Thursday May 23, 2024

The secret of India’s success

By Atta-ur-Rahman
July 05, 2023

Pakistan today stands at the precipice of a huge disaster. With rampant corruption under the guise of democracy, the dreams of Iqbal, Jinnah and the people who followed them lie shattered as poverty engulfs this country while a few billionaires amass huge amounts of ill-gotten wealth in safe havens abroad.

The law-enforcement agencies seem helpless while the country sinks. The prime reason of Pakistan’s continuing economic collapse is the failure of successive governments to recognize the key role that education, science and technology, and innovation now play in socio-economic development. The expenditure on education hovers around a pathetic 2.0 per cent of the GDP with a huge number of some 22 million children remaining out of school.

Government schools, colleges and many universities are in shambles with the curricula designed to encourage rote learning and stifle critical thinking. R&D expenditure in Pakistan remains at a measly 0.2 per cent of the GDP. It rose to about 0.8 per cent of the GDP during the period 2000-2008 when I — as the federal minister of science and chairperson of the Higher Education Commission — persuaded the then president Musharraf to give priority to science in the national scheme of things. However, it was subsequently systematically reduced due to the myopic policies of subsequent governments.

Pakistan is a country with vast resources. The most important of these resources are our young people. About 70 per cent of our population of some 230 million is below the age of 30. However so disappointed are they with the opportunities that exist for them here that close to a million have chosen to migrate to other countries last year.

There is alarming inflation and a corresponding increase in poverty. The economic situation has deteriorated to a point where our foreign reserves are almost nil, and we have to take loans to pay off interest on prior loans. The country is essentially in a state of financial default, and a major overhaul of our corrupt governance system is urgently required if this country is to survive.

As this huge tragedy unfolds, India continues to progress in leaps and bounds. Right from Independence, under the visionary leadership of Cambridge-educated Jawaharlal Nehru, India has strategically focused on education, science, technology, and innovation to build astrong economy.

Its sensible export-oriented industrial policies have led to the emergence of India as a major world player in fields such as information technology, pharmaceuticals, automobile industry, gems and jewellery etc and today the US considers it as a key ally in its competitive stance with China.

India’s leadership recognized that education is the most important cornerstone for socio-economic development to migrate to a knowledge-based economy. Government initiatives such as the ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ and the ‘Right to Education Act’ have played a crucial role in ensuring universal primary education. Additionally, the establishment of numerous outstanding universities and institutes of higher learning has provided opportunities for advanced training to young people to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving economy.

India has also placed a strong emphasis on technical and vocational education. ‘Skill India’, a flagship programme, aims to provide vocational training to millions, enabling them to acquire industry-relevant skills. This initiative has not only empowered individuals with employable skills but has also contributed to the growth of various sectors such as manufacturing, construction, and information technology.

Recognizing the transformative power of technology, India has also undertaken initiatives to enhance digital literacy across the country. The Digital India campaign seeks to bridge the digital divide and promote digital inclusion. By providing access to digital infrastructure, promoting e-governance, and offering digital skills training, India has empowered its citizens to participate in the digital economy, thereby fostering economic growth and innovation.

The establishment of premier scientific institutions such as the ‘Indian Institutes of Technology’ (IITs) and the ‘Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research’ (IISERs) has created a conducive environment for cutting-edge research. Moreover, the Department of Science and Technology, along with other government bodies, provides funding and support to encourage R&D activities across various sectors.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has achieved remarkable milestones in space exploration and satellite technology, placing India among an elite group of nations capable of launching space missions. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has also played a vital role in advancing scientific research, particularly under the visionary leadership of Dr Mashelkar, leading to breakthroughs in areas such as pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and renewable energy.

To foster innovation and entrepreneurship, India launched the Start-up India initiative in 2016. This programme provides support to aspiring entrepreneurs, offering benefits such as tax incentives, funding opportunities, and simplified regulatory procedures. The initiative has led to the emergence of a vibrant start-up ecosystem, with India now being recognized as one of the world’s fastest-growing hubs for startups.

To nurture and support entrepreneurial talent, India has established numerous incubation centres and innovation hubs across the country. These centres provide infrastructure, mentoring, and networking opportunities to startups, enabling them to develop their ideas into successful businesses. Initiatives like the Atal Incubation Centres and the National Initiative for Developing and Harnessing Innovations (NIDHI) have further strengthened the innovation ecosystem.

The Make in India campaign, launched in 2014, aims to transform India into a global manufacturing hub. By promoting domestic manufacturing and attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), the campaign seeks to boost industrialization across various sectors. Special emphasis has been placed on sectors such as automobiles, electronics, defence, and renewable energy, where India has a competitive advantage.

India recognized early on the importance of collaboration between the public and private sectors in driving innovation. Initiatives such as the Atal Innovation Mission and the establishment of research parks and technology incubators have facilitated partnerships between academia, industry, and government. These collaborations have not only accelerated the pace of innovation but also provided a platform for startups and entrepreneurs to thrive.

As a result of these initiatives the exports of India today amount to about $770 billion. The IT sector alone contributes about GBP 150 billion while other sectors include mineral fuels including oil: $42.6 billion, gems, precious metals: $39.7 billion, organic chemicals: $25.1 billion, machinery including computers: $24.6 billion, electrical machinery, equipment: $22.9 billion and pharmaceuticals: $20.7 billion.

There is much that Pakistan can learn from India. We must first however establish a visionary, technologically competent, and honest leadership that ruthlessly weeds out corruption so that Pakistan can migrate to a strong technology-driven knowledge economy.

The writer is the former federal minister for science and technology and former founding chairman of the HEC. He can be reached at: