Prime Minister Narendra Modi got off to a riveting start after launching a string of programmes and national missions to revitalise the Indian economy, accelerate the pace of social development, and position India as an environmental champion on the global stage. India stands out as the one big hope for exponential growth. Some argue that India’s growth may be due to a natural progression of the previous government’s efforts, with little effect of Modi’s policies — I beg to differ. There is a certain renewed confidence and vigour in the economy as it forges ahead to become part of the global supply chain.
However, along with a vibrant and sustained economic growth trajectory come various externalities, discontents and missed opportunities. Policies and national missions take time to materialise as they require the restructuring of government institutions, re-organisation of the bureaucracy and garnering of the support of the opposition to pass various bills in the parliament. Beyond these reasons for delayed policy effects, the Modi government has had to develop the “New India” narrative in a rapidly changing global economy, challenged by a multitude of socio-economic and environmental crises.
The economy does not exist in a silo independent from social inequities, pollution, climate change and ecological degradation. Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the 21st Century, has become a definitive critique, as it points a stoic finger towards neoliberal capitalism as a driver of worsening income inequality. Rapid urbanisation ensues globally, and even more so in India, starving the rural economy of skilled labour, fuelling unsustainable growth in urban densities and pressuring natural ecosystems. The International Governmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment report concludes that human economic activity is responsible for the catastrophic rise in greenhouse gas emissions. Over the last five decades, we have decimated close to 50 per cent of the planet’s flora and fauna and are wiping out freshwater sources globally. Considering that it is this very natural capital upon which humanity’s well-being and productivity depends on, growth without a fundamental understanding and concern for the natural environment is simply not an option.
The Indian growth story, therefore, has to be one which ensures all these objectives are met; therein lie the successes over the last two years and future challenges ahead for the Modi government. I prefer to view the past two years through a lens of “balanced growth”, of ensuring “sustainable economic development”. The PM’s various schemes and missions — the 175 GW solar mission, the Swachh Bharat campaign, Jan-Dhan, Aadhar, Mobile (JAM) trinity, farmer insurance, Make in India, the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), Digital India, Smart Cities Mission (SCM) etc — have collectively set the tone from a perspective of balanced growth.
However, the execution of these plans require a fully functioning parliament, and certain highly important bills, such as the GST and an equitable Land Acquisition bill, to be passed. To achieve all the objectives above, the Digital India campaign needs to be accelerated. A connected India will be an informed India, a financially-included India, and most importantly, an empowered India. Also, given the slew of environmental challenges currently faced by the country, the question is not whether we should make in India or not, but rather, how should we make in India? Will we allow industries to pollute our water bodies, landscapes and air?
Or will we ensure that India becomes the preferred destination for efficient and pollution-free manufacturing? How can India become a global research and development hub, instead of just a destination for the world to manufacture and sell its wares?
India’s cultural diversity is a phenomenally untapped resource. Our various cultures attract the world to our doorstep and define our collective identity as a nation. “Craft in India”, as a parallel label to “Make in India”, is highly suited to take India’s arts and crafts heritage to the world, thereby steering the debate away from the mass manufacturing model of economic growth, and more towards an ecologically-friendly and people-powered swaraj.