India can follow a different path
THE last few years have seen the emergence of a class of proclamations by leaders in politics and science that I find somewhat disturbing. These proclamations wish, predict and disclaim that in a decade and a half our country would become a "developed" country. Some of them suggest that we are already on our way to becoming an IT power, a biotech power, an agricultural power or a science and technology base of the world.
When we talk of power we always refer to a dominance that would begin to give us the status of a 'developed country'. It is also implied that we would begin to live and behave like the most powerful amongst the developed countries of the world. We would have as many gadgets as they do, as many rockets, bombs and other weaponry, besides cars, telephones—and loneliness in the middle of a crowd. It is implied that some large corporations, preferably multinational, would supply our water, for drinking and for agriculture, while some other corporations would improve our infrastructure on a "build, own and operate" basis. When we are really developed, only 3 per cent of our population, working for some other corporations, would produce all the food we need and more, and never mind that hundreds of millions of farmers would lose their livelihood because they would be absorbed in the "service sector".
These or similar
proclamations worry me because they imply that we have stopped dreaming
of inventing a good life for ourselves independent of what obtains in a
few countries abroad. We tend to overlook the difference between our
"initial condition" and those of countries we would like to
emulate when we prescribe methodologies for a fast pace of economic
progress. In recent years, the only indigenous passions surfacing in
this land are connected with horrible disputes over old temples and
mosques, making religious conversion illegal, rewriting of history
textbooks, and introducing teaching of astrology and karmakand in
colleges and universities. I must confess that none of these borrowed
images of development excite me. Indeed, some of them would ‘un-develop’
us beyond redemption.
Let me mention just a couple of points regarding our education and research set-up. Our strength lies in the fact that our people still have hidden capabilities which they acquire on their own. Many examples of this can be given. These are the same capabilities that made this country great in our distant past. The capacity to cope, to self-learn, to innovate, to be able to understand how things work and to master them still drives this country. Our crafts, arts, including music and dance, bear testimony to this. A National Innovation Foundation is a good idea, but the real need is to make the indigenous innovators, which includes all children, central to defining our education system. We should build on what people have already learnt. We should not have mere vocationalisation. An emphasis on Institutes of Management, IITs, and Institutes of Information Technology will only help to create a copycat India. If we want to create a really great India we need to build on what people begin to learn on their own.
The separation and distinction between universities and laboratories has to be reversed. All new laboratories should be set up within universities, especially those laboratories that do a lot of basic work. Indeed most present laboratories should be converted into universities.
There is a great hype about our progress in information technology. This is good and admirable, but we must change track very soon. The present activity does earn us some money and recognition. But it earns many times more for those who we work for, thus increasing disparities between them and us. It is doing little for our own development. That would happen when our emphasis shifts to saturating our country with pagdandis and bylanes of information. Highways are needed but in our condition pathways would be more appropriate and productive.
We need to network India (information technology can help in this). This might be a way of preserving our diversity and plurality. It might allow us to go our own way together. It might release tremendous energies. It might allow us the possibility that India will show the way to a new world. We must keep asking: How to build an inclusive society? How to have an entirely new type of globalisation? How not to be dominated by centralising influences—international or national". Networking might save us from social explosions, even from pathologies that breed terrorism.
Portrait of development
This should be an enhancement of what we think is admirable now. It should be from our own world and not a pale copy of what obtains outside. For example, what would we like to add to the already desirable way of living established in Kerala. Isn't Kerala better developed than most of the so-called developed countries? There might be some lacunae. How do we remove those?
In summary, I am afraid of our becoming a developed country like the one in front today. Even with only one of them flexing its muscles one or two countries are under threat of being bombed out every year. If we go that way we will also not be saints. We might be even worse. The world will have a hard time living through the 21st century. The whole world needs to move away from the presently dominant model. We would arrive at the real pinnacle of development if we begin showing a different path to rest of the world. This was not possible in the last century. Now it might be.
We need to develop and deploy our techniques and technologies to make an inclusive India a reality. God knows we need it badly. If we can do it then the whole world can. Are we equal to a challenge this big? To show that we are would fulfill my dream of a desirable and developed India. Becoming a carbon copy of another country, no matter how "developed", is unlikely. I am glad it is so. We should be more ambitious.
The writer is an eminent scientist