Sep 19, 2008

Columnists - Arun Sarin

India can and must fire on all cylinders, economically, politically, socially. Such a development would be good for all Indians. It would also be good for the rest of the world, as India takes its deserved place at the high table. But the question is, how do we make this happen?

India already is performing remarkably well, not only by its own historical standards but by global benchmarks as well. It saves a little over one-third of what it produces, and converting those savings into investment grows at around 8% a year. This compares very well with China’s performance of saving well over half of what it produces and leveraging that to generate a 10% growth rate. Average per capita income in India has been growing at over 6% a year for the last four years. Just a couple of decades ago, the growth rate of per capita income struggled to stay positive. These are impressive gains. We need to sustain the recent acceleration of economic growth for the next 20 years.

Yet these achievements are crowded out by the stark images that keep hitting any India observer. Shanties housing desperately poor people en route from spanking new airports to swanky downtowns. Communal riots and clashes that plunge members of communities into despair and bitterness. Political leaders leading agitations to close down factories that herald modernity and prosperity . We can and we must do better.

Politically, I’ve been reminded many times that India is a parliamentary democracy. We have to take our people along — and that is a good thing. But we should align on a common vision of bringing greater prosperity and fairness to all Indians. We need a long-term energy policy, investment in infrastructure, new and better jobs, better and deeper education to fulfil our vision and be competitive on the world stage, no matter the state of politics.

Socially, we must keep the momentum towards improving our multi-cultural society. We need to create a fairer and more equal society. Every Indian must feel that they can have a better tomorrow — through hard work and upgrading their skills. This is an individual and collective responsibility. Individually, we must treat people around us with respect and dignity and encourage them to shine and be their best. Collectively, we must encourage society to use ‘all the neurons of the nation,’ provide equal opportunities to women and the disadvantaged . We must all improve our sense of civics and work towards the common good. We must all raise our game and commit to improving India socially.

Economically, India needs capital, management and innovation in large quantities. Given the state of our infrastructure, we need a lot of capital, to build the India of the future. India also needs more management skills, i.e., skilled labour, entrepreneurs, leaders to provide products for India but also be competitive on a world stage. We need innovation not only in ideas for products and services, but also policy frameworks that will help India leapfrog a generation or two.

Telecom is India’s vaunted success story. But it is important for us to appreciate that the rapid spread of lifechanging tele-connectivity is no tale. This is for real. Its lessons are real. Putting enabling policies and institutional oversight has unleashed competition and entrepreneurship. Why can’t we replicate this model in the power/infrastructure sector, in education and in healthcare ? Evidence of the success of liberalisation can be seen in civil aviation, where consumers are benefiting and important infrastructure is being built.

I am optimistic about India. In a corporate context, I’m fond of saying “a brand is what a brand does” . It is equally true for Brand India. So let us do it. India has been called a place of a million mutinies. Let us make it a billion celebrations now.

No comments: