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Style must accompany substance: A time for transformational leadership

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It is extraordinary how quickly we believe smart slogans. Advertising and marketing are based precisely on the ability to win subscribers and getting them hooked through language and packaging. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has understood this all too well.

When he spoke of ‘aache din’, he struck an immediate chord of empathy through the contrast with the previous four years. Similarly, his call for Swachh Bharat and Digital India resonated across socio-economic classes. People were hooked. This was political marketing at its best. His ‘Make in India’ was cast in a similar mould.

But marketing gurus are also aware that advertising is not a substitute for the product. Consumers look through gimmickry because man cannot live by slogans alone. The unexpected defeat of the Vajpayee government in 2004 that rode on the crest of the ‘India Shining’ wave ought to be a sobering reminder for the government.

After 18 months of Modi’s government, for most Indians, barring the very rich, happy days continue to be illusory. The economy, which is poised to overtake China, and notch 7.5 percent GDP growth rate, owes much to falling oil prices and to a slowing down of the Chinese economy than to any economic reforms that have eased doing business in India. Taxation policies remain opaque and unpredictable and, thus, a clear disincentive for foreign investors. Even the bizarre retrospective tax, promulgated by the previous government, is yet to be amended.

Furthermore, for the aam aadmi, food prices – whether of onions or pulses – continue to rise. Social sector spending has drastically fallen, especially in health and education. At an entirely different level, even the very social fabric of India stands threatened with ministers and political allies making hugely irresponsible statements and indulging in acts of gross intolerance towards minorities, Dalits and dissenters.

While the central government can, most certainly, take the plea that in a federal polity, it cannot be held accountable for everything that happens throughout the country, it ought to stir, if not shake, the government’s conscience, especially when President Pranab Mukherjee finds it necessary to publicly remind the nation of the idea of India.

Modi’s rise to the prime minister’s post has been dramatic and meteoric. The distinct lack of leadership in the Congress has been helpful and Modi is, undoubtedly, looking at a second term. To achieve that, he most certainly needs to combine vision with strategy and decision making. If he would like India to emerge as an economic powerhouse, he needs to outline the roadmap as to how this would be achieved.

Consider his flagship ‘Make in India’ programme, as an illustrative example. The shift from ‘made’ to ‘make’ was meant to woo foreign investors to make India a manufacturing base. But neither quality assurance nor skill development received the urgency that making in India requires. For foreign investors, this is clearly a major drawback. Nor indeed has the government outlined the tax incentives that foreign investors would enjoy should they decide to make in India. Ministries continue to be unclear on the contours of the programme because it is yet to be publicly outlined to establish that it is in conformity with global trade rules. Unless there is visible clarity, the programme is destined to become a slogan.

Consider, for instance, that Japan has offered a soft loan for $15 billion to finance India’s first bullet train on the condition that 30 percent of equipment, including coaches and locomotives, are bought from Japanese firms and manufactured in Japan. Japan and Singapore, similarly, are likely to be involved in developing Amravati, the new capital of Andhra Pradesh. Undoubtedly, the financial assistance Japan offers would be linked to purchase of equipment from Japanese companies. Mercedes recently announced that it is planning an expansion of its manufacturing facility in Pune but has asked the Maharashtra government for tax concessions. More interesting is the fact that the bronze cladding for the memorial to Sardar Patel would be manufactured in China. So, where precisely would the government draw the line on making in India?

Modi’s advocacy of transforming India into a manufacturing hub can be exciting and most certainly gets us all hooked. After all, if it could happen – and there is no reason as to why it cannot – jobs would be created, foreign investment would flow in and economic growth would receive a substantial boost.

There is, however, a legitimate ‘however’. None of the above is likely unless a clear and transparent policy framework is outlined. Furthermore, the government needs focus, clarity and speed of execution. Additionally, it is important for us to be candid in our assessment of quality assurance and skill availability in India at present. No international brand is likely to stake its reputation on poor manufacturing. The series of crashes of Indian manufactured Dhruv helicopters in Ecuador and subsequent bad press demonstrates that Indian manufacturing is yet to meet international benchmarks.

As a contrast, take the case of Vietnam. It has a clear strategy on how it ought to approach its comparative advantage of a young workforce and low wages to produce garments and sportswear for international brands. Over a dozen industrial parks have come up that have already attracted considerable foreign investment. It is only a matter of time before Vietnam emerges as the next manufacturing hub in the textile sector. Additionally, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, once ratified, is anticipated to further enhance Vietnam’s international appeal. Her secret is clarity and transparency in legislation coupled with urgency in governmental execution. In short, vision is followed up with strategy. This appears to be clearly lacking in India.

The ‘Make in India’ example illustrates how the government has not backed its slogans with action, or vision with strategy. Over the past 18 months, the quality of life has not improved. Indeed, many would say that there has been a perceptive decline, especially in governance. When senior ministers and party functionaries label dissent as being ‘manufactured’ or ‘selective’ or ‘pseudo-secularism’, it only diminishes the government and, worse, it attacks the very core of democracy itself.

Modi needs to urgently recognize that his persistent silence is likely to be construed either as utter disregard for alternate voices or an inability of getting his own voice heard by his party colleagues. He can protect the stature and dignity of his chair only through an unambiguous condemnation of the incidents that are dividing the people. To be perceived as a national leader, he needs to make the transition from Chief Minister to Prime Minister.

The next elections are not that distant. While the Congress is in disarray at present and bound to the apron strings of the Gandhi household, it is not inconceivable that elections could see the party split and the emergence of a new challenger.

Modi and his team would, undoubtedly, heed the lessons of the Vajpayee defeat that slogans might win elections the first time around but consumers learn to avoid a bad product when it fails to meet expectations. It is hoped that he will demonstrate genuine leadership and translate his promises into action.

His reputation is dramatically flagging, even in the international space. As The Economist brutally put it, his governance style can now be summed up with the words, ‘Lights, camera… inaction!’ Style matters only when accompanied by substance.

Mr Prime Minister, a huge mandate was given to you to realize the aspirations of the Indian people. It can happen only when you realize that you are Prime Minister of all Indians. This lies at the core of transformational thinking and thus, leadership. Many call it the tipping point.

(Amit Dasgupta is a former diplomat and author of “Lessons from Ruslana: In Search of Transformative Thinking”, published by Harper Collins. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at amit.dasgupta@spjain.org)

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Facebook Introduces Digital Training and Start-up hubs in India to Promote Digital Economy

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Facebook launched digital training in India
Facebook launched digital training in India.Pixaby.

New Delhi, Nov 23: Facebook on Wednesday introduced its digital training and start-up training hubs in India aimed at helping small businesses and people grow by giving them the digital skills they need to compete in today’s digital economy.

Facebook said it plans to train more than half a million people in the country by 2020 through these online training hubs, which are being rolled out first in India.

The learning curriculum which is personalised to the individual’s needs and available in English and Hindi on mobile, the social network, which is used by 217 million people in India, announced.

“We believe the best way to prepare India for a digital economy is by equipping people with the tools, knowledge, and skills they need to succeed,” said Ritesh Mehta, Head of Programmes, Facebook, India and South Asia.

To develop the learning curriculum, the social network worked with several organisations, including Digital Vidya, Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDII), DharmaLife and the government’s StartupIndia initiative.

The curriculum includes vital skills for digital skill seekers and tech entrepreneurs, including how to protect their ideas, how to hire, how to go about getting funding, what regulations and legal hurdles they need to consider, how to build an online reputation, and a host of other critical skills.

This could mean teaching a small business owner how to create an online presence; helping a non-profit reach new communities and potential donors; or it could mean helping a tech entrepreneur turn their product idea into a startup through practical business advice.

Facebook said its digital training hub would provide free social and content marketing training for anyone – from students to business owners – who is looking to develop their digital knowledge and skills.

According to new research by Morning Consult in partnership with Facebook, small businesses use of digital translates into new jobs and opportunities for communities across the country.

Since 2011 Facebook has invested more than $1 billion to support small businesses globally.

The “Boost Your Business” and “SheMeansBusiness” initiatives have trained more than 60,000 small businesses, including 12,000 women entrepreneurs, in India, Facebook said. (IANS)

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Will India be able to travel in the Bullet Train Soon? Yes, Say Railway Officials; Indian Railways Target Completing the Project Before the August 2022 Deadline

The foundation stone for the Rs 1.08 lakh crore ($17 billion) 508-km Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train was laid in Ahmedabad by Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on September 14

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Bullet Train
Railway Board Chairman held a high-level meeting in Rail Bhavan last Thursday which was attended by Japanese Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu, and Niti Aayog Vice Chairman. (representative image) Wikimedia

New Delhi, November 10, 2017 : Unfazed by opposition criticism, Indian Railways is working overtime to push ahead with the much-talked about the “Bullet Train” project, aiming to complete it ahead of the August 2022 deadline set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani, who has a reputation of a turnaround man, has taken up the task of monitoring and chairing the periodic review meetings of the project that is estimated to cost over Rs 1 lakh crore ($15 billion).

Lohani held a high-level meeting in Rail Bhavan last Thursday which was attended by Japanese Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu, Niti Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar, Central government officials, Principal Secretary-rank officials of Gujarat and Maharashtra, officials of NHSRCL (National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited), officials of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the General Manager of Western Railway.

A senior railway board member, requesting anonymity, told IANS, “The railways is in no mood to delay the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train project. Lohani will now hold a review meeting once every three months… And even on weekly basis, if required.”

Emphasising on the government’s intention, the official said, “The attendance of the Niti Aayog Vice Chairman, the Japanese Ambassador and the CRB in the review meeting is a clear signal that the government is taking the project seriously and there is no scope for any delay.”

“The CRB wants Indian Railway officials to take lessons from their Japanese counterparts about meeting deadlines,” he said.

The opposition has attacked the government for taking up a project at a huge cost instead of focusing on safety, a dire need of the time, and on schemes to improve passenger amenities.

The official said it was also decided at the meeting that “a road map for consultancy and civil engineering works will be prepared by January 2018”.

A ministry official associated with the Bullet Train project said a report on the signalling system and electrical reports would be ready by April 2018. According to him, the tracks and most of the signalling system would be brought from Japan.

The foundation stone for the Rs 1.08 lakh crore ($17 billion) 508-km Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train was laid in Ahmedabad by Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on September 14.

Of the Rs 1.08 lakh crore, Japan is giving a loan of Rs 88,000 crore at a minimal interest of 0.1 per cent for 50 years. And the repayment will begin only after 15 years.

The railway official said that to encourage the Prime Minister’s ambitious ‘Make in India’ programme, “an appeal will be made to Indian and Japanese companies to make use the opportunity to work together”.

Meanwhile, the officials of the government of Maharashtra and Gujarat assured the railways of their help in land acquisition and smooth shifting of raw materials to construction venues.

A three-level monitoring committee was also constituted, including the Vice Chairman of Niti Ayog and Special Advisor to Japanese Prime Minister.

A working group led by Managing Director of NHSRCL Achal Khare and consisting of representatives of the ministries concerned, and the representative of JICA, has been formed. Besides the two committees, a technical expert committee led by the Managing Director of NHSRCL has also been formed.

Of the 508 km stretch, 92 per cent (468 km) of the route will be elevated, six per cent (27 km) will be in tunnels and the remaining two per cent (13 km) will be on the ground .

The high-speed train would also pass through the country’s longest tunnel of 21 km, of which seven km will be under the sea.

Twelve stations have been proposed that include Mumbai, Thane, Virar, Boisar, Vapi, Bilimora, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Ahmedabad and Sabarmati.

The distance will be covered in two hours and seven minutes if the train stops at four stations — Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Mumbai. If the train stops at all 12 stations, it will cover the distance in two hours and fifty-eight minutes.

According to Railway Ministry officials, the operating speed of the bullet train would be 320 kmph and the maximum speed would be 350 kmph.

 

(Editorial note : This article has been written by Anand K. Singh and was first published by IANS. Anand can be contacted at can be contacted at anand.s@ians.in)

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With 100% FDI, Narendra Modi calls Food Sector a Priority in Make in India Programme

Modi said India with its rich legacy of spices could provide solutions and offer a win-win partnership as the world was becoming increasingly averse to the use of artificial colours, chemicals and preservatives.

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Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Wikimedia

New Delhi, November 3, 2017 : Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said the food sector that allows 100 per cent foreign investment was the priority in the government’s ambitious Make In India programme.

Launching a three-day global conference on the food industry here, Modi said food processing was an age old practice in India and simple, home-based techniques like fermentation had resulted in the creation of our famous pickles, papads, chutneys and murabbas that now excite both the elite and the masses across the world.

He said the government had taken a range of transformational initiatives to make the country most preferred investment destination in this sector.

It is priority sector in our ‘Make in India’ programme. 100 per cent Foreign Direct Investment is now permitted for trading including through e-commerce of food products manufactured or produced in India, Modi told the World Food India conference that will see the participation of over 2,000 delegates from 200 companies from some 30 countries.

Apart from representatives of 28 states, it will also see participation of 18 ministerial and business delegations, nearly 50 global CEOs along with heads of all leading domestic food processing companies.

Modi said a single-window facilitation cell provided hand-holding for foreign investors and there were attractive fiscal incentives from the Union and state governments.

Loans to food and agro-based processing units and cold chains are classified under priority sector lending, making them easier and cheaper to obtain, the Prime Minister said.

Modi said the recently launched unique portal – Nivesh Bandhu (investor’s friend) – would bring together information on central and state government policies and incentives provided for the food processing sector.

He said private sector participation had increased in many segments of the value chain but sought more investment in contract farming, raw material sourcing and creating agri linkages.

There were opportunities in post-harvest management such as primary processing and storage, preservation infrastructure, cold chain and refrigerated transportation, the Prime Minister asserted.

There is immense potential for food processing and value addition, especially in niche areas such as organic and fortified foods.

Modi said India with its rich legacy of spices could provide solutions and offer a win-win partnership as the world was becoming increasingly averse to the use of artificial colours, chemicals and preservatives.

Modi said the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sampada Yojana aimed at creating world class food processing infrastructure was expected to leverage investment of $5 billion, benefit two million farmers and generate more than half a million jobs over the next three years.

Narendra Modi said the government was planning to link agro-processing clusters with production centres through Mega Food Parks, which will offer immense value proposition in crops such as potato, pineapple, oranges and apples.

Minister of Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal in her address said agreements worth $10 billion were expected to be signed during the three-day global event.

Our demand of food is set to double over the next five years. Being six largest food and grocery market in the world, India is a destination that merits global attention in the food sector.

She said there was a need to wage war on food waste to ensure adequate food for all and to avoid a food crisis as the world’s population was set to increase by 25 per cent and the demand for food by 50 per cent by 2050. (IANS)