In the long and dotted history of India’s economic reforms and public policy debacles, rhetoric and loud talk has surprisingly taken precedence over actual substance and on-ground changes. Amidst a slew of bouquets and brickbats after completing one year in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi might want to shift gears.
According to Steve Jobs, people think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundreds of other good ideas that there are floating around. One has to pick carefully. Jobs further asserted that he was actually as proud of the things he hadn’t done as the things he had done. Innovation, according to Jobs, was saying no to 1,000 things, no matter how brilliant they may seem. Similarly public policy innovation and remarkable executive leadership revolves around saying no to the thousands of good ideas which may be suggested by civil society. This demands a near ruthless editorial instinct, an instinct Modi was famous for earlier.
Critical to Modi’s re-election campaign in 2019 will be his ability to deliver significant job growth. Today, almost half of the population is under 25 and looking for jobs that are fast in short supply. Like a mirage in the desert, the youngsters of India flock to higher educational institutions and vocational training institutes, with the timid hope that after passing out they would be absorbed by the manufacturing or agricultural sector. This rarely happens though. Disguised unemployment is a huge problem in India which continues to persist due to structural deficiencies. New problems require new solutions. As India’s human resource base deteriorates in quality but increases in quantity, the only safety valve available for the economy is the manufacturing sector.
Modi still has a lot of political capital and goodwill that he can spend. It’s important that he does not squander this away by spreading his attention and executive focus too thin. It’s high time that India transitioned fully from the Nehruvian style navel gazing economy to one which is deeply and inextricably embedded in the global economy. For this to happen Modi must focus, almost laser-like, on the Make in India campaign. Other critical steps, however, also need to be taken. Rather than going on 200 Jan Kalyan <g data-gr-id="47">Parvs</g>, he must fix the public education system in India, which is critical to skill development, especially at the primary and secondary level. For Make in India to work, its participants must possess the basic skills. It is time we did something about the wrong processes, not the wrong people. For India to provide jobs to those who need it: cronyism and corruption must be eradicated too. Robust institutions are the engines of a strong economy, not star campaigners or television soap actors. Deep down perhaps even our prime minister realises this harsh truth of realpolitik.