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Friday, February 17, 2006

Why Is There No Strategic Thought In India?

PM Manmohan Singh's Take on Lack Strategic Thought in India

PM Singh makes an interesting point when he talks about India not having an establishment that thinks about the long-term strategic issues.

“I have often wondered why that is the case and I am led to a conclusion that this is partly because of the absence of a class, which in some other countries can be described as an establishment."

Well, there are lots of establishments in India. But none that have stake in the future of entire country. Not that is easy to come by in a country like India where every region has its own identify. But the main reason for no having establishment in the future of the country is because of commerce, especially suppression of commerce for so long under the guise of socialism. Commerce is what makes things happen. Commerce is what makes other societies interesting. Does anyone want to read about what someone is thinking in sub-Saharan Africa, although they may have the most interesting things so say? Is there anyone not paying attention to China although it has all kinds of censorships and dictatorship?

Sure commerce is about profits and products. But is also creates a group of people that have a stake in the system. If the system goes bad, everyone loses; if the system is refined and made to succeed in the long run, everyone benefits.

“By an establishment, I mean a group of people who have a long-term stake in the system, maybe whose place in their society is secure enough, so they have reasons to worry about the future direction of changes. All modern societies have such a group of people who debate, discuss, who shape and re-shape public policies in diverse fields. We lack that tradition partly because we don’t have an establishment in the proper sense of the term.’’

Until a decade ago, every one in India was trying not get into trouble because of suppression normal commercial activity. Now with renewed freedom, groups of people are freeing themselves up to think strategically and work towards the long term benefit of the system. Think about CII, which is much more than about trade, or Observer Foundation, which is all about strategy - both institutions now have renewed purpose with which they work.

Both, existence of establishments that have a stake in the system, and its improvement, and commerce, go hand in hand.

Update: IE has an editorial on this. Unfortunately it falls into the same old Indian trap that some how only the politicians and political parties are the establishment.

"Political complexity splintered that establishment...It, at the very least, demands of the political and intellectual classes to reach out across ideological divides to debate together important national issues."

Politicians live within election cycle. Only non-politicians who are "secure" - as PM Singh put it, which I agree with, - will be able to engage the debate that is futuristic and strategic, and consul the politicians when decision time comes. Also, ideology is not problem. It actually provide an anchor and a board to bounce ideas of off.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Thatcher moment in Indian Economic Reforms?

PM Singh Takes A Stand For Infrastructure Reform, Finally!

Has the Thatcher moment comes to Indian economic reforms finally? After two years of doing nothing in power with his hands tie by Communists allies, PM Manmohan Singh is finally taking a stand. Right before this year’s Davos WEF conference the retail sector was opened, if only partially, for FDI. Limits were increased or removed in many of industries. The hope is FDI will jump from $5 billon in 2004 and $6 billon in 2005 to $10 billon in 2006. While it is still sixth of 2005 FDI to China, at least it's progress at attracting investments that matter.

But the final test, at least for the next few years is upon us - infrastructure policy, especially airports. While construction of the truly international airport from scratch started in Hyderabad in Jan 2006, PM Singh privatized Mumbai and Delhi airports and got bids to spend Rs 24 billion (half billion dollars) each over the next five years to improve the airports. PM's allies the Communists (working for who know who) have come out in full force and unleashed their affiliated labour mafia on the airports.

But the PM is pushing back! He is activating aviation laws to punish strikers and says he will meet with the Communists but won't role back the privatization plan.

Finally the prime minister got some spin to follow up the empty talk for two years. PM Singh's Thatcher moment is here and he better stand firm for the sake of the India's future.

Update Feb 3, 2006: And filth builds up at the airports. While the strikers offer every dumb excuse - from "we have alternative proposals" to national security (huh, Commies interested in national security?), PM Singh says there will be no question of roll back. Way to go!!!

Update Feb 4, 2006: The protest cracked!!! I can't believe PM Singh pulled it off!! In less than three days? Wow!!! Is Manmohan Singh the new Iron Man of India?

And keep that reform ball rolling, less it comes to a full stop again.

Update Feb 8 2006: Infosys CEO, Nandan Nilekani, agrees with me. Touche! Touche!