In August 15, 2018, Narendra Modi thundered from the ramparts of the Red Fort that he doesn’t believe in drawing a line on butter but on stone “Hum makkhan par nahi, patthar par lakeer kheenchne vaale hain”. PM Modi should know. After all, he has made a habit of doing that through the better part of his minutely scrutinised public life since 2002. However, not even PM Modi could have prepared for the sort of “rock” 2020 would prove to be. The Covid pandemic struck and brought the whole world, including Bharat to a halt, literally, for weeks on end.
But when fate whispers to a warrior that a storm is coming, only the truest of warriors can say that “they are the storm” and prove it. On 12th May 2020, he was perhaps the only Head of State in the whole world to talk of finding ‘Apada mein Avsar’ (opportunity in adversity) amidst the pandemic.
PM Modi worked along with his whole team that included thousands of doctors and health workers to control the pandemic and simultaneously launched the “Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan” (ANBA), unveiling a 20 lac crore fiscal stimulus economic package. If one parsed the package closely, (a detailed exercise is beyond the scope of this article), it mostly aimed at the lower rung of the pyramid – urban migrants and farmers, followed by citizen-consumers and MSMEs, and not the big industries or corporations. The latter became the indirect beneficiaries of the package. In a way, this was a ‘push-up’ economic package rather than the usual ‘trickle-down’ package – a novelty of sorts or perhaps even a fresh paradigm that interlocked socialism with robust economic growth and systemic industrial rejuvenation.
There is a paradigm shift in the level of discourse, which shows that both the ability and the willingness for risk-taking is on the rise. Under PM Modi, the Indian elephant is learning to dance and the Indian tiger is finally prowling, growling, and biting harder than ever before
In launching ANBA, PM Modi finally gave an unprecedented push to a long-standing policy of not just the BJP but of the RSS, as well as focusing on the development of “Swadeshi”. The logical corollary to it is focussing on indigenous development of technology – innovation. Be that as it may, most of the economic policies of the Modi government since 26 May 2014 have been focused on setting the wheels of innovation churning. One of the most telling features of the Modi government has been in following a ‘Whole-of-Government’ approach, transparently and openly, instead of piecemeal, ad-hoc initiatives with limited vision, reminiscent of the UPA era; and then making sure that those mega schemes are actually experienced by the people, rather than remaining on paper as a mere piece of legislation.
Many of these policies have now taken shape as mega industrial-economic movements that have begun to create and build an invaluable repository of skill and experience. Schemes such as “Smart Cities”, “Swachh Bharat”, “Namami Gange”, “Digital India”, “Ease of Doing Business”, “Jan Dhan”, “PM Jay” or “Ayushman Bharat”, “Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission”, “GATI-Shakti” are at various stages of planning, execution, and development. The giant strides made on these fronts themselves speak of the ball of innovation that has been set rolling like never before.
The idea of innovation is inextricably linked to Bharat’s relative performance (rank) on the world stage on important national performance indicators. A look at their status from 2014 to the present day gives a telling and consistent picture that corroborates the spadework done by the Modi government. The table below gives the comparison across many such indicators:
It is clear from the above table that India has improved its ranking on critical parameters that impact innovation either directly or indirectly.
Also, India also remains the economy with the highest real growth rate.
India’s intellectual property build-up is witnessing accelerated buoyancy. In 2021 IIT Kanpur filed a record-breaking 107 patents, breaking its 2019 record of 76 patents. IIT Kanpur also reported an exceptional technology transfer rate of 15.2% to industry partners from the patents filed.
Apart from these indicators, the real proof of the pudding comes from the visibly brisk movement being witnessed in the start-up scene. India today is home to the third-largest ecosystem of startups in the world with 51 startups, right behind USA (396) and China (277) and ahead even of developed nations, such as UK (32) and Germany (18). Moreover, 2021 has seen a veritable explosion in the number of unicorns in India. While 2018, 2019, and 2020 saw 8, 9, and 11 unicorns respectively, the year 2021 witnessed 41 unicorns, a whooping jump of almost 300% in just one year. Till 2013, Indian unicorns were an unheard-of phenomenon. It has been predicted that the number of unicorns in India is likely to jump to 150 by 2025.
There is a paradigm shift in the level of discourse, which shows that both the ability and the willingness for risk-taking are on the rise. Under PM Modi, the Indian elephant is finally learning to dance and the Indian tiger is prowling, growling, and biting harder than ever before. No wonder PM Modi has declared 16th January as “National Start-up Day”. On the first National Start-up Day, the Union Commerce Minister, Shri Piyush Goyal struck the right strategic chord, when he exhorted startups to focus “on 5 areas to take innovation to the next level–Develop solutions & content in Indic languages, encourage products & solutions that have a larger social & economic impact.”.
It’s not as if Bharat has not recognised the need for self-reliance earlier. The pre-independence Swadeshi movement is an example. The Green Revolution of 1968 made us self-reliant in agriculture production. However, the Green Revolution had critical support from the Ford Foundation. It was perhaps believed that without Western support, progress is simply impossible. Hence, the charm of “Harvard” and “Ivy League” – which is a civilizational climb-down for Bharat, home to universities like Nalanda and Takshila, amongst many others, that were the world’s biggest of their era.
Note that the idea of Atma Nirbharta is a notch below that of another catchphrase but a move in that direction: “Vishwa Guru Bharat”. The fact that PM Modi has chosen the slogan of Atma Nirbharta shows an acute awareness that the approach needs to be graded and it needs to defer to the national context and mood. Considering the fact that indigenous innovation has been neglected (as evidenced by “Brain Drain”, achieving self-reliance should be the first objective, before conjuring lofty ideals as our clarion call.
Historical, Strategic, Cultural and Social Perspective on Brain Drain
Brain Drain is the primary nemesis of innovation and therefore the dreams of an “Aatma Nirbhar Bharat”. If your best people jettison out of the nation and work for your colonial competitors, then you can kiss your dreams of leading the world of scientific innovation a permanent goodbye. Your intellectual property would diminish and your start-ups would be no match for global competition, because the most cutting-edge science, research, and development would be happening away from your shore. Consequently, your economic and military power would decline, and you’d watch helplessly as your overt and covert enemies steal a march over you and you’d watch the writing of the preface to your own colonisation. This is what we learn as much from world history and that of our own.
In 1963, the term “Brain Drain” was coined by the British Royal Society to denote the flight of scientific talent from Europe to United States of America. It is widely acknowledged now that Bharat saw a similar Brain Drain concomitantly all through the decades of the 1960s up to the 1980s. This was the level of discourse as far as “startups” and “innovation” are concerned when Bharatiya National Congress was ruling Bharat.
This brain drain was partially slowed down, though it was far from being reversed, first by Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao’s economic reforms that ushered in the era of economic liberalization at a fast pace, which included ending the macabre Nehruvian-Socialist “license-permit” “Inspector Raj” (a reason why brain drain occurs) and then a few years later by the flurry of mega, super-structural reforms began by BJP Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, brain drain still remained a problem. Between 2000 and 2020, Bharat saw the sharpest increase in people migrating overseas, at nearly 10 million, according to a report by United Nations.
Bharatiya people take a lot of pride in the fact that persons of Bharatiya origin head the world’s biggest companies like Alphabet (Google), Pepsi, Microsoft, Twitter, Chanel, Adobe, IBM, Mastercard and even Only Fans. Also, a study done by Government of Bharat in 2008 revealed that 12% scientists, 38% doctors in USA are “Bharatiya” (or of Bharatiya origin) and 36% of scientists are of Bharatiya origin, adding to the sense of pride, much of which is belied and is false because of the global power play involved. It has neither been properly understood nor appreciated (up until now under Pradhan Mantri Narendra Modi) that it’s actually a pyrrhic victory.
Those corporate bigwigs are nothing more than mere employees of the company they lead, often lobbying against Bharatiya interests. Those companies add to the strategic economic depth of the Western powers, tilting the power dynamics more and more in their favor on the world stage and taking the bargaining power away from the grasp of Bharatvarsha.
NASA’s overwhelmingly successful Perseverance mission launched in 2020, that’s wowing the social media on internet, has atleast 12 scientists of Bharatiya origin, atleast eight of which were females, including Swati Mohan, who heads a very important and critical position of “Mars 2020 Guidance & Controls Operations Lead”. It is surprising then, that her profile is not displayed prominently on NASA’s “Mars2020” website and one has to dig deeper to find a mention of her! Imagine, had they been working for ISRO, where our space program could have been and what heights it could have reached.
As a Bharatiya, if you wish to acquaint yourself, with how the cancer of brain drain is gruesomely eviscerating Bharat, look no further than “Ek Dcotor Ki Maut” (EDKM), a movie produced by FTII in 1990, based on “Abhimanyu”, a novel by Rampada Chowdhury. EDKM presents the perfect emblematic imagery, in the popular imagination, of what I call “Bharatiya Socialism with Unscientific Nehruvian-Fabian Characteristics”. EDKM depicts Dr. Dipankar Roy, a brilliant scientist (played fabulously by Pankaj Kapoor) and his research facing “ostracism, bureaucratic negligence, reprimand, and insult, instead of recognition”, as Wikipedia puts it. Consequently, deeply frustrated and unable to bear the resultant loss and pain, Dr. Dipankar commits suicide.
If you think it’s a fictional take on Nehruvian Socialism, think again. The movie was based on the life of Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyaya, a real-life brilliant scientist who, in 1978, developed the world's second and Bharat's first child using in-vitro fertilization, 67 days after the world’s first developed in London! Dr. Subhash and his brilliant achievements, came in the face of odds, instead of being glorified, as he was hounded and harassed by the then West Bengal state government (Communists had just seized power from Congress for the first time) and Bharatiya Government (Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister) and “not allowed to share his achievements with the international scientific community. Dejected, he committed suicide on 19 June 1981.” (Wikipedia).
Dr. Muhopadhyaya is not alone. On 11 January this year, news of a substantial medical research breakthrough hit global news headlines. In a rare medical feat, a 57-year-old US man was transplanted with a pig’s heart. Only that this wasn’t actually the world’s first. In 1997, Dr. Dhaniram Baruah, a Bharatiya scientist had beaten the Americans by a quarter of a century. However, the patient later died of infection. The then Assam government jailed and “tortured” Dr. Baruah. Dr. Baruah is now paralyzed.
India’s policy discourse has for long been driven by Nehruvian-Socialism that was fixated with the “Poverty Line”. This fixation has led us to miss catching the next wave of industrial evolution, from agriculture to manufacturing to the internet.
Thankfully we are finally talking in these terms. We need to calcify systems and processes so that the next major scientific breakthrough led unicorn springs up in India. At some point, Bharatvarsha would have to start thinking in terms of reversing the brain drain. We have a very robust, intelligent, and productive diaspora across the world working in cutting-edge technology areas.
Bharatvarsha has led the world in pure sciences, mathematics, navigation in the past and given the world gems such as Ayurveda and Yoga, not to mention the philosophical depth of the Upanishads, amongst Dharmashastra. Then, we were the world’s largest economy, by far.
There is no reason we can’t do that all over again.