is the pre-eminent annual entrepreneurship gathering that convenes emerging entrepreneurs, investors, and eco-system supporters from around the world. It facilitates entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas, build partnerships, secure funding for their projects, find their target customers and so on. It also builds vital connections between the government and the private sector. GES catalyses investment, promoters networking, mentoring and hands-on activities.
Donald Trump and NaMo had a telephonic talk after the Summit to pat each other on the back for a successful Summit. The US Ambassador to India, Ken Juster stated: “The Summit brought together hundreds of entrepreneurs and investors from all over the world – an important step towards fostering innovation, growth, prosperity and creating jobs.”
Seven Summits were already held in emerging markets, the investment and technology hubs. There are predictions being made that India may become the biggest economy and thereby the biggest power by 2050. The prediction is made on the bases of four factors – population, ICT, Democracy, and ‘underdog’ image. A full discussion on these four aspects is much beyond the title of this article.
Briefly, India’s population will continue to grow, as the Chinese population growth will peak. The UN estimates that by 2050, India will be bigger than China by 357 million, which is more than total of populations of Germany, Canada, Japan, France, Australia and South Korea. Look at the size of the country then! How much demographic dividend it will fetch for the country?
The second is the growth in ICT- Information and Communication Technology. China’s economy grew on traditional manufacturing. Not that, it is not important for economic growth. But India made a choice. It wanted to become the largest supplier of ICT and entertainment. ‘Slum-filled’ Mumbai is going to be the biggest producer of films in the world. Bangalore is going to be much bigger software producer than the Silicon Valley.
The third aspect is democracy. Although it appears to be clumsy and anarchic democracy is going to absorb discontent, class contradictions, promote competition, innovation and maintain some degree of equality. The society is unlikely to erupt into an apocalypse in a democratic set up. This is not the case with countries like China. And finally, the ‘underdog’ image, experts would argue that ‘underdog’ perception helps the country to grow quietly, like Japan and Germany did in the post-war period.
Arguably, India’s rise to be the super power is a matter of speculative debate, although there are promising signs of such a probability. But what should worry the patriots and pro-superpower advocates is the counter-factual behaviour of people managing Indian economy and governance. The ease of doing business in India is a chimera. One is reminded of the experiential truth uttered by the former chief of Alcatel, “India, great people, but terrible market”. This was years ago. One hoped that things have changed.
But, only yesterday, I was talking to a French friend who previously worked for Alcatel, and now an independent consultant for a French Solar Company. He was sharing exasperatedly, that, his company won a bid at Rs. 3.15 per unit for supplying solar power, up to 250 mw., which was a big success for the company and good for Indian renewable energy. But alas, the discoms, the State agencies responsible for distribution would not cooperate. They would put a cap, let us say on 50 mw, or ask for higher charges, calling for re-bidding.
This is frustrating for the projects, whilst the Central Agencies will discourage such obstructions or obduracies, State agencies would not behave. He said, ‘in some areas there is more regulation and discipline, but in others there is no regulation whatsoever.” I was embarrassed as India is heading, at present, the International Solar Mission. A leading columnist Tavleen Singh argues in “Digital Dreaming” that foreign investors are not lining up at India’s gates. This is because the bureaucrats do not share the passion of the political leaders, namely the PM, in digitally transforming India, technology reduces their powers to control, delay and harass, she says, unless they do this, how can they qualify as “burra Sahibs”.
In the GES, NaMo repeated for umpteenth time that he wants foreign business to come, ‘Make in India’. Even Mamata Banerjee, usually shy of aggressive marketing for her State, and responsible for throwing away Tatas from West Bengal went to the UK seeking investment. So far so good. But is our bureaucracy keeping up with such spirit and enthusiasm?
Let me share a firsthand insight into how officials in MEA work in attracting investment. This is about funding the social sector. There is an agreement between India and US that philanthropists could send duty-free goods for poor in India, apart from cash. The Agreement signed in 1960 is administered by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. For a new charity in the US to be listed as a donor should be recommended by US Aid, US’ official aid agency. Whenever, a new request is made for empanelment as a donor for a US charity the Indian recipient organisation makes a request to the Ministry of Social Justice which then forwards the name for political clearance to MEA.
The recipient organisation has made the request nine months ago and is still awaiting a communication from MEA. The Social Justice Department has sent two reminders to MEA, but it has not replied yet. There are many such stories of bureaucratic apathy. Rajiv Gandhi admitted that he could not tame the bureaucracy. Can Modiji do it, before India is ready for the big leap!——INFA