Breathtaking, or Out of Breath?
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