Aatmanirbhar Bharat represents the new national spirit, said PM Modi, in his recent Mann Ki Baat program. Enabling every person, institution, industry, and state to move beyond its full potential is the key goal of Aatmanirbhar Bharat. Within a few months of the announcement (May 2020), the self-reliance drive has kicked off in many sectors of the economy, from the defense, space, atomic energy, coal, mineral, civil aviation, infrastructure, manufacturing, MSMEs, power, agriculture/agri-infrastructure, textiles, railways, metros, education, and health to handicraft, toys, and sports, there is no sector of the country where structural reforms, policies and future projects aligned with the vision of the Aatmanirbharta have not commenced. The government has also given crucial financial support to strengthen this drive, as per some estimates, the total financial contribution of all Aatmanirbhar Bharat packages is approx 27.1 lakh crores rupees which amounts to more than 13% of the GDP. Whether it is the PM Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana for the healthcare sector, with an outlay of about 64,180 crores for over 6 years, or an Aatmanirbhar Bharat production linked incentive (PLI) scheme of worth 1.97 lakh crores (in 13 champion sectors of the manufacturing), good support is being given from the government to run Aatmanirbhar Bharat mission in parallel to Post-Covid reconstruction efforts.
The global situation and national revival both demand a more proactive Aatmanirbhar Bharat, and we have shown that we are poised to lead more effectively than ever before. How a country of 1.3 billion can balance its domestic vaccination needs parallel to a commitment toward global vaccination efforts is an example before the world. The crisis is the biggest test of leadership, and India led at a time when some of the traditional flag bearers of global good had narrowed down their approach and gesture. And from this phase, the expectations from Aatmanirbhar Bharat have been doubled.
2021 started with chaos about Big Tech’s growing dominance. During this time, a different kind of mutual arrangement between the tech giants came to the surface when they jointly acted against the freedom of speech of the President of the world’s oldest democracy. There can be arguments/counter-arguments on the justification of their de-platforming act but that certainly raises the concern in all democracies. Almost all major governments, including India, Australia, France, Germany, and even Russia, the talks around this long-debated tech dominance have accelerated, and events seem to culminate into some concrete policies/regulations and guidelines, the response/reactions to that are yet to come.
In India, generally the discussions on Big tech dominance revolve around Market or Data, and there is a reason for that, these big tech platforms have a clear monopoly in some key market segments. As of May 2020, with 99.29 percent Google has a clear monopoly on the mobile search engine market in India. Google-owned YouTube now has over 400 million monthly active users in India, and Google-owned Android held a share of 95.23 percent of the mobile operating system market in our country. Similarly, Facebook has over 320 million users and an 85 percent market share in India, which is more than its home country USA (190 million users). Amazon has over 100 million users, and with 17.5 million active users, Twitter has the third largest user base in India, next after the USA and Japan. The data reflects that things are now beyond the simple profit/loss calculations. But there are some least discussed dimensions as well, such as dominance in the physical world – the acquisition of submarine cables (these BIG tech giants own/lease more than half of the global undersea cable) and an ever-growing acquisition/exploitation of the natural resources that is going on a massive scale. The huge infrastructure of the data centers that they smartly call ‘cloud’ consumes electrical power and generates heat that no other industrial enterprises had generated in human history. And then they consume billions of gallons of water to cool off as well.
The combination of physical/virtual dominance gives Silicon Valley’s leading employers/investors a new kind of confidence, more than the future of their products, they always seem more eager to decide the future of humanity and the destiny of the planet as a whole. But more than technology dominance that can be sooner or later disrupted (with global consensus and mutual efforts), we will have to be concerned about its side effects, which have the potential to impact our lives for the longer term.
Technology led ‘Vision Blindness’
The ability to prognosticating the future events, threats, opportunities, and different patterns related to these, has an important role in the policy and direction of a nation and it’s not a mysterious skill but a well-crafted art. We had a long tradition of practicing this art and we have numerous historical references that from royal advisors to common people there were always some brilliant minds in our society who were excellent in prognosticating the future. But with time we stopped practicing that art and now our current internet generation thinks that by the accumulation of the abundance of information from the internet/social platforms they are gaining knowledge and intelligence (which they would be able to upload into some cloud servers in the future, as these companies often claim). It’s a flawed idea, the human mind is not designed to work that way! After reading, listening, and watching we need some time without outside distraction to think and make sense of all that we have observed. The process to attain knowledge goes like what Swami Vivekananda had once said: “first hear, then understand, and then, leaving all distractions, shut your minds to outside influences, and devote yourselves to developing the truth within you.” Our current generation has stopped this exercise that is why an apparent “vision blindness” is emerging in our youth and they are losing the ability to visualize and prognosticate even the immediate future. It’s a trend that can create more serious implications than tech dominance.
The notion of ‘Vision Blindness’ has its roots in the historic experiences of the Jewish community. The founding fathers of modern Israel have later made these observations that Jews who in the past produced many personalities who excelled in foreseeing the future, it’s a cause of wonder how during their exile they become virtually blind in this practice and could not visualize the possible outcomes of the events taking shape before their eyes. They say that we could not perceive the greatest disasters/threats even a short while before they occurred, that is what they called vision blindness in the true sense. Similar to our culture, there is a famous proverb in Hebrew which says: “Who is truly wise? He who foresees the future,” but during that time they say that the ‘vision disappeared’ from the people of Israel.
Need for New Business Models
India has a clear view on technology; we admire the role of computer technology in making the routine operations of almost every person/industry faster and easier. The products of this decades-long trajectory such as Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Networks, Sensors, 3 D printing, Robotics, Synthetic Biology, and Material Sciences, etc., all represent good business models and they have their contributions to make in different sectors of the economy. But it seems that somewhere, all these technologies are moving toward a stagnation point, and they have exploited their maximum potential. Continuing in this space and coining different jargon to leverage the market dominance can be a part of their calculations as they put a lot of effort to reach this stage. But Bharat must think about moving beyond this stagnation! We must not overshadow our potential to manage someone else’s improvisations. If we aim to be a shaper and decider, then we will have to think about coining our improvisations and shaping some New Business models, capable of competing with all the existing ones.
We have 28 states and 8 union territories, where each State/UT (and every district of the state) has its unique potential, a majority of that are yet to be leveraged. From space to sky to ocean to mountains, India has a lot to explore and a lot to create, the need is to stimulate the power of imagination of our young minds and to take that to a new level. Bharat can give 36 unique New Business Models to the world, based on its unique ability and instincts. The time for investing in that direction has come!
[Also published in BusinessWorld, on 08 March 2021- Link: http://www.businessworld.in/article/Aatmanirbhar-Bharat-Tech-Dominance-and-the-need-for-New-Business-Models/08-03-2021-383139/]