Let’s make India a knowledge powerhouse by 2047 : The Tribune India

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Let’s make India a knowledge powerhouse by 2047

It should be our contribution to the East wind that blows in all directions to bridge the yawning happiness gap for all those left behind.

Let’s make India a knowledge powerhouse by 2047

WAY FORWARD: We need to build a comprehensive innovation system to harness the talent of our GenNext. ISTOCK

Lt Gen (Retd.) S.S. Mehta

Former Western Army Commander & Founder Member, Pune International Centre

THE clarion call for Atmanirbharta is for India to become a knowledge hub, discard the colonial mindset and move from a ‘labour arbitrage’ economy to a ‘knowledge arbitrage’ economy. Our destination is a ‘knowledge powerhouse’.

For this, we have the potential, the size and the demographic dividend, and now the growing economic muscle. With the prospect of a sustained 8 per cent GDP growth and the new-wave boost to 6G, chip design and chip manufacturing, new fuel, hydrogen and bio, wind and solar energy, a clutch of unicorns and startups — all have the potential to carve out a wave of environment-friendly and indigenous products. While 6G and chips will be strategic tools that would lead the digital revolution, it is also time to move away from just being a technology follower. It is time to rise to our potential and lead. We have to be a technology provider.

Corporates, both public and private, will need to invest with a mission-mode mindset. The greatest spinoff will be security, national and citizen; both add to make Comprehensive National Power.

Before that, a reality check. There are some critical sectors in the transition journey. As per the Global Knowledge Index report (2023) of the UNDP, our ranking among 133 countries in some critical areas is (the US’s corresponding ranking is in brackets): Pre-university education, 96th (ninth); technical and vocational education and training, 119th (second); higher education, 106th (fourth); research & development and innovation, 54th (fifth); information and communication technology or ICT, 83rd (second).

Innovation and development are the key. Innovation is a process of one idea building on another, resulting in a novel product, process or service, which is commercialised and put to practical use. Development is one step at a time in the realm of science and technology, striving to instil in future generations an innovative spirit. For this, there is a need to shed the ‘rote’ model to that of ‘inquiry and innovation’, which challenges the standard rote answer. Yes, 50+40 makes 90, but when a child says that the total is less than a hundred, he/she has given you an acceptable answer and more. Rote learning is the antithesis of innovation.

The Garden City of Bengaluru is our Silicon Valley, nay Colony. We labour, others do a markup, aggregate our work, and we pay for the finished product. It was good for starters; it was good to showcase our skill to the world. It got a boost with Y2K; that era is well past its shelf life. Bengaluru is changing, but ever so slowly. It needs to hasten its pace and be one of a dozen knowledge hubs (Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai and many others) as we journey to 2047. Bengaluru needs to upgrade itself as the ‘Chip Net Integration Capital’ and lead the way to be the next-wave Silicon Hub.

Constraints notwithstanding, we need to build a comprehensive and rewarding innovation system to harness the talent of our GenNext. We have it in abundance at every level. We need to find ways to tap it. Untapped genius is a national loss. GenNext awaits opportunities to be tapped. For when they get them, not just India, entire humanity will benefit.

GenNext, wherever it may be, outside India or on MNC campuses within, has untiringly and repeatedly proven that its contribution is world-class. Don’t rein it in; loosen the reins and empower it. Get rid of rote learning. How to think is more important than being told what to think.

For the Knowledge Powerhouse Mission, five initiatives are essential. First, raise the quality of education. The National Education Policy (NEP) is a start, but its implementation is slow and it does not have the mechanism to learn and adapt. ‘One size fits all’ is not workable. NEP as a scaffolding is fine. That’s it. It will enable pan-India student and labour mobility. Beyond that, states need to innovate to suit their needs and then execute plans. Second, reduce the bureaucratic control over science and technology to facilitate an environment of easy funding that challenges the status quo, encourages creativity and rewards innovation. Third, improve law enforcement to check IPR (intellectual property rights) pilferage and theft. Fourth, introduce accountability for grant applications, with linkages to job promotion and citizen wellbeing as a part of proposals for the grant/subsidy. Fifth, create norms to kindle the animal spirits in corporates.

A genuinely Indian, globally marketable product has evaded us for too long. It could be a product or a service. The 6G mission is a very good start.

Interestingly, the World Bank had suggested a four-pillar framework that analyses the rationale of human capital-based economies:

n An educated and skilled labour force is required to establish a strong knowledge-based economy.

n A dense and modern information infrastructure that provides easy access to ICT resources to overcome the barrier of high transaction costs.

n An effective innovation system to support a high level of new technology, keep up with the latest and deploy it for the domestic economy.

n An institutional regime that supports incentives and encourages entrepreneurship.

Now, with the basic building blocks in place, we need to recalibrate and integrate a five-fold path. First, within the scaffolding of NEP, develop and execute state solutions. Second, add depth to higher education — quantum computing, photonics, chip design and the like. Third, upskill for chip manufacturing and other knowledge generators at all levels in the value chain. Fourth, relentlessly pursue our innovation mission in 6G. R&D and innovation places you on the global high table, setting standards and specifications. Fifth, adopt Industry 4.0 and harness 3D printing.

Quoting Mao Zedong, TN Ninan said in his recent article in The Tribune, “The East wind prevails over the West wind” and “in the global power balance — the East wind is blowing harder than before.” He is right.

However, as the world’s largest democracy located East, we in India need to make a stronger contribution to the East wind. A globalisation of Indian thought — non-aggressive, benign, non-threatening, sharing and caring — blowing East and West — with knowledge as the legal tender. A renaissance, not a revolution, a tide that raises all boats, within and without.

With the Indian contribution of the concept of ‘zero’, our wind blew East and West. Imagine where we would be without it. Now, it is time to generate the next wave — knowledge.

China’s Deng Xiaoping said in 1987, “The Middle East has its oil, China has its Rare Earths”. Come 2047, GenNext should be confident of saying: “… and India has its knowledge”.

It should be our contribution to the East wind that blows in all directions to bridge the yawning happiness gap for all those left behind.

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