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Digital India –Technology for economic transformation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power with a massive mandate in May 2014. His mantra has been good governance nasscomand economic development. Given the massive scale of poverty in India – in spite of the impressive growth witnessed in the last decade – the path to economic salvation complex and merits serious thought and policy initiatives. As Modi seeks to put the Indian economy on a high growth trajectory north of 7%, his government is betting on deploying a broad spectrum of cutting edge technologies as the catalyst to enable this massive economic transformation. Digital India initiative will play a pivotal role in facilitating this transformation.

The reliance on technology rather than ideology is a refreshing paradigm shift. Unlike the socialist ideology forced upon the nation for over six decades that resulted in stagnating poverty and measly growth rates, technology has proved to be a reliable catalyst in economic transformations of nations. More importantly India, where a majority of whom are under 35 years of age, is impatient and in no mood to suffer economic hardships any longer.

Industrial Revolution of yesteryears is a striking example of how new inventions and technology spurred western economies. In more recent years, the advent of mobile phones has enabled widespread reach of telecom and mobile enabled services to remote areas in poorer economies of Africa and Asia. Kenya’s mobile banking is a shining example. Hence the reliance on technology is prudent and has the highest odds to success in enabling this massive transformation.

Digital India will provide both government and non-governmental service providers a platform to co-create and co-share a transparent, leak-proof – read corruption free – and efficient delivery of services to every nook and corner of the country. This connectivity will hasten a feedback loop to the federal and regional governments by providing instantaneous data on various program implementations and other vital data.

In fact Prime Minister Modi, in his recent address at the NASSCOM summit on 1st March 1, 2015 stressed the importance of digital technology in service delivery, governance, transparency and an effective deterrent to corruption. Even at a minimum, this will be a phenomenal achievement that will set the stage for rapid economic resurgence. The benefits are immense.

However this reliance on technology is fraught with the obvious risk of obsolescence. Rapid changes in technology can render huge investments redundant and can hurt developing economies badly. Hence the window of opportunity for deploying extant technologies as an agent of transformation is minimal to small. This is precisely why we find the almost obsessive pace with which the government is working to execute the digital India initiative.

Leveraging digital technology as a transformational catalyst envisages three key prerequisites – technical knowhow, ability to consume digital technology and capital. They will dictate the success of Digital India campaign.

Unlike cryogenic engine technology of the yesteryears when the country was held to ransom by western technology, India has access to the best in class digital know-how via its very own home grown IT majors. Hence access to know-how and skilled human assets would not be a problem.

Secondly, mobile usage in India is at a record high and growing and consequently the ability to consume services via digital technology is high. India currently has approximately 90 crore mobile users! This is a vast user penetration and an incredible service delivery platform for the government.

However, availability of capital could be a major challenge. The Modi government has been investor friendly and has produced the right sound-bytes to attract fresh investments. Many analysts who have followed the Modi government for the last nine months believe that the government may not face serious challenge in raising funds externally. Internally, the recent auction of coal blocks that netted over 1 lakh crores points to new financial muscle and determination of the government.

That leaves the execution and delivery of the project which may be the weakest link in the chain. While PM Modi has the right credentials in delivering, as seen from the Gujarat experience, he is on test as to how these lofty ideas are translated on a broader canvas to benefit the country.

It is, however, imperative to point out that for the first time in over six decades, the Indian government has mustered the courage to dream big – a clear vision rooted in pragmatism and not on empty ideology or rhetoric. This has gladdened the heart of middle India. For starters, the Digital India initiative has prevailed over its biggest obstacle – selling the vision and winning hearts; it is a major victory at that. But risks persist in making this dream a reality.

India today stands at the cross-roads – a poor nation with lofty dreams that has squandered away its resources and treasure to corruption and a perverted politico-bureaucratic ecosystem bent on exploiting the country rather than serving it. It is this very same system that will help execute and deliver on Modi’s lofty vision for a digital India. Modi will need all hands on deck since Digital India is fraught with high risks, but the rewards are huge too.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2015 in Economics, India, Indian Economy, Indology, Trade

 

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The Rise and Rise of Narendra Modi

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I have long resisted the temptation to put down my views on Narendra Modi. It is common knowledge that the electronic & print media in India have consistently projected a perverse and dismal image of Modi, notwithstanding the fact that he has been unequivocally cleared of any wrongdoing by a special investigating team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India.

In the midst of this polarization manufactured by a very powerful section of electronic and print media,  a well informed and intelligent discussion becomes impossible. However, even at the risk of being ignored, I want to highlight some key issues that have not been widely discussed by mainstream political pundits.

India is witness to a huge transformation that is sweeping the country as a result of three simultaneously occurring and evolving phenomenon. This transformation will influence future course of events in India and will in due course determine who the next PM as well as impact decisions beyond 2014. Narendra Modi has fully understood these forces and has used them to his advantage. This has paid him handsome dividends already – as seen from the massive following at his rallies and the stunning electoral success in the recently concluded regional elections. The three forces are the people’s expectations to deliver on development, India’s ‘demographic dividend’ and the skillful deployment of technology and internet – specifically social media,  in governance and mobilizing the people. Let me elaborate;

Many so called pundits have us believe that using development as an election plank is a new phenomenon. They in fact accuse Modi of starting a new expectation cycle from the people on economic development. This is far from the truth.

For six long decades Nehruvian-socialist shibboleths were peddled as panacea for removing poverty.  Keen observers have always been aware that the political parties – all of them – have been guilty of keeping large sections of society poor and underprivileged. Their logic was that these sections were susceptible to enticements and could be won over with trinkets, gifts and cash disbursals that came in handy to win elections. This, arguably though, is one of the reasons why we find slums dwellers in every city across India. That this has become an uncontrollable eye-sore is another matter.

To cover up incompetent governance and rank corruption, they raised a host of phony issues  and engendering  what Nehru would have called ‘fissiparous’ policies  – like appeasement politics – that did not have any real mass approval  and ultimately ended up against India’s interest.  But today there is widespread anger and demand for governance from every section of society.  Modi has shown the courage to change the narrative from rigmarole sloganeering to execution & good governance. What Modi has done in Gujarat is not unique; he delivered what a reasonable leader in a democracy is expected to deliver and his government performed the duties expected of it.  The time has come where anyone with a good record of governance will win the heart of India. This expectation has taken deep roots and Modi  has positioned himself  at the right place at the right time to encash his good work. .

Secondly, Indian political class today is a genre of senior citizens desperately clinging to office. With over 65% of Indians below the age of 35, the gerontocracy has long lost its connect with people. Overwhelming incompetence and corruption have accentuated disconnect. On the other hand, this demographic segment has played a very significant role so far in independent India in courting and influencing public opinion on a range of issues that  have shaped national discourse – from the gang rape in Delhi to exposing a media personality’s sexual indiscretions or drumming up support for a transparent administration.

Modi has smartly influenced this segment by showcasing his record of governance in Gujarat and offering the ‘India First’ theme. The Gujarat government’s efficient delivery of basic service to the people of the state and the attendant transparency has attracted millions to his fold. From there on he has shown superb leadership in keeping and growing this following by reporting to them at huge rallies the accomplishments in Gujarat and his dreams for India. This has captivated the under-thirty fives as well as larger sections of middle class.

Thirdly, Modi is tech savvy and has not shied away from using IT to enable development. He has an overwhelming following on Twitter – over 3 million followers. His YouTube videos are a big hit.  He is creatively engaging this group by crowd-sourcing new ideas for the 2014 election. The India272 website is an outstanding example where he has requested his fans to suggest campaign slogans, new ideas for development and electioneering. On the contrary the UPA regime and other parties have not only not courted them, but angered them by censoring social media. Winning the hearts of this massive segment is the biggest win for Modi.

Modi has definitely won the hearts of the people in his fight to capture Delhi. He is the hot favorite and is all set to become the prime minister. However, it would be naïve to conclude that the battle is won. There are any numbers of inimical forces that are determined to keep him away from taking charge of India. These are both internal and external forces that are working in tandem to stop him in his tracks. These forces will mount as many challenges as possible – legal, constitutional, political etc to block him.  So his path to Delhi is not exactly a bed of roses and he is fully aware of it. But the most heartening thing is that he has awakened an India that was long suppressed and emasculated by a perverted political model that defied logic for six decades.  If the British divided and conquered India, the Nehruvian socialist perfected a new art of appeasement to further splinter India. Both have greatly damaged the soul of India, but have not succeeded in destroying India. Modi will have his hands full in cleaning up the mess in 2014.

 

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