Ju­gaad of In­dian in­no­va­tion

Pat­ting our­selves for our abil­ity to ar­rive at makeshift solutions will not take us far

Down to Earth - - MEDIA -

NOTH­ING PER­HAPS sums up In­dia so well as ju­gaad. A Hindi word that means a makeshift so­lu­tion or a cre­ative im­pro­vi­sa­tion, ju­gaad is the sci­ence, art and phi­los­o­phy of what makes In­dia tick. Need a crit­i­cal part for your fancy im­ported wash­ing ma­chine? The re­source­ful elec­tri­cian will do a ju­gaad with a lo­cal thingummy and make it work. Have a prob­lem with your vin­tage car’s ra­di­a­tor? The grease­laden me­chanic will, af­ter ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, come up with a ju­gaad to fix it.

Ju­gaad comes from the ne­ces­sity of having to make do with scarce re­sources, both money and ma­te­rial, and it has shaped the way In­di­ans deal with a va­ri­ety of ev­ery­day sit­u­a­tions. In re­cent years, it has been el­e­vated to the new sci­ence of “fru­gal in­no­va­tion” with man­age­ment ex­perts and aca­demics singing the praises of In­dia’s ju­gaad way of find­ing solutions to prob­lems that en­ter­prises are un­able to ad­dress. Books have been writ­ten about it and some aca­demics have gushed that “ju­gaad of­fers a pow­er­ful way to solve not only In­dia’s ma­jor prob­lems but also the world’s”. Ap­par­ently, it would “come to be seen as In­dia’s unique and en­dur­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the world”. The low-cost Nano car de­vel­oped by Tata Mo­tors is listed as a shin­ing ex­am­ple.

It has taken a while but fi­nally some­one has cut through the hype and put ju­gaad in its place. Raghu­nath Anant Mashelkar, one of In­dia’s top sci­en­tists, told a gath­er­ing in Panaji on July 18 that the coun­try’s im­age has taken a beat­ing be­cause of its pen­chant for mak­ing in­no­va­tions af­ford­able. pti news agency quoted Mashelkar, who re­tired as direc­tor gen­eral, Coun­cil of Sci­en­tific & In­dus­trial Re­search,and sec­re­tary, Depart­ment of Sci­en­tific & In­dus­trial Re­search in 2006, as say­ing: “In the field of in­no­va­tion In­dia’s im­age is bad across the world be­cause of our ten­dency to have ju­gaad, which means get­ting less from less peo­ple. Some­how, cost is the only con­sid­er­a­tion.”

Mashelkar gave vent to his ir­ri­ta­tion with the ten­dency to “some­how fix things”, say­ing tartly that, “I don’t like this.” The in­ter­na­tion­ally re­puted sci­en­tist says the ef­fort in­stead should be to sup­port the idea of “af­ford­able ex­cel­lence” which he has been prop­a­gat­ing but, clearly, with­out much suc­cess. The se­nior bof­fin be­lieves we should be us­ing high tech­nol­ogy to cre­ate prod­ucts that are af­ford­able for ev­ery­one be­cause even the poor, those at the bot­tom of the economic pyra­mid, have the same right to ex­cel­lence in qual­ity that the rest en­joy. This is a sharp swipe at the cult pro­moted by man­age­ment guru C K Pra­ha­lad in 2004 that en­ter­prises should ex­ploit the huge po­ten­tial for cheap prod­ucts to be made for the mil­lions of poor In­di­ans at the bot­tom of the pyra­mid.

Mashelkar’s di­a­tribe came just as the World In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty Or­gan­i­sa­tion re­leased the Global In­no­va­tion In­dex for 2014 that showed In­dia slip­ping 10 places to come in at 76 out of 143 economies. Its vaunted ju­gaad did not help it to im­prove its stand­ing among brics na­tions, the only one of th­ese five coun­tries that did not make any progress in rank­ing over the pre­vi­ous year.The re­port links this to the coun­try’s in­abil­ity to drive the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to pro­duce high-qual­ity hu­man cap­i­tal and to in­te­grate the dif­fer­ent di­men­sions of in­no­va­tion.

It might be rel­e­vant here to point out an of­ten­for­got­ten dis­tinc­tion. Even if In­dia were do­ing nicely on in­no­va­tion, as it thinks it is, it does not make it an in­ven­tive na­tion. In­ven­tion in­volves the cre­ation of new things from new ideas whereas in­no­va­tion is mak­ing im­prove­ments to ex­ist­ing con­cepts. And ju­gaad is a cheaper adap­tion of ex­ist­ing in­no­va­tions. That will not take us very far.

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