On the day Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi arrived in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India would need to work on “skill, scale and speed” if it hoped to compete with its northern neighbour.
He also iterated a four-colour economic revolution, based on the colours of the Indian flag, on changing the Indian economy.
The PM was speaking at the release of a book, Getting India Back on Track, edited by economist Bibek Debroy and Indian-American foreign policy analyst Ashley Tellis, at 7, Race Course Road on Sunday — a day ahead of President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to a joint sitting of Parliament where he will lay the roadmap of the new government.
The first requirement to compete with China, Modi said, was “skill”. Education and human capital would be the only way for India to really benefit from the fact that “70% of the population is under the age of 35”. The demographic dividend depended on skill development. India today was struggling to educate its people even though it had historically been an exporter of teachers to the rest of the world.
In Gujarat, he noted, he had set up the first university dedicated to teacher training.
By scale, Modi said he meant the need for India to “think big” and end its tendency to “think very small”. We like to think express trains rather than bullet trains, he said.
The PM also noted that when most people spoke of “infrastructure”, they tended to think of physical infrastructure, but it also had to be about handling data. He spoke of developing both “highways and i-ways” — a reference to information highways.
On speed, he referred to the slowness of decision-making and policy implementation in India.
“Files moving in the government,” he said half-seriously, “are driven by a special fuel that not only makes them move slowly but sometimes even slip into reverse gear.”
Modi repeated his desire for four “colour revolutions” based on the hues of the Indian flag. “You think of something different when I say saffron,” a jovial Modi told the audience. “However, I think of energy when I invoke saffron.” He noted that India was blessed with enormous amount of sunlight and, therefore, it made sense for the country to develop solar energy.
Renewable energy was also important, he said, because “climate change is a subject close to my heart”.
He cited how the United States had ended its dependency on West Asian oil and gas and become a net exporter of gas as an example of how a national focus on energy could succeed.
He spoke of a need for a white revolution that addressed India’s extremely low dairy productivity and a green revolution that took a look at increasing pulse production and the protein content of pulses. “The second green revolution,” Modi said, will be about adding value to farm produce and reducing the 30% waste in agriculture.
Modi also spoke of a blue revolution, the colour of the Ashoka Chakra, which would be about increasing fisheries production to the point where India could export fish to the world and water management that would ensure “more crop for the drop”.
The event was arranged by the new Indian chapter of the US-based think tank Carnegie Endowment. Modi noted he had already implemented one of the book’s recommendations: abolishing the empowered group of ministers system of the past government. He also noted how think tanks and universities were needed, that there was “low intellectual input in policy-making”.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley, speaking at the same event, said India needed “credibility” on the economic front and that the “world is looking at us again”. However, he said, the government must avoid transient populist measures that would make the country feel good for the first few years but would have large negative economic consequences in the third or fourth year.
Jaitley is presently readying a new budget, expected to be presented in July.