Utthisht Bharat,’ He said, and in that magical moment I felt that the river, the trees, and the sky…were saying, ‘Utthisht Bharat.’ I got up, never to look back or have doubts again.
10 years ago, when I wrote those lines in my book, ‘The diary of a Snake charmer’, it was about lifting myself.
A decade has been spent trying to understand what is Bharat, and how do we make it the beautiful and happy place again for the masses – A place where folks experience the beauty of life and are so thankful for it that they give back more than they want; their aspirations are all for humanity and nation first, and then for themselves.
On the contrary we see so much low end and short term labor migration within our country which beats any other human flows in the world. Most of this migration is not a call from high end opportunities but a search for any livelihood. The state of animals and the attitude towards them is pathetic. So is the case of trees and forests.
The spirit of enterprise that lived in a poor man's hut is broken. First it was the decade of Jugaad, and we proudly boasted of it, but it was a precursor to total dependence. A farmer wants his children to find some job - the risks of his profession or any business are too many and leads to a life of submission to those who could find a government job.
A nation cannot be more than the spirit of enterprise in that poor hut. All its value systems, the civility and stability, arise from the most impoverished.
Can we go from here to the Bharat that we dream of? It is not a gradual step as promised by annual GDP growths but a massive transformation. I believe this transformation can happen very fast in a few years if the shovel comes to the push.
Covid-19 is just a small push to make us move. It shall open many eyes - assets will tumble, air castles will vanish.
But this is also beginning of a new day. And we can make it count without fear and greed.
The country will now be presented with 2 opposite options:
Chase the present model - resource aggregation and control aggregation. This suits bureaucracy and weak leaders. Given the current fiscal and monetary weakness of the economy, the way to get out of stranglehold is forming regulations that give away assets to outsiders. The unusual term for that is deregulation and liberalization. It does both, but for those with resources to support the governments.
In my view this is a catastrophic path - one bondage leads to another.
Trust what power this country has held as pristine and is omnipresent. Let it work - deregulate and liberalize. Trust our old food processes, health and education systems, the poor household's products.
Do not strangulate them with policies, laws and regulations of British era. Enable that energy, don't enforce the bureaucratic understanding.
If we try to keep those, a heavy price shall have to be paid to dominant economic powers for their help; hence it is a catastrophic path and toady presents an inflection point.
I am a firm believer and have expressed it the article 'Bharat Darshan' that the path to such massive transformation goes through self and sajjan shakti. At the same time, the material world of economy and systems can also take the required steps in that direction. These steps shall have to be pushed with due understanding of why we are doing this, and all obstacles overcome.
Bharat was and can be the place for widespread entrepreneurship, and I feel that we are just letting the window of this great opportunity pass. The strength of this opportunity shall fade as we lose more of our nature, the huge widespread human knowledge in the form of skills, recipes, craftsmanship, local resource knowledge e.g. herbs, seasons, etc.
Recently, I saw an interview of a senior politician and a bureaucrat together that how they will connect multitude of rural industries to Ecommerce platforms. This was in the wake of the economic weakness caused by the Corona virus.
That only explains the gap between the two ends of economy- one a poor hut and one the high offices.
The reality is that village after village, there is hardly any household or small scale Unit run and owned locally that produces anything worthwhile to be sold online. There are a few owned, designed and executed by those who have linkages to higher consuming population, and village is a place for cheaper resources.
If we look at figures from GDP standpoint, probably each unit/ village is a positive contributor. But the story from a Net value added and realization of that Net value added, is not just dismal, but negative. It has lead to low end migrations, transfer of assets to rich, and exploitation of natural resources. There is no other truth.
The laws and machinery is all there to protect an idiotic formula called Cola, which also has an staggering insurance to it. Even rivers can be compromised to this concept.
On the other hand, much more pristine drinks like Bael, Mahua, etc, have not found any backers. The entire governing machinery with cumulative and distributed genius, has no idea how to make them mainstream. Instead, cumbersome process and licence laws have been made to dissuade such products.
The reasons are evident - it is impossible to exercise control over an omnipresent resource. Businesses like entry barriers, control and pay if the governments can help them with it.
In such a scenario, how do we take the small scale or hut from a negative share to a higher positive share in the value chain of consumption?
I will use a simple SWOT analysis to think:
The weaknesses aligned against the hut enterprise are many:
- The skills, resources, opportunity of a poor family are far inferior to a corporate planner, and that has created deep scars in the mind and psychology over decades; they have stopped thinking of any enterprise.
- The erosion of skills with irrelevant education has meant that the risks of their enterprise are very high; there is little substitute pool available, and almost no succession planning. Hence increasing the failure and closure risks and the cost of capital.
- The disconnect with consuming markets. Unlike old times, the chain of interactions, consumer behavior, is broken between consumers and prospective hut producer. Just a few items like raw vegetables make the cut.
Yet, we need not despair. The hut enterprises have many unrecognized strengths, some of them are gifts of modern times:
- For each industrially consumer product, there were equivalent natural products in foods, clothes, colors, crafts and personal consumption space. The skewed policies mean that industrial products were never charged for degradation of nature and human health. Even with that skewed policy, now these superior natural products have reached such a value spread that remote logistics is no longer a problem.
- The knowledge to produce the above products is omnipresent in senior population.
- The technology in many cases has reached a point where the cost of small scale distributed operations is on same scale as a large concentrated one e.g. Communication.
- Then there are technologies which are still marginally costlier on a small scale, but these were never available before e.g. Small solar cold storage, precision equipments, etc. In case of a value shift to small scale production, costs of such technologies can be easily included.
- The financial markets are almost efficient i.e. they assess and optimize capital costs very fast.
The opportunities that are on the horizon in this era are:
- The social and health costs of exploiting nature are evident now. The base of ‘ green and sustainable’ consumption is very small at present but in decades to come, even if laws do not respect it, this shall remain the fastest growing consumption segment. It is easy for small scale production to quickly transform itself as market develops.
- With the help of the above, the small scale can produce ‘higher’ quality products in many segments; it is quite contrary and in fact detrimental to relegate small scale to inferior or low cost products.
- The economic advantage of industrial ‘scale economics’ is now reduced to licensed grabbing of resources, along with no cost for social and natural exploitation. All such consumption can be easily moved back to distributed local productions.
- The economic advantage of industrial mono-farming has also evaporated. The cost of wasted and polluted water alone is an annual unrecognized cost. Some of it does not convert to monetary cost in short term but the sustained health cost is already on the horizon. Hence, we are in a position to quickly become the world’s natural farming and medicine basket. But it can happen with establishment of ancillary units in the villages itself, as natural farms work differently than industrial farms.
- With due policies, a lot of domestic consumption can be dis-aggregated. It will lead to higher value share of village units, better environment and lower social stress.
The threats to this paradigm are also ominous:
- Any beginning of change is prone to be disrupted by established interests.
- While the technology, financial and core infrastructure and consumption patterns are ready to start this move, the legal roadblocks remain. The laws are either pre-independence in origin and hence very repressive of independent units , or have become too cumbersome in process. For example, to take a simple soap license, a graduate with Chemistry is required. One can add map every product to some ‘out of time’ regulation. Villages are not equipped to handle such requests. Such archaic and cumbersome requirements, along with draconian penalties and reporting procedures are to be done away with completely. Today’s markets are connected enough to work with least possible regulations. Similar simplicity is required in financial reporting too.
- Governments will have to re-imagine how to organise taxes, as such a direction would lead to more local self production; shall reduce the GDP and associated transactions. At the same time, governments shall be much less burdened with welfare spend. When wealth was widespread and even, it was the preferred mode and panchayat or similar units were the tax aggregators, and local level plan makers. Distributed or value added taxation is also not a new concept, though politicians and bureaucrats avoid it as any dilution of power to collect and distribute also removes dishonest utilization and favors. Hence, it is more about enablement of such systems.
The markets, economy and ecology have momentum of their own. They have moved ahead and present an opportunity to bring a share of consumption value to the last man.
When we consider above, the most important role is now for legislature to play. The mantra has to be Enablement and not Enforcement or Control.
It is time to reduce regulatory overload, simplify monitoring and reporting and set up Process enabling units. It also means doing away with those departments and policies which tend to guide or force the direction –they have never worked earlier, and in these times, they won’t even have a place.
Let markets and opportunities alone decide for a common man. Let us trust traditional methods, modernize them, test them, accredit them, but do not block them.
Given the only play left, it will inevitably turn back Bharat to natural and with distributed wealth.
A different economic paradigm need a different education pattern too. Almost like advanced countries, or like our old times, whichever way one looks at it, the focus of education shall be on relevant skills. The skills could be primary ones like reading to writing to higher ones like analytics. It would not be on information and mass tests.
This means home shall be the pre-dominant school and helped by community run programs where learning is on the work. The focus early on shall be on building value system, working and learning habits.
Technology is already there where other than deep experimental courses, there is now no need to limit the admissions in any manner be it reservations or entrances. Let folks enter, but only deserving and devoted scholars will pass through to the next stage. Already some courses like CA follow that pattern.
Hence there is no denial of any opportunity or aspirations, but let the individual herself decide the best course within the capacity and interest. We will need to make the infrastructure so that opportunity is omnipresent.
The Gandhian thought of each home being a primary healthcare system, is now due to be realized. The current centralized healthcare system is not only too expensive but also very exploitative.
It is argued that the modern medical research needs a lot of money that comes from this aggregated healthcare system, but the fact is that even if all the research budgets of genuine laboratories are combined, it would be pittance in front of how much profiteering is being done.
Genuine research can be easily funded by a small charge in lieu of freeing up governments and public from this parasitic industry.
The path to that comes alongwith relevant education in households, strong training of natural cures and lifestyles, getting back natural diversity and lifestyle. In a way, it is tied closely to other ingredients of a Distributed economy and education.
It shall certainly reduce the primary healthcare burden and even reduce cases that need advanced surgical or medical care. This volume load and hence demand-supply gap resulting in higher cost, is crushing the poor and middle class.
In my view, the segregation of urban, rural and forest life, was a terrible error. Urban did not have to be devoid of nature and vast populations subject to living a life so unusual if one sees how all other life lives. Rural did not have to be an industrial food production area, subject to lowest value in the scheme of things. And forests were not supposed to be away from human life and containment areas for wild.
I have lived in a forested farm for more than a decade; so I can tell from first hand experience. It is as usual as an urban life sans crowds, malls and commute. There is no longer a need to exercise separately as a lot of works are owned but there is ample time to do them.
Most small towns that are widespread are still good urban models.
Merged urban-rural-forest models shall have to go with the Economic, Education and Healthcare models that gel with that lifestyle.
Meaning of development:
It does not mean aggregating useless material items that have limited use in lives and society. Faulty humans shall come and go. A strongly rooted civilization has the ability to identify their greed and fear and tendency to live off others, and not let them become a symbol of human progress.
These five aspects, briefly defined, cover the important material directions of change. They shall be helped by more adoption of the Bharat Darshan, and in turn help the establishment of a Bharat of our dreams.