Follow On

Here’s calling out to politicians, bureaucrats, industry, civil society and every citizen passionate about India to commit to work harder and spread wealth till it reaches the bottom quartile of our population

The year 2023 is ending with every television channel and social media commentator chatting about the Ram Temple event in Ayodhya in January, 2024. With over a quarter of the polled audiences believing that this is a significant event that will surely influence the general election (in fact some believe that 22 January, 2024 will be a more significant event in India’s history than 15 August, 1947 ).

Many believe that the BJP, thanks to the larger than life image of Prime Minister Modi and the meticulous planning of communication and action by the party’s election strategy planners, is likely to win a majority in the new Parliament. While critics are raising eyebrows over the anticipated domination of the Centre, many including the stock markets anticipate massive physical and digital infrastructure in the country and accelerated fortunes of the corporate sector. However, academics, politicians and corporate leaders have all pointed to three significant global events that we must all watch for :

  • The elections in forty countries including the US, UK, Russia and of course India.
  • Continuing uncertainties in the geo-political environment and the specter of recessionary trends in major economies.
  • The enhanced focus on climate change and sustainability imperatives.

For India, the opportunity has never been bigger. We will surely continue to be the fastest growing large economy in the world and the progress in physical and digital infrastructure expansion will continue at a rapid clip. We had made predictions and called out imperatives in our two recent books published by the Pune International Center and in all areas we touched – diplomacy, urbanisation, core economy areas of agriculture, industry and services and mobility, the nation is well on track to meet and maybe exceed our expectations by 2030.

There are three areas where we had raised concerns and called out for robust action. The first is investment in research and development by Government, large industries and entrepreneurs. We continue to be below one percent of GDP in this area whereas success stories in innovation like the US, Japan and more recently China, invest over three percent. It is heartening that in areas like railways we are seeing investments in “push and pull” and distributed technology bearing fruit (travel on a Amrit Bharat or Vande Bharat train to feel the difference) but we need to see major public-private partnerships in action to develop the deep tech and product ecosystem, ensure large scale design and full manufacturing happens in the country and become leaders in areas like automation and generative Artificial Intelligence, for India and the world.

The second area where much more needs to be done is the participation of women in every field of economic endeavor. We had pointed out in our book that agriculture is the only area which has witnessed increased femininisation and that was sadly because of girls dropping out of school during Covid-19 and women working the fields, while the men worked less. We need to recognise the patriarchy, property imbalances and worker—population ratios which even in urban India is just 22 percent for women compared to 70 percent for men.

And the third area is one of a continuing disparity leading to a trust deficit between the haves and the have-nots. This can be corrected between communities and classes only if we focus on the poor and the underprivileged youth. Not just handouts and freebies, but a genuine attempt to address the dreams and skills deficit of willing youth in rural and urban India like we have done for over 150,000 youth through our Livelihood Lighthouses in seven cities. We cannot hold our heads high as a nation till there is a sense of equality or at least equal opportunity. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that 16 percent of our population is still poor, over 30 percent of our children are stunted or underweight and the bottom 50 percent of our population hold three percent of assets and earn thirteen percent of the country’s income.

My own experience working with village children in Jharkhand when I was growing up and in the last decade and more with Social Venture Partners, Swades Foundation, Educate Girls, Lighthouse Communities Foundation and LivingMyPromise has shown how much still remains to be done. We can argue the veracity of these numbers, but it would be more fruitful for all of us – politicians, bureaucrats, industry, civil society and every citizen passionate about India to commit ourselves to work harder and spread wealth till it reaches the bottom quartile of our population. Make that your new year resolution for 2024, my friends!