The Current Status
Seventh review! Long Time! Where are we in this fight? Well ahead of the curve. The Virus has not been able to do much in India. The facts speak for themselves. Mumbai, our worst hot spot has rarely had as many cases in a day as New York had deaths in a day. The number of cases in India is low. The transmission rates are low. Doubling rates are longer. The mortality rates are low. The graphs below tell a clear tale.
Percentage Of Cases Per Test
Fatality Rates (% Of Total Cases)
The Virus is not killing people as much as we thought. India is intact. Looking ahead, we will continue to have losses. The Virus will not vanish. We will have to contend with it like Malaria. No medicines. No vaccines. Largely with behavioral changes and discipline. It will be a long haul. Eventually India will win this battle at least cost. Of that I have never had a doubt. It keeps getting reaffirmed by the day.
While the tactical battle continues to rage, let us look over the horizon. In my article Fighting Corona Beyond 21, I had stated – “In fighting this virus from China we are fighting for each other to free ourselves from a pestilence, gain Strategic Independence and Global Leadership simultaneously.” It is time to seriously look as to how to achieve it with a Vision and a Plan.
The Shape of Future
Most of the developed world is reeling from the impact of the Virus as it rages on. USA is stricken, impaired and struggling. Untrustworthy China is rightly in the dock as the global villain. UK, Russia, France, and rest of the Europe are not yet out or the Viral Grip.
S/Korea and Japan are tentatively taking steps to recovery. International institutions are in silent retreat mode. To say that the fallout will be huge, economies will be in recession and a new world order will emerge is to state the obvious. However certain trends are clear. Trust Deficit is rampant. Globalization is passe.
The Virus has ensured that all countries fight their battles in isolation. Brakes on travel and movement will enhance the oncoming Isolation Era. The 'Sinic' and 'Western' Civilizations are set to confront, compete, and decouple with/from each other. The Japanese and Hindu ‘Swing” Civilizations as described by Huntington will come to the fore. Decoupling from China will transcend economics. The process has started to roll.
China’s internal fragility will drive it to be virally aggressive in all international activities. With the fall in oil fortunes, the Middle East will continue with its muddled never-ending conflicts. Recession has always been harsh on the poor. The global poor will suffer. As new blocks and leaders emerge, the Indian opportunity lies ahead.
What will be our status when the Viral wanes? Sure our economy will be further in the dumps. Our masses will stare at hunger, poverty and joblessness. However we will have our people intact. Reuters says ” While death rates in some countries have risen sharply in recent weeks, in India the opposite seems to be happening, at least in some places, leaving hospitals, funeral parlours and cremation sites wondering what is going on”.
Huge morale booster. Indian consumption will spur our economy like it has done timelessly. India might be poor, but Indians are rich enough to bail it out. The richness is beyond economics. Oil prices down is great news for us. This interregnum has cleaned up our environment. Most importantly, the world will eventually acknowledge that India exhibited a power beyond the normal to deal better than the rest with resources worse than most.
At the apex will be something beyond value – International Trust. That was signified by President Bolsanaro of Brazil talking of Indian HCQ as ‘Sanjeevini Bhuti’. Sure we would have lost a lot. We must rebuild. However the opportunity is that we can build towards a better tomorrow in this season of international reset.
The building blocks revolve around stabilization, deriving decoupling benefit, attaining self-sufficiency and thence to assuming global responsibilities. These interactive building blocks need elaboration.
The stabilization phase of India’s journey has already commenced with the harvesting season. We will now have to get back on our feet. If we can keep 1.3 billion Indians nominally occupied, we are on our way. On ground it means jobs revival in the informal and formal sectors. How we facilitate and regulate this is the huge challenge. Regulation is required since we must live with this invisible beastly virus forever.
Movement and travel, fundamental to any economic activity, will be a challenge of its own. Stabilization needs working together, as Indians, irrespective of Caste, Creed, Religion or Politics. Needs a national consensus approach. Can Mr Modi emulate Winston Churchill?
Attracting relocators to derive decoupling benefit from China is the myopic idiot’s way of looking at it. Look beyond. India is a decoupling alternative to China for many reasons. India is central to the most populous regions, fastest growing economies, international economic activity, conflicts and major disasters of the world in the last two decades. (see maps below).
It confers a huge logistical cum financial advantage to any global manufacturing and supply chain due to shorter distances and turn arounds. A rough cost advantage could be 10-15%. Drive that home.
Additionally, the Democratic, Educational, Cultural and Soft Power dividend of India is high. Leverage that. There is international experience of the software and automobile industry with their main hubs at Bengaluru and Chennai to showcase. Of course there is the Virus to drive the relocation. Reassure relocators holistically. They are a spooked lot. However to derive the due benefit we need regulatory amendments.
We also need to be cognizant that decoupling will be resisted by China. Increasingly we will find China hostile to us. Mutatis mutandis a Toxic Pakistan and Viral China will combine to degrade our security environment to scare Relocators away. Security and Decoupling are intertwined inexorably. Never lose sight of that. A different shade would be that Chinese money bags will come in with attractive FDI offers to fund relocation with Chinese control.
That gives them an entry into India’s innards which BRI and RCEP did not. Keep China at bay at all costs. Of course, indiscriminate relocation of industry will bring in pollution. China’s success in absorbing manufacturing was at the cost of environmental pollution. We need to plan for pollution mitigation from now itself.
India achieved Political Independence in 1947, Independence from Famine and Hunger through the Green Revolution and Operation Flood and Economic Independence in the 90s. However, Globalization and internal political issues did not permit us to achieve strategic independence. The scene has changed with this Virus.
The PM has very clearly recognized this. His very mention of ‘Self Sufficiency’ shows the strategic direction for the future. It is a big bang reform if initiated with thought. The crux is that we need to attain ‘Self-Sufficiency’ through a degree of internalization in those areas which will lead to India’s Strategic Independence.
Self sufficiency in these areas will also kick start areas of growth and employment which we sorely need. If this internalization is meshed with Stabilization and Decoupling derivatives, we will be well on our way. An elaboration of these areas is needed.
The current situation has exposed India’s limitations in the Health sector despite being a Pharma powerhouse. Our elite institutions have not come out with a single cogent study in this period. We are still dependent on Oxford, Johns Hopkins and the likes for our policy and responses. This must change. The number of Indian Doctors and Health care professionals abroad is astounding.
While we are proud of them, there is scope to leverage that knowledge and influence to develop a healthcare network in India based on research, diagnostics and services. We also need to set up a robust API system independent of China. The employment and export potential of this sector is humungous. We have the knowledge. Focused leveraging is required.
India is a water stressed nation (water availability below 1500 m³ per capita). Large swathes of India face water scarcity (below 1500 m³ per capita). Major cities are in absolute water scarce situations (below 500 m³ per capita). We suffer extensively from water borne diseases, groundwater depletion and contamination. We are heading towards a major water crisis as per most estimates. If manufacturing is to relocate to India, we will need more water. It also means greater industrial pollution.
We have enough water however we must manage our resources better. River water linking, river and water body cleaning, conservation and regeneration schemes must be undertaken rising above partisanship. This must be combined with pollution and contamination prevention measures. Addressing water problems at a strategic level has huge payoffs in employment, agriculture, health and almost everything. Water sufficiency will be our lifeline. It needs life defining reform.
Our energy security is dependent on fossil fuels. Today oil is dirt cheap. Tomorrow it will not be. Make aggressive moves to secure long term strategic availability of oil. The opportunity is now. Tap solar resources of which there is no lack in India. However the most important element of our energy mix must be Thorium. Thorium reactors are safe. Beaches in Kerala are full of thorium. India is the lead researcher of Thorium. We are already betting big on Thorium. We have an experimental reactor going. Can we hasten it up? We will be in pole position of energy if a balanced and holistic approach is adopted.
Data & Information
The PM says data is the new gold. Why are we not using it like gold? As a nation we are letting it to seed. As a people we are not conscious or aware of its strategic importance. We need to leverage data and information with cyber technology, machine learning, AI, Robotics and other disruptive technologies to become a knowledge-based society.
We have the potential to do so. The opportunity will open with Relocation. The day we get a handle on information and data we will be a world power. The Virus has demonstrated that to us. We are fighting this Virus based on the strength of our data. Data driven solutions are the future.
Achieving strategic independence in defense is a hydra headed problem. The Virus will reduce defense expenditure drastically. Future conflicts will vary in form significantly. Bio warfare will start figuring in discourse. Warfare will be more non-contact and technocentric. Threat perceptions must be reworked afresh. A mass Army is no more affordable. In a Zero-Sum Game, it is a mass (personnel) vs velocity (technology) issue. Need to attain balance by reducing mass.
Import of defense equipment must stop. Period. The Armed Forces must stop being Prima Donnas and get their hands dirty to get what they want. Learn how to modernize with contracting defense budgets. The government on its part must enable the Armed Forces achieve self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency in defense will be the single most important constituent of strategic independence.
The world is on a cusp of change. So is India. However while the world limps back to normalcy, India has the opportunity for greatness. In fact in a way we should thank the Virus. It is forcing us to behave with social consciousness. It is opening new pathways. Our ability to come out on the top from a difficult situation should enthuse us. We need to grasp this opportunity with both hands so that the poorest Indian has a better chance for a brighter future.
In this journey we have a choice to take the easier route and be satisfied with crumbs which will come our way. That will be a monumental and historic failure. The opportunity is not only to gain Strategic Independence through self-sufficiency but to be able to take our rightful place in the comity of nations whether it is in our immediate neighborhood, regional or international arenas. Can we do it? Yes, we can. Will we do it? That is the Challenge.
More than a decade back, I was listening to a Chinese Colonel talk. He was in fact a negotiator of the Chinese Crisis Management organization specially sent to impress and convince the NDC students on the importance and necessity of Sino Indian Co-operation. He kept talking about how great a Sino Indian coupling would be and the need for all of us to go on the same path. He said that it was unique in India that limousines, buses, cycles, bullock carts and pedestrians were all using the same road.
How, even though the transportation means was different the path was the same. He kept repeating this example every few minutes and said that China and India were like that – on the same path. For some time I felt that it was odd that he was repeating the same mundane example. Then it hit me.
The fellow was psyched that a bullock cart, a cycle, bus and a limo could travel on the same road in India. It probably never happens in China. It was beyond his comprehension. Yes sir. That is India’s strength. The ability to take everyone on the same road to a common destiny despite huge diversity in languages, cultures and religions.
We will reach our destiny when we can help our weakest member reach the destination safely. The world in general and in specific China can keep wondering as to how this can happen. In the meantime let us get down to doing it.
Lt. Gen PR Shankar