For more than two years, I have regularly contributed to the public discourse in India through essays in the national dailies and other public outlets. My primary interest lies in the economic development of India and in the various reforms we need to prioritize to achieve such growth.
Politics of substance
One of the themes I have consistently covered in my articles is the "metropolis vacuum" in the Hindi heartland, which slows down growth in India, and that the region needs an urban revolution, with more significant investments in cluster development and providing greater autonomy to local governments. Surveying the priorities of 2019 Indian voters, we learn that Indian voters are also on the same page; they want jobs, healthcare, water, public amenities, agriculture to be the primary issues. Yet, there is a strand of politics in India that embraces parochialism when we need politics of substance that tackle India's two most significant problems today - imbalanced regional development and lack of unemployment for young people. Despite the need for politics of substance and the demand for it, during the 2019 elections, we found that the real Indian priorities were not prioritized. Instead, hot button issues remained salient in primetime media, which is detrimental to the health of our democracy, society, and our economy.
Narratives of growth
I discussed the importance of narratives in shaping public discourse and shaping long-term history itself and later wrote how we reached an exceptional age of human dignity (Hindi), whose sustenance and future are in our hands. Yet xenophobic narratives and extremism shall emerge if we do not address fundamental issues of lack of opportunities for the youth in our young country - if we do not bring investments and opportunities in India, we risk becoming a failed state and society stuck in extremism like many other countries in our neighborhood. To stop the rise of xenophobic narratives, we must also address how social media platforms like WhatsApp spread visceral information.
Public goods capitalism
For rapid economic growth, we need to address inequalities in social capital that make it difficult for Dalit businesses to succeed. At the same time, we must develop an economic model that focuses on trade and tolerance, profits and people, economic clusters, and public goods so that we have sustained and virtuous cycles of growth, as South India teaches us. Additionally, we need to start reimagining India at the level of regional economic clusters and undertake governance reforms that enable better coordination and planning in these multi-city, multi-state clusters.
During the pandemic, I discussed how most Indians are not able to raise emergency funds and that we need to use our advances in digitizing India to provide emergency and social support to those in need urgently. During the pandemic, migrant workers were nobody's constituent. Hence, they were being ignored, and there is a need to provide them with immediate financial help and develop a Ministry of Migrant Affairs. The COVID-19 crisis can be a moment of renaissance for the Hindi heartland as well if it invests in the classic model of cluster and human development. I discussed the state of the Indian economy in an IIMB podcast, calling for land reforms, more labor-friendly reforms, focus on human and skill development along with cluster development, and the need for immediate attention on the Hindi heartland. During the second wave, I wrote how Twitter trends have been used misused in India to amplify hate and distract the public from issues of public interest.
In articles for Patrika, I discussed how the Hindi heartland can learn from the public goods capitalism of south India and that our policymakers must remember that economy grows through value creation which happens when we focus on human and urban cluster development, and especially youth development by creating jobs in social (health) services and auto and electronic manufacturing. I discussed how India's VIP culture hinders investments in public goods, as our politicians and policymakers use VIP services and not public ones. We need immediate investments in public goods, especially in healthcare, for long-term progress. During the second wave of the pandemic, I discussed how Indians need to remember their forgotten civic duty to ensure that politicians deliver on issues that matter, like healthcare.
Importance of solidarity
In an article for Forbes, we discussed the relevance of Gandhi in the modern populist world, how his emphasis on Swaraj (self-governance), tolerance, and the truth is need of the hour for long-term progress. Without overcoming our national obsession with caste, we can not emerge as a strong nation and we can learn from the case study of Tamil Nadu that used narratives of a unifying Tamil identity to blur caste and other distinctions, which has helped them successfully apply the model of public goods capitalism. Solving a crisis requires collaborative leadership, that brings everyone together. Recently, I wrote an article on how to manage a large scale public crisis, by utilizing the unique capabilities of the government, NGOs, and for-profit firms to develop an effective crisis management strategy.
It takes about 10-15 days to build an Oxygen PSA. Many of us gave a significant fraction of our savings to the PMCARES fund. Why was it not used to build the necessary COVID infrastructure in time. We had 1 year, and our government could not take out a month or two to focus on Oxygen plants?
While we again try to generate lakhs of rupees to help the most in need, I am still angry why do we need to go around begging for money, when
1. A PMCARES fund was established for this very purpose,
2. The government has enough money in its coffers to raise lakhs of crores to provide instant COVID relief.
But the government is surrounded by a group of supply side economists and rent seekers who say to them - do not spend too much, it will increase the deficit and hurt investor confidence. With this madness they have not only let lakhs of people die, but also destroyed the Indian brand and its potential, by pursuing policies meant not to help those in need, but to protect the wealth of those who are rich and powerful.
I have said this before, and say it again- levy an emergency wealth tax NOW on the ultra rich - Ambanis, Adanis etc - and use that money to pay for building the urgent COVID infrastructure we need. We need the era of supply side economics (aka Gujarat model) to end.
It is time for good old public goods capitalism, the one that has been successfully applied for decades in the south and in other parts of the world — an economic system where both free market clusters are developed to support entrepreneurs and businesses, and so are public goods for the broader population. This is the only sane model of development that can work. It has worked in the south, it is doing wonders in Bangladesh, Vietnam… it will do well in rest of India too.
Personal blog. Views expressed are my own, expressed in personal capacity.