y Milind Deora
A post-Covid world won’t — and shouldn’t — be the same as before. We will witness transformational ‘new normals’ in the way we work, consume, travel — in the very way we relate to and interact with one another. Inevitably, cultural and societal transformations will be accompanied by geopolitical and economic ones.
In particular, the world is likely to recognise, and attempt to rectify, the cracks in their own economies and institutions, starting with the global overdependence on China.
When that happens, India should be ready. Along with focusing on short- to mid-term strategies to minimise economic damage, we need to keep one eye on what comes after — how India can be positioned, in the immediate future, to become a driving force in the rebuilding of world economies; and in the long term, to play an indispensable role in global supply chains (GSCs).
Young and Productive
Before the crisis hit, India was already leveraging some of its core strengths to carve a position of dominance on the global stage. One of our biggest advantages is the demographic dividend — 600 million young people — also a critical factor in China’s growth trajectory in the 1980-90s.
It’s no surprise that we’re the most preferred offshoring destination in the world, with a 55% market share of the global services sourcing business. We have an almost unparalleled entrepreneurial base, with the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world, and the third-highest number of unicorns after China and the US.
India’s multicultural and socially diverse demographic gives us insights that can allow us to forge successful strategic and diplomatic partnerships across the world.
We’re also recognised as a country with a legacy of non-alignment, embracing a philosophy of multialignment. With these strengths in our arsenal, the stage is set for India. What we now need to do is capitalise on them.
As powerful economies grapple with their fragilities exposed by the pandemic, the pre-Covid protectionist sentiment will only be exacerbated, with countries looking to diversify from China. We must take advantage of this GSC diversification by shoring up domestic manufacturing and services, and simultaneously creating jobs for our workforce, to become an attractive investment alternative.
Two things require our attention.
One, to intensify and redouble our efforts on the ‘Make in India’ initiative in partnership with state governments. The initiative targets 100 million additional jobs and a 25% GDP share of manufacturing by 2022. Two, to reevaluate special economic zone (SEZ) policies to boost competitiveness and stimulate growth in manufacturing and services.
India has made remarkable strides in creating an ecosystem for businesses to flourish. In the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index, India jumped 79 points in six years — from 142 in 2014 to 63 in 2019 among 190 countries.
We need to maintain this trajectory and focus on reforms that address the roadblocks to business growth in India — from countering official overreach in tax collection to loosening regulations around starting a business.
We must strengthen our global acceptability by investing in socio-cultural cohesion. It is in our strategic interest to ensure that every community and identity feels accommodated and appreciated, and that this diversity coexists in harmony.
Our soft diplomacy efforts must focus on reassuring the world of an India that’s resilient, united, and capable of forging mutually beneficial partnerships with any part of the world.
Finally, we need to actively encourage lateral talent into government from industry and private sector. In an innovation-fuelled world, it’s imperative to have highly specialised expertise that can help the State solve some of the most complex challenges it faces.
We have been building capabilities in diverse sectors — and strengthening our technology base — that can allow us to catapult to the centre-stage in the world’s post-Covid growth story. Nothing happens overnight. But we certainly have the potential to gradually develop the skill, scale and speed that has allowed China to dominate GSCs.
More than anything, this crisis has offered the world a glimpse of India’s resilience. No other country has demonstrated rallying together in devastating times like we have. A lockdown of this scale and nature is impossible to execute smoothly.
India’s demographics complicate things manifold. Millions of daily wage workers have lost their solitary source of income. Many have lost their jobs, many businesses will perish in the lockdown.
Despite this, our adherence to the lockdown has been a tremendous success. The Indian people have embodied resilience and determination in their response to this crisis, not only in observing safety measures, but also in the coming together of the business community and civil society to coordinate large-scale relief efforts for those most harshly impacted by loss of income.
All for One
The credit is certainly due, in part, to India’s stable federal government, which has four years to go before the next general election. Going forward, it will take collective experience and leadership to build a reimagined and resurgent India that’s not only significant globally, but also serves the interests of its unorganised sector workers, farmers, MSMEs and industry.
For all these reasons, at a time when we’re bombarded with only grim imaginings of the future, India has the capability to rise above and become a beacon of hope for the rest of the world.
The writer is former Union minister