I-Day Reflection: India still does not have one technology company in the global top 20 list
What does India stand for ? What is it known for ? Democracy and freedom? The Watergate scandal is the bar by which politics in the US is measured. What is the ‘bar’ in India, asks Abhijit Shanker
A few blocks away from the Watergate Hotel in Washington DC, made infamous by the snooping scandal that removed a US President from office, stands a drinking hole, ‘Off the Record’, from the 1920s.
It seems like an apt name for this hideaway, whose walls are adorned with political cartoons and the halls with political actors. It stands witness to all that has happened in American politics since the first world war. It also bears testimony to the ignominious removal of Richard ‘Tricky Dick’ Nixon upon the discovery that he had knowledge of the attempted snooping on the Democratic Party. In subsequent years, the words spying and impeachment would get intertwined with Nixon, who died a lonely man in 1994.
It’s this measure of freedom, and independence, that makes Nixon a bar not to be crossed in US politics. That begs the question, what is the bar the other custodian of democracy, India, measures itself by?
As it enters its 75th year of independence, what does India stand for? What is it most known for? What does freedom mean to its citizens?
In retrospect, we all know that we might have done better in our daily lives or in the context of a nation, but in the case of a country the question remains have we moved beyond rhetoric and hyperbole in the ‘new India’ that’s often conjured through data that continue to play hide and seek? Is it time Indians asked themselves if the democratic fervor of the country is in danger of being lost in the pursuit of its own golden past?
A newly independent India had the good fortune of an illustrious group of founding fathers, including Ambedkar, Azad, Kaur, Kidwai, Prasad and Nehru as its first Prime Minister. He had the advantage of the able stewardship of his deputy, the indefatigable Sardar, and together they set the newly independent country on its path creating temples of scientific research, education, and successive five-year plans. Would India have been able to achieve its initial successes in Space research, eventual nuclear power, and rapid industrialization, had it not been for this collective leadership?
Should a country aim to change, turn a new leaf? This answer can only be in the affirmative. But this step forward needs to be based on the gains already made, by engaging the best placed, the most experienced among us. The required change will perpetually come from the top.
The idea of India is enmeshed in egalitarianism – promoting equality and promising equity for all its citizens. No participant in its democratic political process should engage in any divisive act which aims to marginalise a section of the society, however minuscule their presence.
The age of kings and queens has long passed, their excesses been pored over endlessly – we must now be engaged in building a society that embraces all sections – all castes and religions. That’s the basis of India’s independence, espoused by the leaders of the time, who spent years in jails and away from their loved ones. If India’s citizens can do their bit to make their dreams come true, that would be the best tribute to those who fought against its colonizers.
If India has to explore and realize it’s possibilities, it cannot afford to exclude its lowest denominators – the poorest amongst its citizens, the masses who have been left behind for centuries, and still continue to. The Global Wealth Report by Credit Suisse 2020 said that India's richest 1% of the population hold 42.5% of national wealth while the bottom 50%, owns a mere 2.8%.
This chasm must be narrowed, with policies and with collaborations. Stereotyped for its technological prowess, today India does not have even one technology corporation in the top 20 globally. Another startling finding in the report was that the wealth of top 9 billionaires is equivalent to the wealth of the bottom 50% of India’s population.
Its leaders must search for the answers among the principles on which its founders fought its independence. It’s obvious that India not only has the means, but also the potential of leading the Asian block – all it needs is the political will.
In the advent of an imminent US-China cold war, India must use its demographic dividend to transform itself into a global power, to reckon with. This promise has now been deliberated on, for the longest time by economists and politicians alike -- India’s coming of age -- of leaving its shackles far behind, of the world being flat, but the country seems to be perpetually waiting on its turn to take the centerstage.
It cannot be fighting corruption at the local levels 75 years after gaining independence. Its leaders must fulfill their promise to India’s citizens, they cannot simply act like brown sahibs, imitating the gora sahibs from the last century, pretending a large section of the society does not simply matter or even exist. The Mahatma’s favorite bhajan comes to mind:
Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye Je/ Peed Parayi Jane Re
(Only those are people of God, who understand the pain of others).
(The author worked for a decade with the United Nations in New York, serving as UNICEF’s Chief of Communications)