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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  India must become a knowledge republic as it charts its way ahead
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India must become a knowledge republic as it charts its way ahead

A prominent NRI from Boston commented recently at a lecture that for the last four decades, he has been hearing that India is at a crossroads

Photo: BloombergPremium
Photo: Bloomberg

A prominent NRI from Boston commented recently at a lecture that for the last four decades, he has been hearing that India is at a crossroads. Till when will we continue to be at the crossroads, he lamented.

The comment is emotional, but not far from the truth. Once India got freedom, there was no particular higher ideal that captured our national imagination. In an environment of resource constraints and weak economic growth, it is difficult to set priorities in order, let alone give a unifying direction to a country. In hindsight, we could have had a better post-independence journey. Eventually, India has come out of those traps and has expressed itself globally as a leading nation. There has not been a better time to make a choice at this crossroads and chart out our nationhood. Knowledge has a crucial role in building our republic. What does knowledge mean? It represents our collective desire to learn and apply that learning, our ability to learn and create systems of learning, and the know-how we have gathered as a civilization. The next frontier of our development should be fuelled by knowledge. Here are three reasons why.

First, India’s undisputed strength that will continue at least in the foreseeable future is its young demographic profile, offering a talent pool. We must double down on investing in this talent through education, strengthen avenues for research and innovation, and continue policy reforms that lead to its gainful occupation, including entrepreneurship. We have to make our domestic environment competitive so that we don’t lose our talent to global markets. Instead of importing solutions, we have to reach self-reliance. We can no longer be just an agrarian, manufacturing or service economy. Our talent can export ideas globally. We have to become a knowledge economy.

Second, the world is grappling with several challenges. Some of the most notable phenomena that we are dealing with are ecological crises in times of improved living standards, rising inequality in times of large wealth creation, depression and loneliness in times of a growing population, and humans losing to machines in times of rapid innovation. This paradoxical nature of our modern development is posing more questions than answers. For example, we cannot prevent climate change without addressing the endless human desire for consumption. Multilateral efforts without foundational thinking are akin to suppressing symptoms rather than tackling the cause. These challenges are compounded in a complex sphere of diplomacy in which there are state and non-state actors affected by global problems while in pursuit of their self-interests. India has emerged on the world stage as a responsible power and trustworthy partner. It can lead global efforts in fundamental thinking for problem-solving. India should adopt knowledge diplomacy for its sake and the world’s.

Finally and most importantly, we are a civilization that has held knowledge in top esteem as a virtue. India’s richness of languages, vastness of scriptures, lore of ancient universities and living tradition of rishis are testimony to the nation’s respect for knowledge. The country’s quest has been a quest for knowledge. There is a legend of Alexander meeting a yogi when he reached the Indian border for invasion. The conquerer is intrigued by the yogi and tells him that he intends to conquer the world. The yogi replies that he has conquered the desire to conquer the world.

The pursuit of truth and learning has been essential to Indian life. There is a special place for teachers, gurus and knowledgeable people in the Indian heart. It influences our familial and social life. Typical Indian parents see education as a ticket to professional success and save significantly to support their children’s studies, unlike many nations that spend less personal money on it. Indian society’s reverence for knowledge should be acknowledged and leveraged in policymaking and nation-building. India is a knowledge society.

The knowledge republic we must aim to become would comprise a knowledge economy and knowledge society, and use knowledge diplomacy. Becoming a knowledge republic is a worthy choice as a unified objective of nationhood.

It is rightly said that if we don’t know where we have to go, any road will take us there. Incidentally, the traditional Basant Panchmi festival and Republic Day coincided this year, symbolically telling us that the worship of knowledge can pave the way for a modern republic. Our civilizational past is talking to our modern nation. We are at a crossroads again. We must choose our path and move ahead.

Suresh Prabhu & Sahil Aggarwal are, respectively, a former Union cabinet minister, and co-founder and CEO of Rishihood University.

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Published: 09 Feb 2023, 10:52 PM IST
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