-  Indian Heroes
   -  Commentary
   -  Issues

  India Alive

E-Mail this column to a friend 'India has to move away from the mentality of a developing country'

    Gururaj Deshpande, the richest Indian in America, on his vision for India

As an Independent country, I think India has set some very good educational institutions. It has finally come out of being sort of very secluded. It has opened up a lot more. And people within India for the first time in its history are moving outside the country.

People have migrated to Australia, United States, UK which is something that has happened only in the last fifty years. Before that there were almost no people who went outside India. All the perceptions and all the knowledge that India had was primarily which came through UK and was second-hand.

Now, Indians have become more aware of the world. So far, they have never had an opportunity to participate in the global economy, which is something they are beginning to do now. This has had an indirect effect on the country creating a new benchmark and a new vision.

I think the education sector has done well. The medical and engineering fields have done very well. But a lot more needs to be done. I am not sure if that should be the sole responsibility of the government.

It is true that the government should be responsible for primary education. But one of the things I would love to see happen in India is having education funded by private entities. For example in the US, a lot of universities, a lot of the schools -- tap extensively into their alumni for both intellectual power and financial assets. As a result, they run their organisations independent of the government.

In India, maybe this should start at the top. The IITs, the engineering colleges should be free from government support so that the government can use some of the funds in rural education. At some point, it would be nice if all these institutions could be self-supporting.

Half the population is illiterate. I am not sure if you can use the current infrastructure or redo it -- the teachers and the classrooms etc before you can get to complete literacy.

Where we have gone wrong is that people depend too much on the government. Instead of taking charge and doing things on their own they have a mindset that the government should do everything for them. The government has to educate, the government has to feed you, the government has to provide petrol, has to provide rice. There is too much dependency on the government as opposed to taking charge, running with it and making things do for your cause which is what you are beginning to see a lot now.

The centralised policy that we have adopted has worked to some extent as in the case of the railways. They have built some of the infrastructure. But a lot of this would have progressed faster if they hadn't followed such a centralised policy up front, which is what is happening right now.

People are slowly beginning to realise that it is better to cut loose these things and let them sink or swim. Obviously, the job has been made a lot harder because they have followed the policy the other way round. So, there is a huge public sector that you can't just chop off one day. That's the baggage we carry, which we should get rid off as soon as we can.

In hindsight, it is clear that a capitalistic, liberalised economy works better. We all know that the Russian economy did not work. Centralised economy does not work that well particularly in economies that are driven with rapid changes.

If you were to actually go and redo this part of it then I am sure people would do it a bit differently. They would have probably liberalised a lot of these sectors and given them away to private sectors and let these private sectors fly in an economy similar to what the United States has done.

Also, we seem to have failed so far in the area of corruption and building the infrastructure that it should have. Things like roads, power and communications. We should have done a lot better there.

India excels in terms of creativity, diversity and openness. The ability for all religions to coexist despite the few problems we have here and there is remarkable.

When its comes to the political situation in this country I am giving you the outsiders view. But what is remarkable is that democracy has survived unlike many other countries. The political power changes without violence, which is very positive. And in the past five to ten years though political parties have shifted, the basic fundamental policies have not changed which is very positive. What we need to do is make the government more transparent, work with speed and really get them to react a lot more faster.

India has to start measuring itself against world benchmarks. They need to move away from the slavish mentality and the mentality of a developing country. What that does is it sets a very low aim. As soon as they are somewhat successful, people are so happy that they want to quit. They want to retire. What they really need to do is to play a global game where they start setting aims so that they are best in the world. They should aim for global market share.

You watch the Olympics and there's always the Chinese, Russians and all these people winning medals. There are not many winners from India there. But that's okay. That's the athletics part. In business, the way you measure the gold medalist, the silver medalist and the bronze medalist is by market share. Indian technology clearly has the opportunity to be world class.

Apart from technology, there is handicraft -- but I am not quite sure if there's one shiny star that stands out in India. But this is not to say that those segments are not good or not useful. India is a huge market so you can cater to the Indian market. But within those segments if people can get mobilised and say: 'I am going to go and compete in the world economy' then they have a good chance.

When it comes to the economic policy a lot more needs to be done. The government needs to speed things up. It needs to liberalise telecom and let more players in. It needs to break up the monopolies and foster more competition. But then these issues are a lot more complex. It is not easy for one person to say just do this and do that.

Fifty years ago there was no IT sector in the country. There is a sector now. There is critical mass. And there is enough happening and enough wealth has been created so that the sector can actually dictate the agenda in terms of setting up the infrastructure, power etc. The attitude of the government towards this sector is very positive. All the state governments are fighting for the business. They are all competing with each other, which is very good.

People remain India's biggest assets. And in some ways the population sort of works to your advantage because when you have a billion people you have a lot of smart people too. Even if it is in small percentages, it works out to a million people -- I think India needs to leverage that.

I would love to see a clean environment in India so that when you walk it is nice and clean. I would like to see the standard of living go up, the alleviation of poverty which is really stark when you particularly land from another country, and an educated population.

India needs to achieve more in terms of education for the masses, global competitiveness with a focus on IT because that's where they have the lead and then improve the quality of life in terms of the environment and pollution.

We need to work on deregulation and opening up the economy so that a new lot of people can participate in it. We need to take the bureaucratic controls away. For example: the mergers and acquisitions sort of thing have to go through the high court. That doesn't make sense. We need to free up all these complicated rules that don't quite fit into the market place and then make the governance transparent.

Population control will remain the number one priority because the progress you make gets eaten up by the fact that there are much more people.

The country needs to create a lot more wealth. If you create more wealth then the pie gets bigger and you can do a lot more things with it.

I think what needs to be done right now is deregulation. We need to let people participate in economic activities without too much burden so that we can create the economy and make it grow.

As told to Priya Ganapati

Tell us what you think of this feature