Historically, in the last two hundred years at least, we have seen nations moving from Agro Based economies to Manufacturing economies to Service based Economies. The latest classic example of this is China. From 7th decade in the last century, till today they have shown fascinating growth and China has become the manufacturing hub of the world. India was late in this transformation and we were forced into liberalization by the precipice we reached in 1992. India had no money to pay for foreign goods/debts and had to move their “family gold” (it is the gold stock that nations hold for such situations) abroad to borrow the money. Rest as they say is history.
We reached a growth rate between six and eight % and the effect of that growth is seen all over India, in the last 25 years. But there is a twist in the story here. India has not exactly skipped the manufacturing phase of the growth but it appears that we are jumping more towards the Service based economy. I was wondering why this is happening and as usual, found that this is very complex to understand and even more complex to explain but still I am venturing into trying to explain.
First and foremost, I feel that with the internet around and excellent connectivity world over, we all know what is happening anywhere in the world. What new products are available, what better gadgets are available is known the world over, very fast. So, aspirations of the people change very rapidly. But the generations don’t become rich in such small durations. With 8% kind of growth and the speed of growth, this change is even more lopsided than in olden days. Rich are becoming richer faster and by leaps and bound. The disparity between the rich and the poor is galloping rapidly. This is where the comparison between China and India always comes into the picture. There is no question that China has done much better than India during this period but at the same time, there are certain human aspects that need to be understood.
China still has a lot of poverty but with the authoritarian government, they make sure to hide this fact. If required, they block websites which try to display such things. Beijing does have a large poor area, well hidden from prying reporters. If any reporter tries to break the government diktat, the reporters get thrown into jail. China simply crushes uprisings or behaviours they don’t like. In India, we are opposite to that. We have people in our society who love the display and discuss India’s poverty by making an argument about freedom of speech but the main reasons are always political. We have this history. In the olden days, 60’s in the last century, we had people like Satyajit Ray who took pride in producing films which advertised India’s poverty. By no means I am saying not to discuss our poverty, in fact, we as a nation should accept facts of life then only we can improve, denial mode is not going to help anyone. But pride in showing poverty is a bit too much.
With an authoritarian government, it was very easy for China to declare one-child policy. This has brought down population growth rate drastically from 90’s of last decade. This helped China improve per capita income. In India, we tried family planning but it did not succeed as it was done half-heartedly. In poor strata of the society the family planning was a disaster and hence our per capita income showed an increase but not to the extent China could show!
Government policies about manufacturing, imports and exports have changed very slowly over a period. With this, there was not much incentive for global giants to be in India. By the time they started coming in the bigger way, we see the reversal of trend due to other reasons. Electric Vehicles! EV’s are changing world scenario rapidly, though we may not see many EV’s on road for next five years, the development and investment patterns of these giants are now changing and trying to adapt to their new global strategies based on EV’s. India is not a priority for them! For their own reasons GM and MAN trucks have withdrawn from India and some more are expected to do so. But what happens in China? India’ pride and numero uno, Suzuki has completely withdrawn from China. In India, its share is more than 50% but in China, it was less than 1% of the market! This indicates that Chinese and Indian market requirements are poles apart. Hence, bigger and larger want to be in China and not India!
Another thing that happened in between was Y2K. I am not still sure if it was a real problem! Not a single failure of any system was declared in the world when on 01/01/2001, the Sun rose in the sky! To me, it was more of hype than the real problem. Indian service company giants made a real killing out of it! There came up new industry czars and they popularized the culture of white-collar subcontractors. It was good for the country that finally we started making big money. We started to have a society of young millionaires initially in Rupee terms, then in dollar terms too! Life has been Roses all the way. So, why bother to disturb the bandwagon.
There were some hopes in the industry when small companies like Quick Heal and Tally started making software products but this trend never caught up for the fear that we will lose on easy money. Yes, there appeared to be the trend which showed some changes a couple of years back. But these were due to one Mr Trump who started changing visa rules for our service giants. Not because the Giants wanted to change their ways and go up the value chain! What’s in a name? As long as hot dollars keep coming in the kitty nobody is bothered. Even in the IT industry where we supposedly have thousands of trained manpower, we have missed on things like IOT, AI, the Virtual reality which are already on the way. Are we ready for this? Using these new things company’s world over are creating “products”. Do our glorified contractors have the gumption to take up the challenge? Do they have will to fight it out with Silicon Valleys of the US, Israel? Or do we want to remain service providers to these new product companies? I am hearing the names like Tally and Quick Heal of the new era but I am honestly doubtful that big shots will take it up. Probably, it is better to be the doyen of the industry with billions in the pocket, giving talks blah blah blah. Why bother about being a struggling product creator?
I am always positive about everything, but I am really not sure of service providers switching to a new avatar of products manufacturer. There are always very few Steve Jobs and Bill Gates! India has already jumped to service industry in the transition!