Sunday, January 18, 2009

Imagining India

“Imagining India” : Ideas for the New Century.

Excellent book by Nandan Nilekani where he analyzed India’s past growth and future possibilities by analyzing evolution of ideas in India. He used a good analytic framework and analyzed 18 Ideas crucial to India’s growth and categorized them as: Accepted (6), Process (4), Debate (3) and No Direction (5) depending on where we stand currently. Spot On !!

I would like to add three more ideas to this list -

  • Dignity of Labor & Career
  • Internal Security and Foreign Policy
  • Relation between Business and Politics

I would add “Dignity of Labor & Career” in the Accepted Category. Nandan’s Generation and even my generation grew up with the notion that there are only three careers for educated middleclass Engineering, Medicine and Chartered Accountancy. Depending upon one’s aptitude ( read marks) in Maths, Biology or Accounts, one has to choose one of the three careers, face fierce competition with fellow aspirants to enter colleges of repute and employment market.

Today situation looks different and dignity of labor is being accepted in many more careers. New careers have emerged and middle class is accepting these career choices for children with equal enthusiasm. Chefs, Choreographers, DJ’s, Fashion Designers, Air Hostess, Singers, Actors are being increasingly accepted as career aspiration rather than as creative rebel act. Performing in realty TV shows is as sought after recognition as getting into IITs for middle class families. Even in sports, apart from Cricket, recent successes in other sports such as Tennis, Badminton, Shooting, Golf, Boxing is inspiring many youngsters to take these as a career. To make India a developed nation we need to have excellence in all services which will be driven by dignity of labor i.e when a person chooses his profession by his choice and not by narrowly defined options governed by societal pressures, and then excels in his chosen field.

I would add “Internal Security and Foreign Policy” in the Debated Category. We know the issues, debate is on but no consensus yet. As India is gaining increasing significance in the world, India needs to protect its national interest and grow up its global profile by behaving like a mature global player. How India should deal with Pakistan? Should India be offensive like Israel or channel Diplomacy? How to conduct its foreign policy? Should it align with any current camp or form an alternate camp of Emerging Countries? How should India deal with China? etc etc.

Why Indians need to obtain visa for visiting any other country which hinders India’s ease of doing business with rest of the world? Why can’t other countries give visa concessions to Indians as they give to Europeans, Americans and other Asian nationals?

How can India prevent terrorist incidents like one in Mumbai? Should we focus more on inclusive growth for internal security or become a tough policing state like China. Cries for tougher laws, structural and policy change intensifies and is debated after every incident but gradually fades away for the lack of any concrete consensus.

I would like to place “Business and Politics” in the No Direction category. We all know political parties need funds and in the absence of transparent fundraising framework unlike west where business houses and individuals can openly participate, political parties in India resort to parallel economy and remain secretive about their supporters , fund raisers. Following such ways can take very ugly turns like the one incident which took place recently: A Government Employee was allegedly harassed to death for not contributing to ruling party funds.

A developed India can not take shape unless there is transparency in the relationship between business and politics and civil society has the means and rights to question these relationships within legal framework.

Finally, I differ with one of the solutions Nandan proposed in ICT in India. The Single Citizen ID, this problem is rightly identified but I differ with the solution approach Nandan proposes. Stated solution approach is classic example of what Nandan’s Fellow Infosys Board Member, Rama Bijapurkar, wrote in her book “We are like that only” - India will not develop like any other country because of change in circumstances and India’s solution will have to be designed with keeping in mind the current realities. I believe, India has more cellular phones than any other government generated identification document, Passport, Voters ID card, Driving Licence, Ration Card, PAN Cards etc. So instead of finding out any western solution of Single Citizen ID, why cant we start with Mobile Phone Registration and start from there?

In all Nandan’s framework is a good analytical tool to understand and debate on India’s problems and opportunities. I sincerely hope that politicians use this framework and some of the ideas in upcoming election debates ….