Make In India: The Flip Side

I n the first part, I attempted to highlight the positive aspects of the Make in India campaign.

In this part, I will focus on the other side, the not so pleasant one. 
Some may find it a tad negative, but let me assure you at the outset it is not the case. Because just like there’s a bright side to things, there’s a dark aspect as well.

This, therefore, is my attempt to analyze that.

Half done…

Among the many hoardings that are visible in Mumbai during the ongoing Make in India Week, one is particularly ambiguous.

India is first among 110 nations in growth, innovation and leadership index, it claims.

This is something I don’t quite agree with. For as things stand, India and innovation can’t (and shouldn’t) be mentioned in the same breathe.

In its modern avatar India — the period after 1947 to be precise — it is difficult to think about innovations made in (or made by) India.

In the last five to six decades India’s position in the world hasn’t changed much vis-à-vis it’s pre-independence days. The country continues to serve as a supplier of labor, and a market for finished goods.

Harsh it may sound but India’s contribution to the world in terms of ideation, invention or concepts is zilch.

To give credit where it is due Modi and his government deserve plaudits for accepting the reality and working in accordance.

At the same time it is also a fact that the above is an easy way out.

The difference between a ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nation lies in its ability to ideate and innovate…to create and sustain technology.

It is precisely where India has lagged behind all these years, and is still lacking.

Instead of following in the footsteps of countries like the United States and those in Western Europe - and focus on innovation, India opted for the easier option of being like its neighbour (China) and concentrated on duplication/reproduction and mass production.

T he reason for the same is two-fold, both inter-related.

First is the fact that Indians are inherently parsimonious. Secondly, Indians are perennially averse to risk.

If there’s a choice between selecting a cheap (albeit inferior) product vis-à-vis an expensive (and better) one, the probability of an Indian opting for the former is more than 95 per cent.

Likewise, before a potential investment in an idea/project, an Indian (individual or company) is more concerned about getting the money back. It is the return on investment that matters more than getting into unchartered territory and making a breakthrough.

We do, however, invest considerable sums to work on the things developed elsewhere. It gives us immense pride to hear rhetoric like India joins select group of countries…

But it has never been the case India is the first to do so. The reality being, since little is spent on groundbreaking research, India‘s’ contribution to the modern world in the realm of innovation is precious little. On the contrary the world’s second-most populated country has become an expert in duplication/reproduction.

In fact, in the World Economic Forum in Davos, preceding the Make in India Week, even as the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley went at a feverish pace promoting his government’s initiative, there came a point where questions were raised.

Why doesn’t India innovate? Why is India not able to produce an Apple, a Google or a Facebook? A company or products that can set a trend, not merely follow it.

Sunil Mittal, the man behind Airtel, one India’ largest companies, came up with a semblance of an explanation.

“What India has done very well is it quickly got into the bandwagon of being copycats. So you have got Oyo Rooms, Ola Cabs etc,” he said.

“It is not bad to be copycats as it brings quick time solutions to the markets. But the next thing is to build new products,” he added.

It is a fact that India always reactive, and never proactive. Make in India does nothing to address an eternal malady that has afflicted this country for generations.

In fact one of the government’s motives is to use this initiative to eventually make India a global innovation hub. This sounds juvenile to say the least.

It is a simple explanation really. You can’t beat somebody by copying them, by doing what they are doing, even if you do it in bulk. To get the better of someone you need to out-think him. The same applies in the case of nations.

L et me cite one example. When the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), or Mangalyaan, was launched in 2013, a lot of credit was taken as regards the fact that India became the first nation to do so in its first attempt, as also the fact that it was the least expensive (USD 75 million) Mars mission to date, almost one-tenth of the cost (USD 670 million)of NASA’s MAVEN, launched during the same period.

What was conveniently forgotten, rather ignored for convenience, was the fact that Mangalyaan was the 58th mission to the Red Planet, and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had ample time (and examples) to study where the others had gone wrong and learn how to economize the whole project.

Had ISRO’s been the first mission ever taking credit would have been justified. Not now.

The government’s latest initiative will unintentionally (or intentionally) propagate many more of these continuations, as opposed to novel additions.

To drive the point further even the omnipresent Make in India lion is not an original, but a straight lift from the logo of the Cantonal Bank of Zurich in Switzerland.

The latter, conceived and executed by Swiss designer Nadine Geissbulher, came into existence more than a year before the NDA government launched its high profile campaign.

In fact the government had to issue a formal denial to avoid accusations of plagiarism. But the similarities isn’t a mere coincidence.

Nor is the fact that the campaign is called ‘Make in India’, not ‘Made in India’.

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