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Beginning a fortnightly column on the quest for building a world-class India by 2020.

Sudhakar Ram

A country's success will be determined by how seamlessly it integrates with the world economy.

In his path-breaking Independence Day speech on August 15, 1947, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said: "Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially... "

Indeed, the time has come for us to redeem that pledge.

Not a day passes without a global analyst predicting superpower status for India in a few years' time. The world is clearly bullish on India. There is a lot of reason to be positive about the India story.

India is already growing at a sustained pace of 8 per cent. All sectors of the economy from IT to manufacturing are booming. The IT industry is growing at well over 30 per cent, and it added 7.41 lakh recruits this year to its already large workforce. Manufacturing grew at 11 per cent; mobile and broadband Internet connectivity is exploding; and the retail boom is creating new opportunities across the country.

Foreign investors are lining up to put their money in India. Like Alexander, Indian companies are seeking new worlds to conquer. They are venturing beyond Indian shores, acquiring global companies, and evolving into true multinationals. Even as the world's population ages, India boasts one of the youngest populations, making it a market no country in the world can ignore. Above all, India has an abundance of what I believe will be the most precious resource in the years to come: talent.

So can India deliver on its promise? I think the more important question is: what do we, as a nation, need to do to fulfil our potential... to redeem our pledge?

There are two clear trends that are playing out on the global stage. One is the unstoppable force of globalisation. A country's success will be determined by how seamlessly it integrates with the world economy. The second is the emergence of the knowledge economy, where talent, skills and creativity will be the biggest drivers of growth.

On both counts, India has many advantages. Globalisation demands openness to imbibing the best of other cultures, of embracing diversity. India is made up of so many different cultures, races and religions that we are inherently more open to and accepting of diversity. We have always been open to outside influences, to be able to make other cultures and belief systems part of our own. As a people, we are peace loving.

Education

Middle-class Indians have long seen education as the chief means to progress in life. But there's more to it than that. Learning is often seen as an end in itself. So it is no surprise that we have a large pool of scientific and technological talent.

Today the Indian educational system turns out 25 lakh graduates each year and 3.5 lakh engineers twice the number that the US produces.

So the foundations are strong. But we have to build on these foundations to construct a resurgent India that is ready to take on the brave new world. To begin with, we must have a clear vision of the kind of country we want India to be. Do we just want to be branded a superpower? Is it enough for us to excel in areas such as technology? Is it okay if only parts of India are prospering, while the rest of the country barely sustains itself?

No. We want to build a nation where all citizens have an equal opportunity to rise to their potential. We want a country where the fruits of prosperity are equitably distributed, regardless of geography or demographics. We must build an India that is truly world-class in all respects.

One of our biggest strengths is our people. We have to look beyond our cities, and explore the vast untapped talent in the smaller towns and rural centres; and we have to remove all obstacles to the free movement of talent. This talent has to be nurtured and made globally competitive. For that, we must reform our education system. Instead of rote learning, education must focus on nurturing creativity, building self-esteem, encouraging curiosity to learn and inculcating a strong sense of values. Learning should become a process of discovery.

India has a great wealth of entrepreneurs. We must build an infrastructural eco-system that supports entrepreneurs and businesses to deliver products and services that are world-class.

The government must quicken the pace of economic reforms and liberalisation and encourage more private-sector participation in key areas of the economy. We have seen the wonders caused by the entry of private sector to the telecommunications industry. It is also important for the government to become transparent in its functioning. Measures like the Right to Information Act are steps in the right direction.

The benefits of technology and progress must trickle down to rural and urban poor. We must ensure that everyone, from a farmer in the north to a fisherman in the south, is co-opted onto the knowledge economy. Technology can be a great leveller; and we must ensure that it is.

If we want to compete on the global stage, we must create companies that can impact the lives of people around the globe and not just in India. Great companies can be great brand ambassadors for their countries.

Besides these, we must focus on strengthening our democratic and economic institutions and inculcating a sense of values in all aspects of our life.

Beyond merely pointing out problems or proposing solutions, let us stimulate debate, to provoke thought, to formulate a common vision to build a world-class India by 2020.

The author is CEO, Mastek group. He can be contacted at sudhakarr@mastek.com.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 1, 2006)
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