This Article is From Nov 25, 2014

What's Missing From PM's Make-in-India Campaign

(Srikant Jena is former Union Minister, UPA II.)

Development (Vikaas) has become a political buzzword today. However, very few look at the core definition of the word.

Should we define Development solely by economic parameters such as GDP growth, Foreign Direct Investment, ease of doing business, or should we define development by social and political parameters such as access to quality healthcare, education, employment opportunities, ecological balance, communal harmony and reduction in caste, gender and regional inequity?

I will contend that economic growth without addressing health and education access and ensuring social justice is not only meaningless but also perhaps unachievable. Let me point out two significant imbalances that exist in patterns of employment and business ownership in India to support my case.

1. Caste and Gender inequality
2. Regional imbalance

According to the noted publication Economic and Political Weekly of India, 90% of company boards in India Inc. are composed of members from two upper caste communities (44% Brahmin, 46% Vaishya). There is miniscule representation for Dalits, OBCs, Muslims and Females in Corporate India. This is made worse by the fact that skewed industrialization in the Western and Southern states has left Eastern states grossly under-represented in the private sector.

Isn't it ironic that the real "makers" of India, i.e. the Dalits and OBCs find no place in Corporate India today? Can we build innovative and world-class Indian companies to propel economic growth without addressing this glaring issue?

Social inclusion and diversity shouldn't been seen simply as a socio-political obligation (as the advocates of "merit" tend to argue) but rather as a vital pre-requisite to innovation needed to achieve the "Make in India" mission. It's not incidental that some of the most innovative places in the world, whether its universities like MIT, Harvard, Stanford or the Silicon Valley, also happen to be very diverse and socially inclusive.  

Our Constitution - arguably the finest product created in Modern India  - was the result of debate and deliberations between a diverse team of intellectuals led by Dr. Ambedkar. This team of experts debated freely without prejudice the merits and demerits of every single article in the constitution for three long years and produced a visionary document that has kept our vibrant democracy alive. Imagine, if our constitution was designed by a homogenous group of people belonging to the same caste, community and region, as is often the case with management teams in Corporate India.

Is India Inc. ready to reform itself by embracing and addressing the reality of caste, gender and regional inequality in its ranks? If not, will Narendrabhai Modi remake India Inc. through a "Mandal" styled legislation to make "Make in India" a reality?

My second point is about regional imbalance. Eastern India particularly states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and my home state of Odisha are the poorest in the country despite being mineral rich.

Modern India's raw materials comes from these areas and yet, their participation in our new found economic prosperity in minimal. Every day, trainloads of college graduates from these eastern states travel to Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi and Chennai in a long and futile search for respectable jobs. The even less fortunate are taking radical routes such as Naxalism to express their angst at unequal and unjust economic development.

I am not suggesting that we ban mining but rather link mining revenues to local employment and entrepreneurship. Take, for instance, Odisha whose state government's annual budget is merely Rs. 30,000 crores (the same as Mumbai City's municipal corporation!) despite private mining companies recording massive profits through both legal and illegal mining.

If we simply auction iron-ore, chromite and manganese, the state exchequer stands to gain nearly Rs. 50,000 crores every year, which can be used for boosting local employment, entrepreneurship and improving health and education infrastructure. I hope that the new BJP government decides to follow the Supreme Court ruling on coal auctions and decides to also auction other minerals and help boost business activity and job-creation in the East.

67 years ago, a poor, feudal, starving and colonized country sought to transform itself into a thriving democracy. The experts said it couldn't be done and yet today India stands out as an island of political and economic stability in a region ravaged by dictatorships, military juntas, religious and ethnic conflicts. However, we can't take our stability for granted without addressing existing caste, gender and regional imbalances in employment and business ownership.

I hope our political and business leadership realizes soon that "unity in diversity" isn't just a political slogan but rather our unique intellectual property through which we can transform India into an innovative, knowledge-based economy as was envisioned by our founding fathers.

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