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Sculpting India to Emerge
as a Knowledge Society
by Ramesh Menon Bookmark and Share

“India can use its core competence in IT, natural resources and human resources to become a Knowledge Superpower by 2020. A knowledge society is driven by societal transformation and wealth generation. This transformation is built on education, healthcare, agriculture and governance.”

                      - A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Former President of India

Is this possible, you might ask.

India has tremendous potential to emerge as a vibrant Knowledge Society, but it has to put in concerted efforts in many areas if it has to become one. India has many positive factors that can fire it to sculpt itself into a power that will have to be reckoned with.

As it grows into becoming one of the most vibrant economies of the world, it fortunately has one of the youngest populations that will soon be in the driver’s seat. Using technology, it is emerging as a knowledge hub that the world is looking at. The National Intelligence Council 2015 Project of USA predicts that India shall be a major regional power by 2015. Well, that may not work that way considering that there has been poor governance for the last three years, but it can happen later if systems are put in order and there is political will.

The world is getting fascinated with India. It is a country few understand. On one hand there is galloping growth and progress with Indians being recognized all over the world for their competence. On the other, Indian companies are being seen with respect as they grow professionally and search for excellence. They also are spreading their wings globally as the perception of India changes.

The Indian community is presently one of the richest minorities in United States, the world’s most powerful democracy. Indians are some of its most powerful professionals in the US comprising roughly 38% of its doctors, 36% of NASA scientists, 17% of Intel scientists, 36% of Microsoft employees and 28% of IBM employees. No wonder future presidential hopefuls seriously look at the Indian community. Indians in the US earn around ten per cent of India’s GDP and as things stand, it is bound to rise further.

Economic Turnaround

The retail revolution is on. Big Bazaar, Reliance and others are showing the way. Foreign chains like Walmart are showing their interest in investing in the growing marketplace that has a young consumerist society emerging. Chains like Walmart are looking at tapping this growing segment.

Estimates say that India’s retail industry will cross $17 billion soon. Over 300 malls, 1,500 supermarkets and 400 departmental stores are being set up to meet this demand. Retail professionals are going to be required to power this growth.

Another booming area is real estate. Merrill Lynch forecasts that the sector will grow to $ 90 billion by 2015. Not just the metros, but even smaller towns are seeing a boom as middle class India decides not to live on rent anymore.

Bollywood may be lacking in content but the international market is looking at it seriously. Annually, the Indian film industry earns more than $ 50 million through film and entertainment exports despite rampant piracy. Indian industrialists like Anil Ambani are tying up with international companies and stars to expand their entertainment business.

Knowledge is Power

Today, knowledge is the primary production resource that is valued more than capital and labour. If it is properly exploited, it will create comprehensive wealth for India. But this calls for societal transformation through large-scale development in education, health, infrastructure, agriculture and governance.

India today has 54 per cent of its population under the age of 25, which means that they will be all set to run the nation by 2020. Another huge chunk of around 14 per cent of the population is between 15 and 25 who have tremendous potential. All of them have to be integrated into a world of high tech-awareness, good communication skills and applicable management principles and practices. This is going to take some doing on the road to being a Knowledge Power.

Convergence the Answer

Convergence is the key. It is the new philosophy for the Knowledge Society and Economy. There has to be convergence of several technologies ensuring higher values and productivity. Then there has to be convergence of management, communication and technology that would facilitate creativity, business principles and modern technology to end up creating higher values in a Knowledge Society.

Then there is convergence of understanding, practicing and innovating where education is not about knowing, but equally about practicing and developing new practices, systems and technologies. Lastly, there has to be a convergence of theory and practical learning in the classroom. There has to be learning by doing where experience becomes the teacher. The more a student goes outside the classroom the better in a flowering Knowledge Society. India’s education system cannot ignore this reality.

Booming Software

Today the software industry in India is over 10 billion dollars strong, with a flat domestic market of 2 billion dollars contributing 16% of nation's exports. In the next ten years, the software industry's contribution is expected to increase tenfold. Software and Hardware industries will become a formidable component of the nation's wealth and work towards building a knowledge society.

For a knowledge society to emerge, digital development is crucial. It is not easy to wire rural and urban India. Let us not ignore rural development, as it is an essential need for catapulting India into a position that it is aiming at. There has to be high bandwidth for rural connectivity to take education, health care and economic dynamism all over India. Telecommunicators can cut down time and expense in unnecessary travel but they have to be empowered to do that.

There has to be well-equipped centers of research into technology, media and social sciences. New models of development, governance and business need to be created.

Knowledge Hub

“India will be the number one knowledge hub by 2025,” says Dr. R A Mashelkar, former Director General, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. It may well be so. Out of the 500 Fortune companies, 102 have already set up Research and Development centers in Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad. They are drawing from the vast pool of educated IT professionals who are showing their creative genius.

As IT becomes the new India’s mantra, there is an explosion of growth in that sector in areas like Pune, Gurgaon, Noida, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. IT came in late, but India caught on real fast. It was one of the few countries to have built a supercomputer and one among five nations to launch a communications satellite. Now, various countries are using Indian minds to launch its satellites.

Social and human infrastructure has to be developed. Civil society interaction has to take on a new maturity to be more tolerant and sensitive to everyone’s needs while politicians and bureaucrats have to look beyond their state’s interest to look at India as one Knowledge Society that needs their constant nurturing to become the power that it has the potential to be. It will be a pity if India loses this great opportunity.

Iron Out the Anachronisms

Brand India however needs correction.

While the media frenzy particularly in the English press talked eloquently of how India could grow at around 7 per cent while the world average was just 4.5 per cent, there is another India behind the smokescreen. It is an India where over 40 per cent of its population is illiterate. There are no accurate figures of those who are below the poverty line as its definition is at best ambiguous. If rural areas and small towns are backward, the health of the nation is far from healthy. Then there is superstition, witchcraft, blind faith, communalism, intolerance, and rigid casteism. Anachronism?

Unless these anachronisms are tackled with a strong political will, the warts will show. More than the sheer cosmetics, it will neutralise development.

Clearly, India has a lot to do if it wants to be in the race to be an influential player in the world. It would be tragic if the powers that be do not ride this opportunity.

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