(Jean-Pierre Lehmann is an emeritus professor of international political economy at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland. He is currently a visiting professor on the Faculty of Business and Economics at Hong Kong University.)
India is a country I know reasonably well. Although I have never lived there, I have been visiting regularly since 1960. Also, a quite high proportion of my closest friends are Indians, whether they still live there or are members of the extensive Indian diaspora.
I have great affection – and, in many respects, admiration for India.
The immediate context in which this article was written is what readers who are regular foreign travelers to India will recognize as “PIVASS” or the “POST-INDIAN-VISA-APPLICATION-STRESS-SYNDROME.”
I, for one, have gone through this ritual annually, but the experience hasn’t got better the more often one succumbs to its tentacles.
In fact, this year was one of the worst.
Given my background with India, my position as a visiting professor in India and current emeritus professor of a globally respected institution, <a href=”http://www.imd.org/” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”> IMD </a> in Switzerland, what I am trying to accomplish on these visits is something presumably considered quite worthy of support by Indian authorities.
I am trying to teach and advise Indian youth on global transformations, challenges and implications for India.
To get all the papers filled out and answer all the – at times – incredible questions requires huge effort and time.
This time, all this was dutifully done and everything was in order:
1. My passport is still valid for ten years.
2. My airline tickets in and out are confirmed.
3. The letter of invitation from the President of the University where I am visiting professor was provided.
With all that in hand and humbly submitted, I should have been sailing smoothly through the visa application process, right? After all, I am quite a regular. And while I am not an investor myself, I teach and advise business leaders. That should make me a good representative of the FOIs (friends of India).
Also, as is advised, I submitted my visa application more than two weeks before my departure date.
Smooth sailing? Well, no. I received a very distressed e-mail from my assistant to say that the application had been rejected.
Of course, I sent an e-mail protesting the visa rejection, knowing that would be to no avail. So I contacted a prominent Indian government official friend to intervene on my behalf – which he promptly did and soon after, I got the one-year multiple entry visa I had applied for in the first place.
The grounds for the rejection, as it turned out, had been entirely based on a mistake made by the consular officials.
Of course, “PIVASS” is a syndrome that appears in many facets of Indian life, notably in the so-called License Raj!
This systemic inefficiency and penchant for administrative messes reflect much of the corruption, lethargy, inefficiency, poverty, economic underperformance and social injustice that mar India today – and gravely undermine its future potential.
It also explains why India, the size of its vast market notwithstanding, is not the prized destination for foreign investment that it should be.
As India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi knows full well, such investment would provide a considerable boost to performance and competitiveness.
Prime Minister Modi wants things to change. A recent issue of The Economist noted that Mr. Modi wants better performance: “He says a more welcoming bureaucracy – even, if you can imagine it, in visa offices – will encourage investors. The prime minister wants India to be among the top 50 in the World Bank’s ‘ease of doing business’ index. It is currently 134th.”
The tendency to present itself as a bureaucratic nightmare unfailingly presents India as a closed country.
Instead of offering a welcome mat, one is greeted with the equivalent of a scowl. It is extraordinary that a country that has some of the greatest global minds and truly global intellectual clout should have such petty, narrow-minded officials as the Indian face to the outside world.
To that end, there is a new campaign: <a href=”http://www.makeinindia.com/” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”>MAKE IN INDIA</a>.
The headlines on the website read:
“A MAJOR NEW NATIONAL PROGRAM. DESIGNED TO FACILITATE INVESTMENT. FOSTER INNOVATION. ENHANCE SKILL DEVELOPMENT. PROTECT INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. AND BUILD BEST-IN-CLASS MANUFACTURING INFRASTRUCTURE. THERE’S NEVER BEEN A BETTER TIME TO MAKE IN INDIA.”
That is all reasonable enough – and is certainly something that India should go after with great resolve.
However, grave doubts are in order. As long as there is PIVASS, the chances of the Make-in-India campaign succeeding are nil.
This matters greatly. Soon, India will become the most populated country in the world, with a total populace of 1.6 billion! Unlike China and other East Asian countries that have rapidly aging populations, India has a huge demographic dividend.
India is an old civilization, but equipped with a very young population. Some 100-million jobs need to be created over the next decade. If the Make-in-India campaign collapses, as it most likely will, IF PIVASS prevails, it will be the young sick man of the global economy.
India has a tremendous amount to contribute to the planet. Conversely, if that potential remains just that – potential – because it fails to materialize, then the whole planet will suffer the consequences.
The stakes are very high, indeed. If India continues to be an underperformer, with chaotic governance and social injustice, it is not just India that will suffer, although Indians – and especially the vast young generation – will clearly suffer the most.
Mr. Modi, you know what’s at stake. You have taken a first step to make sure the petty-minded bureaucrats have been made to realize how much is at stake. Many more steps must follow to secure India’s global future.
This article was originally published on <a href=”http://www.theglobalist.com/make-in-india-but-can-india-make-it/” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”> The Globalist </a>
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