Saturday, July 4, 2015

Indian National Development Icons: Inspirations for Quantum Leaps in Socio-Economic Growth

Over the last one year, India has received favourable global attention as an attractive emerging market, potential world-class manufacturing hub and likely global economic powerhouse. Despite certain missed expectations on big-bang reforms, global investors continue to retain faith in the India story. Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ theme and the initiatives by various States to unveil new industrial policies and promote ease of doing business have contributed to a new air of expectation. While an uncertain monsoon, large debt levels and poor corporate earnings have recently taken a toll on the Indian stock markets (making India the worst performing emerging market this year) there is no panic yet. There is, on the other hand, optimism that India would clock a higher growth rate of 7.5 percent in 2015-16, psychologically boosted by the fact that India has crossed China in GDP growth rate the past quarter.

Being on an economic roller-coaster is not new to India. The amplitude of travel has been, however, increasing due to increasing global linkages. Various sectors that are linked to global trends (oil and gas, metals and minerals, shipping and construction, for example) besides debt dependent, rate sensitive and monsoon sensitive sectors (infrastructure, banks, FMCG) are particularly impacted. National economic policy must take care of the short term pressures and announce policy prescriptions that are creative and serve as “instant motivators”. The new Telangana Industrial Policy, for example, made a creative commitment on Right to Clearance of entrepreneurs and industrialists applying for setting up industries. Policies certainly would not only improve investor sentiment but also lay solid pathways to industrial progress. Given India’s industrial maturity thus far and developmental imperatives for the future, this blog post provides a new paradigm of National Icons as a reinforcing concept.

National icons

Icon is defined as a famous person or thing that people admire and see as a symbol of a particular idea, way of life, etc. Nations have iconic symbols. India has such iconic symbols that act as the National Identity Elements of India. These symbols are intrinsic to the Indian identity and heritage. Indians of all demographics and backgrounds across the world are proud of these National Symbols as they infuse a sense of pride and patriotism in every Indian’s heart. These are India’s National Flag (the Horizontal Tricolour with Wheel), National Anthem (Jana-gana-mana), National Song (Vande Mataram), State Emblem (Four Lions), National Bird (Peacock), National Animal (Tiger) and National Flower (Lotus), National Tree (Banyan), National River (Ganga), National Aquatic Animal (River Dolphin), National Fruit (Mango) and National Calendar (Saka Era).

National icons typically emerge from a glorious past and an exciting present to inspire and unite all Indians. They serve as reminders of the identity in functions and events, reinforcing the feeling of oneness. Companies have typically, for long, developed their individual symbols and logos to inspire homogeneity and focus, and promote an enduring connect with the customers and public at large. India has been creative in developing various thematic symbols for various initiatives from time to time; and so do international organizations. India’s recent Make in India Lion oriented icon is an inspiration for the campaign. As India gears up to achieve further global growth as an international economic powerhouse it would be appropriate to conceptualize certain national development icons to inspire aligned thoughts, expressions and actions for a glorious socio-economic future for India.

Key drivers

India’s socio-economic development will be driven by a balanced growth of a number of social and economic sectors. While agriculture, industry and services would be three core economic sectors, social and industrial infrastructure would be a key enabler as well as a key driver. In fact, the interdependence and interlinkages of various sectors makes it difficult to sequence, let alone prioritize, one over the other. Some sectors are well developed while some are yet to mature in India. In some cases, development is relatively comprehensive (steel, automobile and pharmaceutical manufacture, for example) but in some cases it is patchy (education, healthcare and housing, for example).

Given that everything develops everything else (provided a balanced development process is followed), it would be appropriate to choose certain icons which can inspire India to be proud of the progress thus far and the potentialities that need to be mastered in future. This blog post presents a framework of ten such national development icons. Some of these reflect certain matured capability of which the country can be rightly proud of while the balance are essential aspirations bolstered be certain isolated successes. It is not claimed that these are the most representative ones but these are certainly inspirational as developmental icons. These have powerful developmental force and can create cascading development impact across the socio-economic firmament.

1. National Product Icon – Automobile

India has a huge portfolio of industrial and consumer products that are domestically produced. Amongst all, no industry has achieved the level of dramatic transformation that the automobile industry has achieved. From an output of just 250,000 vehicles of all types, including a miniscule 30,000 annually of three dated cars in the 1970s, the industry has grown in scale and scope tremendously (100 fold increase!) to emerge as the sixth largest in the world with an output of 25 million vehicles annually. The industry is able to design its own new vehicles in India as evidenced by Tata Nano and Renault-Nissan Kwid. The industry is capable of becoming the third largest in the world by 2020. Automobile is truly a national product icon for India, demonstrating what the country can accomplish.

2. National Development Icon – Bullet Train

India has the world’s largest rail network. Though a government owned institution, the Indian Railways it has been able to run itself independently as if it were a corporation. Indian Railways with a network of 7,172 stations, 115,000 kms of track length over a route length of 65,000 kms, carrying annually 8.4 billion passengers and 1 billion tonnes of freight. Indian Railways is not only the lifeline of India with such a huge pan-Indian network but is an ecosystem by itself with an employment of 1.3 million and several welfare institutions such as schools and hospitals as well as housing colonies. Yet, Indian Railways needs to urgently move to the next trajectory of rail technology which is bullet trains. Bullet trains or high speed trains capable of travelling at or above 400 kmph (as in Japan, Europe or China) can dramatically transform the socio-economic status of India. 

3. National Globalization Icon – Smart Device

India had a woeful record in telephone connectivity even by the 1970s and 1980s. Today, however, India is the fastest growing market for smart phones. Over 1 billion cell phone connections exist in India, far outstripping landline connections of 28 million. With the integration of connectivity and computing as well as education and entertainment, and emergence of indigenous phone manufacturers, smart phones, or more broadly the entire range of smart devices including tablets, phablets and laptops, could be the new icon of India’s globalization. Along with hardware, Indian software may participate with a range of application supports. If scale and scope, and integration of hardware and software influence global leadership, the smart device could well be India’s National globalization icon. 
4. National Energy Icon – Power Plant

India is criticised for its woeful performance in the power sector; power, in terms of availability and cost, is identified as one of the critical bottlenecks for India’s industrialization. That said, India is one of the few countries which has a mix of all kinds of power plants, thermal (coal, oil and gas), hydro, nuclear and renewable power plants. The total power output is nearly 300,000 MW but has a huge gap to be met. Power projects apart from road projects are some of the most stalled or delayed infrastructure projects in India. As an aspirational icon, power plant will be seen over the next few years as one would accelerate India’s socio-economic development with an equal focus on energy for residential and industrial purposes. The Ultra Mega Power Projects and Renewable Energy projects would be seen as new icons of economic power for India.

5. National Security Icon – Housing

Housing is one of the fundamental needs of security for any society. India presents a very patchy and paradoxical picture in terms of housing. Some reports suggest that in certain metro areas lakhs of apartments are remaining unsold even as the demand for affordable urban houses has been facing a demand gap of a few million units. Lack of proper housing with protective structural elements is the major pain point in all of rural and most urban areas. Housing being the fundamental need and also being the most important employment provider as well as trigger for a number of industries (such as steel, cement, construction materials and paints as well as interior fit-outs), ‘housing for all’ which is a Modi Government’s Mission is an aspiration for India as a whole.

6. National Welfare Icon – Healthcare

Every society owes to itself the duty of health and wellness of every individual. India despite its rich heritage of Ayurveda and Yoga is ironically facing some of the most disabling healthcare challenges in the world, including proliferation of diabetes and other metabolic disorders, besides infectious and cancerous diseases. The hospital and doctor network as well as access to emergency services are patchy while the aged and independent have no healthcare insurance that is worthy of mention. The country has just one doctor for 2000 people while the density of hospital beds per 10000 population is just 9 against global average of 30 and a range of 60 to 150 in the developed Asian countries. The availability of medical technicians and technologists as well as nurses and paramedical staff is also woefully low. Indian doctors and surgeons, however, have demonstrated the ability to conduct complex surgical operations and be globally competitive. This capability requires a universal coverage within India. Healthcare, therefore, will need to be the National Welfare icon in India.  

7. National Equity Icon – Education

Come May and June, India would be in the exciting phase of amazing results from school final examinations and the excruciating phase of seeking admissions in schools and colleges. Statistics apart, it is touching to come across cases of students making the highest grades despite the handicaps of underdeveloped geographies and schools, and constraints of poverty and non-affordability. Education is the fundamental driver of equity and equality in India and has helped people from indigent sections move up in terms of high positions in administration, business and industry. India is a globally competitive powerhouse in the education sector with 1.4 million schools and 35,000 higher education institutes, Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management, National Institutes of Technology and several other specialized institutes. India has the capability to globalize its educational competencies even more. Education will, however, be the most potent instrument of establishing social equity in India with appropriate policy support.  

8. National Competitiveness Icon – Space Mission

If there is one sector that has gained reached astronomical heights (literally!) despite being in public sector in India it is the space sector. Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been in the forefront of building and operating satellites, satellite launching rockets and satellite launching stations in India. It has not only put several satellites in orbits but recently joined the exclusive club of developed nations that has sent a satellite to Mars (Mangalyaan Mission). ISRO has the infrastructure to put its space technology for India’s industrial and economic development requirements (including communication and weather forecasting) and the ability to support the space programs of other emerging nations. India’s space mission would remain an icon of India’s national competitiveness.

9. National Sustenance Icon – Agriculture

India is still an agrarian economy. If it were not so, despite the industrial sophistication the Reserve Bank of India and the Stock Markets would not have adversely reacted to forecasts of deficient monsoon this year. With nearly two thirds of India’s population dependent on agriculture, it is clear that national sustenance is closely dependent on agricultural output. Many feel that China is ahead of India only due to massive manufacturing scope and productivity. On the other hand, agricultural buoyancy seems to have been supporting Chinese economy to a greater degree than is visible. According to a study, China has bettered India in terms of farm output (twice over), agricultural area (515 versus 179 million hectares), crop yields (double the level), capital formation (thrice over), per capita agricultural supplies (twice over), and so on. Raising farm productivity and rural prosperity would be vital for the overall Indian economy. Agriculture would continue to be India national sustenance icon.

10. National Innovation Icon – Design and Development

Innovation is first time discovery. Innovation leads to novel designs and developments. Design and development is the intellectual driver of industrialization. Given the diversified industrial capabilities acquired so far and the huge pool of scientific and technical talent base with a very young demographics, India has the greatest chance to innovate across the arenas. Instead of merely adopting and adapting overseas designs, India’s huge scientific and technical manpower should be leveraged to set up design studios for Indian industry and global industry as well. If the industry and governments put their heart, soul and investments into innovation, new product development can be an iconic part of India’s development. Starting with early stage design and development immediately, India can become a global innovation hub eventually. India’s innovation can straddle both process and product aspects. Only when India has achieved a global recognition in innovation, the fullest potential of Indian talent could be seen to be fulfilled. Design and development needs to be firmly positioned as India’s national innovation icon.

Iconic identity

Icons bring pride and ownership and inspire common identity. If the fullest industrial, social and economic progress in terms of the above 10 sectors becomes iconic, India would emerge as a truly global icon of equitable development. There is huge work to be done but India is capable of delivering on such iconic identity.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on July 4, 2015 

1 comment:

Ramadhurai K said...

Good idea Dr Rao
Having "items" which are a proven success will increase the believability much higher than an aspirational icon (e.g., bullet train). In that sense, may be we can look at other potential icons too?
- Having e-com/mcom as development icon where India has a thriving eco-system and is capable of replicating what IT industry did a few decades ago
- IT Industry as one of the icons. In just 25 years, IT has become a $120B industry, contributing immensely to India's pride, export and skill development, not to mention lifting a good part of an entire generation (1990-2000 engineers) out of morass, by providing an attractive option
- Having 2W or more specifically Motorcycles instead of Car. While the car volumes have inarguably grown, for a nation this bag and this long a tryst with cars, we have just two "indigenous" cars that we can talk about. On the other hand, India is the largest in volumes globally for motorcycles and is far ahead in exports, both in terms of number of countries and extent of penetration within the targeted countries

There could be other sectors, which perhaps havent achieved yet, but could be interesting bets - Solar & Wind energy comes to mind.