Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2016-12-12 13:25:50 Published on Dec 12, 2016
Now in the fourth phase, China is rebalancing by emphasising consumption and promoting an innovation-based economy. This is a forty year timespan, not the half-decade process under Mao.
Demonetisation: The Chinese example
Trekking in the Himalayas in my youth, I learnt an important lesson: A short cut is alluring, is often backbreaking, and even dangerous, sometimes with no real gain at the end. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's desire to fast-track India's transformation is understandable, both as his personal vision, and the electoral gains that will accrue from it. But the reality is that change takes time and goes beyond slogans and slick events. There are no short cuts in development. Many schemes litter the two-year-old landscape of the Modi prime ministership — Swachh Bharat, Jan Dhan Yojana, Make in India, Digital India, Skill India, Smart City project and now we have demonetisation, the brahmastra to destroy multiple targets — fake currency, terrorist financing, corruption, black money even while promoting a cashless economy, digitisation and economic growth. The best example of efforts to promote rapid national transformation through a top-down approach has been that of China. In the 1950s it tried the short cuts — the Great Leap Forward, the mass extinction of sparrows to protect grains, all of which led to the disastrous famine killing 40 million people. The Cultural Revolution, aimed at transforming the Chinese man, brought more destruction in its wake. Things only changed with the death of the Great Helmsman — Mao Zedong. Another type of top down process began thereafter, one based on long-range planning, sustained implementation and sophisticated leadership. In the 1975-85 period China got over the Cultural Revolution and provided near-universal literacy and healthcare to its society. From 1985 to 2000, China sought out FDI to create a world class infrastructure and manufacturing capability. After acceding to the WTO in 2001, the economy took off. And now in the fourth phase China is rebalancing by emphasising consumption and promoting an innovation-based economy. This is a 40 year time-, not the half-decade process under Mao. In this scheme of things, industrial espionage and strategic technology acquisition has been backed by a vigorous R&D which, again, goes back to the 1980s and 1990s. A 2014 paper by a US researcher revealed that China's surprise test of a hypersonic vehicle was backed by two decades of quantifiable work on such systems by Chinese research institutions. More recently, in October 2016, a White House study noted that Chinese research led the world in artificial intelligence (AI), exceeding even the US in numbers of papers published and cited. The fountainhead of the effort is Project 863, named after the year and month it was approved by supreme leader Deng Xiaoping to focus on areas like space and biotech. In 2001, energy technology was added to the list. This year's Guangzhou Auto Show saw some 30 new energy vehicles (NEVs) — cars, buses and vans — on display. Having missed the internal combustion engine revolution, China intends to lead the age of electrical vehicles. China's six high-tech development zones that began in the 1990s, today feature every global MNC and are integrated with universities and research institutions. They are used to seed giants like Xiaomi, Baidu, Tencent and others. The lesson is that there were no short cuts. Economic growth, social transformation, clean environment, come through long-range planning and systematic and sustained implementation, which, given the sheer scale of India’s problems, will not happen in the course of one or even two prime ministerial terms. So, instead of one-upmanship Modi needs to build consensus around his goals so that they are carried through after he has ceased to be PM, regardless of the person or party that succeeds him. Unfortunately, Modi seems determined to play the role of disruptor like Mao, rather than the aggregator Deng. To move ahead in the material world, moral issues like corruption and black money are a distraction; note the enormous amount of corruption in China. What is needed is a "can-do" approach based on high-quality governance, something the Modi government lacks — if you witness the demonetisation bungle or the flip flops in dealing with Pakistan. No matter what India's potential is, or the great genius its people possess, the road to a better future has to be planned and constructed by a sophisticated leadership and its managerial team. The approach must be inclusive, rather than one based on "shock and awe" which, as the 2003 Iraq experience showed, are impressive to start with but come apart later. This commentary originally appeared in The Times of India.
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Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

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