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Re: Indiresan: a critique



On Mon, 11 May 1998, Puneet Singh wrote:

> Two Points:
> 
> First: There need not be lets do the bicycle now and high tech later.

I agree. What you are saying is that we should do both together. The first
(bicyle) is the bread and butter of India. Our rupee has been supported
(to whatever little extent) and will be further supported by this type of
work: garment production, components, bicycles. If we do not focus in a
big way on this, we can forget the billions of dollars worth of
labor-intensive markets that continue to exist even today desipte the
seeming shift to high-tech (in fact the bulk of international trade is of
that category: small things going zig zag all over the world: most "goods"
including shoes, clothes, are still relatively low tech and are
manfacturable in India without much ado: only the right incentives are
needed to get the MNCs like Nike to invest in India).

Second, on high-tech, you did not answer my question quite well, about how
do we go about preventing our brain drain. The thing behind a computer or
high-tech company is a brain; for sure. But how do you retain those brains
in India when IPRs are not protected, etc.etc (we've gone through some of
this before). 

In theory I agree that we must encourage high-tech. But how high tech? Do
we go about making super-Boeings? Or Space Shuttles? Bofors guns? If so,
how do we set up such companies in India? What incentives are needed for
that?  I believe that if we can answer this question properly, then we can
get all the hundreds of thousands of Indians working in NASA, Microsoft,
Intel, and a zillion other companies, here, to come back to India. After
all, who would not like to eat a real masala dosa for breakfast and get to
see a real hindi movie and eat real paan in the evening, and still get to
work on designing a new Boeing plane?

I think we need to try to put in the very specific policy instruments into
our Manifesto/ Agenda that will accomplish that. Just keeping this high
tech thing before us while all our best engineers disappear from India the
moment the Registrar signs their degree certificates, sounds to me like
what Indiresan was talking about. Such things distract us from the key
policy concern (bicycles) while setting up huge (outlandish?) dreams
before our engineering community, who then only want to work as engineers
in Boeing (or Intel?! sorry the barb was unintentional and actually
sweet-edged: you're doing a great job for India by working in Intel. I
firmly believe that). 

Unfortunately, the way our policies are set up, our best engineers are
totally ill-equipped - mentally, not physically - to produce things that
can sell in every street and K-mart of the world.  A toy plane, for
example. To imagine that this task is "demeaning" to one's intellect is to
have not faced the red-hot competition in this sector: those who have not
participated and won this race, cannot win other races for India. 

Unfortunately we do not have any private high-tech sector in India, and in
fact, there is none, worth its name, anywhere in the world except in the
USA, Europe, and Japan. All other countries have to compete in the
low-tech sector, first. 

So, while I fully agree with you, that "there need not be: let's do a
bicycle first and a high-tech later," please propose policies that will
ensure at least a bicycle dominance today for India in the world, and
simultaneously bring us the biggest lead in the high-tech area. Let us
discuss specific proposals on this. Else, both high and low tech are a lot
of hot air that our Ministers and Prime Ministers have talked about for 50
years now, without any result whatsoever. We are today left hanging as a
rickshaw and bullock-cart country, after all these years of hot air on
high tech which never materialized because our best brains simply walked
out on us (not their fault, though ...).

> a fact proven by Microsoft's plans for the
> ONLY other overseas development sector to be set up in Hyderabad. 

That's a very specific policy issue. Let us discuss how to get all
companies, including Boeing and Intel, to set up branches in India. Even
better, I would like us to discuss how we can get our best engineers and
other brains back to India without in any way expecting them to sacrifice
anything for us and without in any way giving them special favors when
they go back to India. 

As we move forward into specific policy recommendations, we will then move
into the area of concretizing Indiresan's speech and making it, and your
wish of a "simultaneous" thrust into low and high-tech, a reality. 
Anything divested of reality does not interest me, unfortunately, as you
might have observed in these debates. 

Hope I am not being a bore with these long e-mail msgs! Worse, I hope I am
not offending anyone, particularly my engineering friends! For your info,
I too had appeared for the IIT exam, in 1976, and got in (I was not
interested in engineering, though, and stuck to my B.Sc. At one time I
wanted to be a pure scientist!). There is nothing but respect that I have
for our engineers, but I think we must get more specific when we talk of
an ideal manifesto. We are designing a new nation (at least in our minds).
Let us do it very thoroughly, so that what we say can be made to come
true.

Sanjeev