Sunday 9 January 2022

Substantive gains count, not symbolic (The Sunday Guardian)

When settlers from the UK and other countries in Europe came to North America, they brought with them multicoloured trinkets of glass to be handed over to the American Indian tribes that they expected to encounter. Such “wampum” may have won a few hearts amongst the original inhabitants of a continent quickly colonized by the arrivals from Europe, but most of the rest were sent to their “happy hunting grounds”, or in other words, eliminated through one expedient or the other. The advance of scientific knowledge in Europe had brought with it the perception that human ingenuity was superior to nature, and from the start of the takeover of the North American continent by European settlers, nature was pummelled, while buffalo herds and other livestock were depleted. The world has traversed a considerable distance over the four centuries since what is now Canada and the US were colonized. A modern society and economy need an ambience of accommodation and tolerance for lifestyles that diverge from each other, whether these differences be in the form of diet, dress or faith. Singapore has emerged as an economic powerhouse precisely because the Han chauvinism that is increasingly on display in China has been absent. Whether of Indian, Malay or Chinese descent, opportunities are open for individual advancement, with no discernible glass ceiling blocking certain ethnicities while promoting others, a phenomenon still seen in those parts of Europe that blocked well-qualified individuals from India from entering, working and paying taxes. This while doors remained open to those from other parts of Europe who very soon ended up as a charge on the public purse. Despite the hubbub against immigration created by President Trump, the US has welcoming of qualified immigrants and tolerant to the unqualified, which is among the reasons why the country is still the pacesetter in the knowledge industry. Not just in the software industry but in medicine, arrivals from India have made a considerable difference. Groups such as the AAPI, an association of physicians of Indian origin, have emerged as force-multipliers in strengthening ties between the two largest democracies. Doctors from India or of Indian ancestry play the keystone role in the UK’s National Health Service. The grip of Big Pharma across both shores of the Atlantic has prevented the utilization of the full potential of a healthcare partnership between the US and India. In Japan with a rapidly ageing population, healthcare personnel from India could play a significant role, were an effort to be made by Tokyo and Delhi to provide training to citizens of India in the Japanese language and in the basics of care for the aged and infirm to tens of thousands of healthcare workers in India. Another option is Brazil, which needs not just healthcare workers but teachers and other staff as well. A Skill India program is needed to teach Portuguese to teacher and healthcare trainees, besides other fields. Citizens of India need to be trained not only from the viewpoint of working in India, but working elsewhere, in countries that have good relations with India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Jair Bolsonaro could work on such a mutually beneficial project. Once harnessed to geopolitical possibilities, Skill India could be a pathway to external employment for millions of citizens. CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping has flexed PLA muscles because of the protection provided by the immense progress that China has made since the 1980s. That trajectory contains lessons for India, that those still captive to notions from the 1990s or even 1970s are unable or unwilling to understand. Given that such companies seek to gingerly extricate themselves from the PRC and relocate to India, it makes sense to welcome external players, especially if they use India as a production base for exports, in the manner that they did in China. National champions would grow faster in the presence of competition rather than by resorting to methods of the pre-reform era and shutting out external players. Ironically, several of the domestic companies that lobby to exclude foreign competition are themselves partners of companies from abroad, acting in many of such instances as commission agents. They sell foreign production in the domestic market and get a commission for the facility. Whether it be in coal or in uranium, domestic deposits have systematically been under-developed. NGOs that are linked to coal-producing countries campaign against the utilization of coal reserves in India, while in the case of uranium, blockages to its extraction crop up in myriad forms, thereby forcing a dependence on external sources. A similar situation exists with rare earths or pharmaceutical intermediates. Somehow, few seem concerned about questions such as whether the offshore hydrocarbon reserves of India have been discovered and utilized to close to their potential, rather than remain under-exploited owing to pressures by external suppliers. If not for uncovering acts of corruption, then for finding out the roots of incompetence in an effort at betterment, a study needs to be made of the way in which policies were framed over the past five decades, to find out the extent of opportunities missed or taken advantage of. Accountability has long been a forgotten word in India. This needs to change. Among the items needing to be studied would be the action taken on the enquiry commissions or reforms commissions that were set up. Was anything done or were their suggestions forgotten later? In diplomacy, a symbolic concession made to India has value only in the next media or political cycle, as only a substantive concession has long-term value. In India, too much is made of symbolic gestures and concessions rather than focusing on the substantive.

Substantive gains count, not symbolic

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