Wherever a citizen of the Republic of India’s travels take her or him, the odds are overwhelming that there will be either citizens or those of Indian origin in the location visited. In almost all cases, they would be model citizens, abiding by the law, bringing up families and proving to be a success in their work. Out of the door have gone the impressions of India as a quaint land of snake charmers and ascetics meditating in caves for long periods of time. Fortunately for the variety that is the essence of India, there are indeed still snake charmers to be found, with their lilting music and the movement of the lute causing the reptile inside the basket to emerge in view and sway to that movement. China underwent a Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, the effects of which endure to this day, but what is often forgotten is that the radical politics and economics that were practised by the inheritors of the Raj caused their own cultural revolutions, whether these be the wiping out of millions of jobs at the stroke of a pen when Morarji Desai embarked on his Gold Control Order. That the government has in its possession a magic wand that can ensure the immediate obedience of every citizen to even its wildest dictates has been a staple belief of the colonial chemistry of the bureaucracy, including the political layer superimposed at the top. The other is that “Sarkar Sab Janta Hai”, that the government knows all and knows best, while the ordinary citizen is expected not to question but to blindly accept any diktat. Rather than go in for the nationalisation of banks with deposits above Rs 50 crores, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (who went on to nationalise the wholesale trade in food and the production of coal as well, among other things) could have launched state-owned alternatives that would have competed with private banks. But competition was another bad word in the lexicon of the bureaucracy for a long while. Sardar Patel had presided over the integration of princely states into the Republic of India by signing a solemn covenant with the princes, which was torn up in 1969 in the name of egalitarianism. While many princes were degenerate, in common with too many others in society, there were also those who had nourished and preserved the traditional arts and culture of India. A bite of the quality of being “Incredible” disappeared with the princely order, again a cultural revolution in a country that has had several since 1947, some of which have been of great value. Among these is the digital revolution that has been fast tracked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in which more and more of the processes of government are being digitised. In time to come, a “laptop for every child” may come about, so that the young, no matter how disadvantaged their families will be, will have adequate access to the digital world and ensure that they are equipped through that to succeed in the professions of the 21st century.
The poorest of Indian families are home to some of the most talented citizens our country has, and empowering each of them to realize that potential needs to be a priority. The provision of food for the body is vital, and this is being done. Next is food for the mind, including through access to modern education via the internet or through more traditional means. Think global, produce local makes sense in a situation where India offers advantages as a production base for a variety of products. It is heartbreaking to see the sometimes total reliance on foreign imports in product lines that could very easily have been developed in India, but which were not. The mobile phone handset is an example. Indian models ought to have been sweeping across the world. Instead, in India it is PRC models that enjoy dominance. Even as simple a household contrivance as a hair dryer is imported rather than having brands that could displace them and be sourced from India. In such a context, it is important to understand the meaning of self-reliance, of Atmanirbhar Bharat, that is being promoted under the Prime Minister’s direction. This would include even products that have their origins elsewhere, but which are produced in India. Intelligence agencies in conjunction with special task forces of the police need to investigate some of the major shutdowns of production that have taken place in India, such as those which affected the manufacture of mobile phones in a southern state and the making of India self-sufficient in copper in another state. It must no longer be easy for domestic and external vested interests working in tandem to destroy entire lines of production for the benefit of importers. This is an issue of national security and needs to be treated as such. In times to come, it is India that needs to be the manufacturing and services hub of the world. These must shift from autocratic and increasingly idiosyncratic climes to the country that is the world’s most populous democracy.