Why We Do Not Need ‘Development’

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Satya-NadellaThe latest international news on the block that made us Indians’ chests swell up with pride was Satya Nadella – an Indian – becoming the CEO of Microsoft. There were accolades and the media, especially the Hindi news channels ran 2 hour bulletins with cheesy taglines like “Bharat ka jaaya, duniya pe chhaya” in big bold letters. The English media was a bit snooty as usual. I wish Arnab Goswami had organised a debate on the topic where Congress and BJP representatives could each have claimed the constructive role their respective governments played in his formative years that took him this far. It would have been entertaining.

There was a counterview as well. I saw an article doing the rounds on Facebook – “Nadella as Microsoft CEO: A slap in the face for Indian system” by R Jagannathan. The author points out various flaws in the system that prevent entrepreneurs and big conglomerates like Google and Microsoft to flourish. He goes on to say that every India-origin person to win a Nobel after independence in the sciences is not a resident Indian. And all of them flowered only because they left India, and not because they were Indians per se.

So should we bow our heads in shame every time an Indian makes it big outside because we are not ‘developed’ enough for people to realise their dreams? Before we do that, we should ask ourselves some other questions.

Why is our idea of development defined by what the West thinks of it? Is building conglomerates and enterprises the only way to development? I don’t think so.

India has traditionally been an agrarian economy. That is to say that more people depend on agriculture for their livelihood than on any other trade. What we need to ask ourselves is whether building a more conducive environment for businesses to thrive is going to help our ailing agriculture in any way. Ambanis and Tatas can offer employment to lakhs of individuals, but they can’t feed a billion plus mouths. Our leaders talk about building more and more cities, yet none of them talk about making villages self-dependant. Our development has been largely skewed and building more cities is going to skew it even further and widen the per capita income gap between the lowest and highest strata.

I believe that India’s true potential lies in ‘jugaad’. ‘Jugaad’ leads to innovation. We don’t have millions of dollars for a Mars mission so we make one in ₹450 crores. India has many times more engineers and MBAs than jobs it can possibly ever create. At this point we need thinkers and true leaders more than engineers. We need people who can look beyond the skyscraper model of development and look at building more huts for the common man. That would be true development in the Indian context.

We are doing very well other than the self-bashing we constantly engage ourselves in. We should celebrate the spirit of the village woman who despite all social stigmas manages to set up a co-operative bank for rural women more than Satya Nadella’s elevation to the post of CEO. I feel we just need to set our priorities right. Why can’t we focus on our handicrafts and small-scale industries and leave the building of multi billion dollar enterprises to the goras? I don’t see how this should even hurt our ego. It is because we are trying to ape the development model of the West, that we are still a ‘developing’ country. I believe that if we can change our development model we can very well become ‘developed’ with whatever means we have.

We are trying to run too fast on an empty stomach. Probably we just need to stop and think: Why are we even running?

Of course, this is my personal view. Comments invited.

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