ExHYDERABAD: While prime minister Narendra Modi has appealed to all domestic and foreign firms to ‘make in India’ to transform the country into a global manufacturing hub, former member of the Planning Commission Saumitra Chaudhuri has felt several challenges, prevailing for decades, need to be overcome. “Perhaps we had focussed on complete solutions like in the case of IT,” he said.
Chaudhuri spoke with Express in the backdrop of the 22nd CC Desai Memorial Lecture on ‘Grasping the Future: The Challenge of Capturing India’s Potential’ at the Administrative Staff College of India’s Bella Vista campus here on Thursday.
“India is not a superpower and is unlikely to become one in the predictable future and nor should it try to be one,” he noted quickly, adding that digital media likes to use the term ‘superpower’, “to sound even more pompous than they already are. Striving for a better future for your people, to be able to defend yourself, to be a responsible partner in the neighbourhood, to earn respect and influence is a very far cry from being in the superpower business.”
When asked about the challenges the country stares at with the announcement of ‘Make in India,’ he said, “It is the same issue of labour, infrastructure, water, land, effluent treatment etc.” Further, “There are plenty of success stories in different parts of the country. We had single window systems in the past too. If ‘Make in India’ becomes a success, it could be because of the efforts made in the past,” he claimed.
Chaudhuri, who had been a member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister in the rank of minister of state till May, spoke about how ‘emerging India is a myth’- one created out of a temporary conflation of events and contexts and without a foundation - one on which India could hope to build upon. He spoke about what was achieved in the first two decades after the reforms of 1991, and what went wrong, what the potential is and how India can try and ensure that it does not lose it again.
Speaking about India’s missed opportunities, he explained that the biggest misstep was laying down controls as the administrative framework of choice, and the underestimation of India’s entrepreneurial talent. According to him, focus on man-made fibres and steel industry in the 1950s and 1960s, neglecting the traditional cotton textile industry was one mistake. With nationalisation, even more controls and more government borrowing continued to compound India’s problems. India’s export trade plummeted from 2.2 per cent in 1948 to 0.4 per cent after 1980, he said.
Chaudhuri continues to chair the Committee on Fiscal Statistics, Department of Statistics and chairs the Committee on All Industry Rate of Duty Drawback (on Exports), Union ministry of finance. “Only when China got on the bandwagon did it finally become hard for the apologists of established policy to remain in denial, but still there was the stuff about how China was not a democracy, did not have the ‘disadvantage’ of elections and finally that it was not going to last,” he said.