More often than not, when we are asked in the world of business to lay out a wish list for the government, it begins and ends at tax rates, tax breaks and perhaps deregulation to expand investment opportunities. But today, as I sit down to pen this column, I am haunted by a simple wish expressed by the 23-year-old gang-rape victim before her death. “I want to live,” she wrote on a scrap of paper handed to the doctor. This is not the platform for me to delve into a discussion on the savagery that we have witnessed in the capital recently. But, it is most certainly one on which I would like to lay down my wish list as a citizen today.
Global rating agency Moody’s said recently that the flurry of reforms has improved India’s growth prospects in 2013. Sure, these citations are relevant for the economy and investment climate, and consequently our people. But what’s far more important is the safety of the billion plus working hard to earn an honest living, and therein building India’s image in the world. Overall, our crime rates are one of the highest in the world and the Thomson Reuters Foundation ranks India among the world’s five most dangerous countries for women. The insecurity spreads further when you look at the number of children that are officially reported missing every year.
We need to find the political will and the resources to ensure this basic respect for human life first before we dream of a new resurgent India. The answer lies in the fear of the law in the minds of citizens, including those elected by us and we can make this work through tough laws and even tougher enforcement.
Our billion people can be our biggest source of competitiveness, but this asset is not being leveraged to its potential because of the tremendous skill deficit. Even as talent from India’s top-ranked institutions such as the IITs and IIMs is recognized globally, the majority of our educated youth still grapple with employability gap issues. In addition to greater public-private collaboration and increased investments, measures such as the revision of curriculum, review of teacher pay to attract quality teaching talent, and rationalization of student and education financing systems are needed so that a higher proportion of our talent can realize global opportunities. India is a vast country and this challenge is also large. We need an innovative, Indian way to solve this and not an adoption of resource intensive western model—this innovation can only come from the top and not the fringes.
On my way to office, I pass a number of glitzy malls and corporate office buildings that do give me a sense of satisfaction. And then my gaze drops to the ground and so does the sense of elation. Don’t get me wrong. I am not referring to the traffic or the chaos—that is a hallmark of a resurgent India. I am referring to the unsatisfactory state of infrastructure. The resilience of our people in getting to work, school, colleges, even just to the market, is admirable. Sure, we are wired for adversity. But why must we be expected to be so? As a nation, we are working very hard to take India to global heights. We deserve good infrastructure, at the least. It is not the investment we make in this sector but the policy we adopt to encourage investment in this sector that will determine success.
India is opening up its markets to attract more foreign investment and Indian businesses are expanding their international presence to tap global opportunities. Greater trade cooperation bodes well for economic growth and India has pushed for reciprocal trade agreements; however, we have to try harder. People are our biggest assets and a global mobility agreement with the West our biggest need. So we need to negotiate with the West to trade-off the opening of our markets for their goods with the opening of their borders for our talent.
The good thing is that, as a nation collectively, we know the task ahead of us. Our country is a democracy and we have some of the brightest brains in the world as policymakers. All we need now is the will and the conviction to push the agenda through in a way that keeps the common man, the Indian, FIRST, always.