The first decade of the 21st century is drawing to a close and the doors of the next decade will open soon. Decadal transition is always a time to look back and look ahead.
Soon after the world stepped into the new century, many governmental and business organisations in India and around the globe set for themselves ambitious targets and inspirational goals. They did so because, in popular imagination, the 21st century had somehow come to symbolise unprecedented hope and promise. India’s former Prime Minister, the late Rajiv Gandhi, was himself a youthful icon, and the first leader to awaken these hopes by promising “to take India into the 21st century”.
India today stands with legitimate pride in what it has achieved so far. High rates of growth, sustained over almost the entire course of the last decade, have made India one of the main engines of growth for the world economy. I have myself experienced a sea-change during this period — India’s entrepreneurial community has felt empowered for the first time since Independence.
This change could not have come about without leadership. It happened thanks to the era of economic reforms, which Manmohan Singh as finance minister inaugurated in the early 1990s. Now that he has returned as the head of a more stable government, India’s outlook for the future looks brighter. The recent downturn in the global economy, when India remained largely unscathed, is a strong testimonial to the maturity of India’s leadership.
The principal task before leaders in government, business and civil society in the next decade is to broadbase India’s Success Story. It is my firm belief that India will begin to see miracle growth if we can rapidly transform agriculture and the rural sector with enabling policies, infrastructure and institutional support, and empowerment of local communities.
As I peer into the next decade, I see exciting new opportunities and also major new responsibilities beckoning India. The world economic order is changing dramatically with the rise of Asia, especially the ascent of India and China. When the economic order changes, can the political order be far behind? And is India ready to play the leadership role, regionally and internationally, as our country’s growing global profile becomes even more pronounced in the next decade? I think that our political, governmental, business and civil society leaders will have to work with a stronger spirit of partnership to enable India to assume leadership responsibility on the global stage in three main areas:
Leadership in Sustainable Development: The switchover to a low-carbon economy on a war footing has become a planetary imperative to avert the disastrous effects of climate change. Therefore, we must adopt energy-water-ecology conservation practices as a sacred mantra in the coming decade. Simultaneously, we should cooperate with countries around the world to do the same on a mutually advantageous basis.
Leadership in International Institution-Building: Most multilateral institutions built in the post-World War II era reflected the global realities of that period. The world having changed fundamentally since then, the institutions — in global trade, global financial architecture or global security — must reflect the emerging realities of today and tomorrow. India's leadership footprint has to become much larger in this new institutional renewal effort.
Leadership in Technology, Innovation and Human Resource Enrichment: Given its youthful demographic profile, strong scientific base, and the upsurge in ambition and capability in diverse areas of entrepreneurship, India today stands on the cusp of a historic opportunity to emerge as a leader in technology creation, innovation, and, above all, in provision of skilled services to countries around the world.
Let us, therefore, welcome the next decade by embracing the one word by which leadership is always tested: Action.
The author is chairman and managing director, Reliance Industries Ltd