Justice Markandey Katju-
May 11 is celebrated in India as National Technology Day, for on this day in 1998 India exploded its atomic bomb in Pokhran, Rajasthan.
Despite all the fanfare and hoopla, my opinion is that National Technology Day is a stunt and a joke. So, let me explain.
Today India is facing massive problems. Despite the tall claim of Prime Minister Modi that his government will create 20 million new jobs a year, the truth, as disclosed in the National Sample Survey (which is a Govt of India organization, and whose report was leaked out ) is that there is 45-year record unemployment in India. For each government job advertised there are often a thousand applicants, even Ph.Ds., M.Scs., MBAs and engineers begging for a peon’s job. Demonetization alone is believed to have destroyed 20 million jobs.
Forty-seven percent Indian children are malnourished (as disclosed by Global Hunger Index and other organizations), which is a figure higher than that of the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa like Somalia (which has 35 percent). This also indicates that well over 50% of our women are malnourished because a woman will starve herself than let her children starve. 50 percent of Indian women are anemic.
Farmers suicides have crossed 3 lacs and are continuing unabated due to lack of remunerative prices as recommended by the Swaminathan Committee Report.
Proper healthcare and good education are almost nonexistent for the poor Indians, who constitute 75% of our people.
The solution to these problems is rapid industrialization, for that alone can create millions of jobs and the wealth required for the welfare of our people. But how to achieve this? After Independence, there was a limited degree of industrialization, but now that has stalled and our economy is in stagnation or recession (despite the tall claims of our leaders).
The first requirement for rapid industrialization is having a modern-minded political leadership which is determined to rapidly industrialize the country. Japan was a poor feudal country under the Shoguns, but after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the political leaders who came to power were modern-minded people determined to rapidly industrialize the country.
The result was that in 15-20 years Japan was transformed into an industrial country, like Europe or North America. So, it takes a country just 15-20 years to become a highly industrialized one. Once we have such modern-minded political leaders it will take us just 15-20 years to transform India into a highly industrialized country.
Unfortunately, under our parliamentary system of government, most of our politics is based on caste and communal vote banks. Casteism and communalism are feudal forces which have to be destroyed if India is to progress, but parliamentary democracy further entrenches them. So, it is obvious India cannot progress under parliamentary democracy, and we have to look for a revolutionary alternative.
Most of our present political leaders have no genuine love for the country but are only interested in power and pelf. They only know how to polarize society on caste and communal lines to get votes, but have no idea how to rapidly industrialize India nor have any inclination to do so. All they are interested in is winning the next elections and amassing fortunes.
Apart from that, there is a fundamental problem regarding the industrialization of India. We have no dearth of technical talent. We have thousands of bright engineers, scientists, and technicians (many of our IT engineers are manning Silicon Valley, and there are numerous Professors of Science, Engineering and Mathematics in Western Universities).
We have also immense natural resources (India is not a small country like England or Japan, but is a subcontinent). However, the problem is not of raising industrial production (that can easily be done as we have a huge pool of technical talent and huge natural resources) but of sales. Our people are mostly poor with little purchasing power.
After all, the goods manufactured have to be sold. How can they be sold when our people can hardly buy food, what to say of buying industrial goods?
So, the solution for achieving rapid industrialization is to raise the purchasing power of the masses, so that the increased production can be sold. How is that to be done?
In the Soviet Union after the policy of rapid industrialization came with the first four-year plan in 1928, the methodology adopted was broadly this: the prices of commodities were fixed by the government, and every two years or so they were reduced by 5-10 percent ( sometimes wages were also raised by 5-10 percent).
In this way by steadily reducing prices of commodities (and sometimes raising wages) the purchasing power of the masses was raised by state action. With the same nominal wage, one could now buy more goods, as they had become cheaper, and this meant a rise in the real wage (which is relative to the prices).
Simultaneously, industrial production was raised, and now the goods produced could be absorbed in the domestic market, since now the people had the purchasing power ( reliance on foreign markets is precarious as it may be captured by some other country, or there may be a recession in the foreign country where one sells his goods. For stability one has to basically rely on one’s domestic market).
I am not saying that we must follow the methodology of the Soviet Union. But we must find out a way of raising the purchasing power of our masses, otherwise we can never become a first-rate industrialized country like North America or Europe, and will remain poor with massive unemployment, malnourishment, lack of healthcare and other socio-economic problems, and the National Technology Day will just remain a gimmick. This can obviously not be done within the present political system but will require a revolution.
[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own]