Breath­tak­ing, or Out of Breath?

The Economic Times - - Breaking Ideas - Chi­ran­tan Chat­ter­jee

At a re­cent con­fer­ence on in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty (IP) and in­no­va­tion in Europe, one of my pol­icy col­leagues from Switzer­land on be­ing asked about how the world shall achieve har­mon­i­sa­tion of IP across na­tions, quipped, “We will get there. Let’s not quib­ble how or what are the tastes and pref­er­ences here of Hin­dus and Chris­tians for in­no­va­tion and IP.” I didn’t ex­pect re­li­gion com­ing in at this con­fer­ence un­her­alded. But, voilà, it did.

Sep­a­rately in off­line con­ver­sa­tions, col­leagues from Spain, France, Ger­many and the US ex­pressed con­cern about how things are now back in Chandi­garh where I re­side, given the re­cent chaos un­leashed be­cause of a ‘Guru’.

As I fin­ished my panel on IP and ac- cess to medicines, an­other col­league asked me as to how long I thought In­dia will use weak IP as an ex­cuse for its de­te­ri­o­rat­ing na­tional health in­fra­struc­ture. She had read about the death of chil­dren in Ut­tar Pradesh and the non­cha­lant re­ac­tion of many In­dian pol­i­cy­mak­ers to it. It was dif­fi­cult for me to counter her ar­gu­ments.

Then there was an­other col­league who pulled out a rab­bit from the hat, talk­ing macroe­co­nomics and the con­se­quences of what he saw as an “in­sane and heart­less pol­icy ex­per­i­ment with de­mon­eti­sa­tion”. Wish In­dia was as strong with an IP regime, in­cen­tivis­ing in­no­va­tive ideas, jobs, kick-start­ing the econ­omy and erad­i­cat­ing the neg­a­tive ex­ter­nal­i­ties of the lack (or out­dat­ing) of skills, solv­ing un­em­ploy­ment as a re­sult, he noted. I was tempted to carry on the con­ver­sa­tion, but I moved on.

The drift in na­tional pol­icy cir­cles seems to be con­tin­u­ing to­wards more of pol­icy-based ev­i­dence, rather than ev­i­dence-based pol­icy. A bunch of th­ese poli­cies, where ev­i­dence is ar­riv­ing ex post (about their per­verse wel­fare ef­fects), are not go­ing through course cor­rec­tions it seems. And herein, the most wist­ful ex­pe­ri­ence comes from in­ter­act­ing with fel­low Chi­nese col­leagues.

They see peo­ple like me bris­tle a bit, well al­most, chat po­litely there­after, and then walk away know­ing per­haps what In­dia is go­ing through in their great re­forms, or should I say trans­for­ma­tion. ‘We have seen the losses of to­day start dom­i­nat­ing the prom­ises of gains from to­mor­row with our Great Leap For­ward,’ they seem to sug­gest, wish­ing me luck in si­lence.

In a few weeks, In­dia pre­pares to cel­e­brate the 149th birth­day of Mo­han­das Gandhi. One is then re­minded of what Rabindranath Tagore, who named him the ‘Ma­hatma’, men­tioned in 1924 dur­ing his first talk at Shang­hai, “A poet’s mis­sion is to at­tract the voice which is yet in­audi­ble in the air; to in­spire faith in the dream which is un­ful­filled; to bring the ear­li­est tid­ings of the un­born flower to a scep­tic world.”

We are not all po­ets, but we are all still prob­a­bly aware of ‘Va­sud­haiva Ku­tum­bakam’ — the world is one fam­ily — de­spite tu­mult ev­ery­where. The is­sues are all known, be that in so­cial and eco­nomic in­equal­ity, po­lit­i­cal up­heavals, cli­mate change, im­mi­gra­tion, ter­ror­ism or rogue na­tions. And they are no less in In­dia.

Like it once did with non-vi­o­lence, will the coun­try be able to shake off its evolv­ing rep­u­ta­tion and show a new way for­ward? As an op­ti­mistic so­cial sci­en­tist, I am hope­ful as one awaits ev­i­dence-based cred­i­ble re­sponses.

The writer teaches eco­nomics and pub­lic pol­icy, In­dian School of Busi­ness

Hold on, I see move­ment in the Indies

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