Reading the full text of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech at the Indian Science Congress annual session at Bhuvaneshwar on Tuesday alongside the Indian media reports on it will sent you into giggles. Most reports cast the speech as a war cry to take on China in the field of science and innovative technology. Very few got the drift of the PM’s speech right. Most cub reporters got it terribly wrong.
Is it that there is something seriously wrong with the grasping power of our reporters due to poor IQ or lack of good education? I don’t think so. Somehow, the Indian media have come to assume that if the establishment mentions China in any context, it must be invariably in a spirit of rivalry. The thesis of the ‘competition-cum-cooperation’ with China, which our pundits have begun enthusiastically expounding (soon after the Americans began using the phraseology), has permeated the popular consciousness.
Before filing the copy from Bhuvaneshwar, our guys could have done some surfing on the internet to see where China figures in comparison with India in the field of innovative technology so that they could somewhat divine what might have been PM’s thought process like.
I have this Economist Intelligence Unit’s report on the subject dated April 2009. Of course, by 2005 in the listing of triadic patents per million population, India was already placed at rank bottom although with an improved standing as compared to ten years ago. China was a shade above India. When the OECD average was 42.97, India’s was 0.12 and China’s 0.27.
But then, India and China also held the world record in population. A better barometer was the international patent index. Here China was evaluated expectedly at 5.67 while India’s stood at 5.14, which was a shade below. PM is right: China began ‘overtaking’ India.
But what struck me really was that both India and China have some solid catching up to do; countries that outstripped them were UK, USA, SWitzerland, Germany, France, Sweden, Netherlands, Spain, Singapore and South Korea. India was stuck in a league that broadly included Russia, China, Brazil and Mexico.
So, why compare with China? Why not with UK, who was our old lord and master? I think PM was rightly pointing out that in the poor man’s league, too, India is increasingly lagging behind.
Now comes the shocking part – global innovation index of 2011. By 2011 China is zooming ahead of India, having reached the 29th spot on the world table, as compared to India’s placement at 62. China has virtually joined the OECD countries while India gets bracketted with Mongolia, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, Guyana, Ukraine, Oman, etc. Is there any scope for harbouring a sense of ‘competition’ with China? Envy, admiration, disbelief, despair – yes. Rivalry? No, Sir.
By the way, what are the inputs that go into innovation inputs index? Don’t get a fit of uncontrollable laughter, but according to one prominent TV channel at least, they boil down to finding the money to make a supercomputer. Whereas, the EIU lists out the following inputs: R&D as percentage of GDP; quality of the local research infrastructure; education of the work force; technical skills of the work force; quality of IT and communications infrastructure; broadband penetration.
In a nutshell, it is a tough proposition. But then, it all boils down to how much money India can find for butter after apportioning generously for the guns. It’s a hard choice between A.K.Antony and Vilasrao Deshmukh. You can’t have the cake and eat it too, can you? Seriously, make the difficult choice at this formative period of India’s ‘take-off’. Want to live like Switzerland? Or, like USSR? It’s up to us. China seems to be able to have the money for butter as well as guns — like Ronald Reagan’s America did. But is it a matter of finding the money alone?
According to the EIU report, the weights for the innovation index is split among the following ‘enviornmental’ conditions: political stability; macroeconomic stability; institutional framework; regulatory enviornment (tax regime, labour market, openness to foreign investment, etc); openness of national culture to foreign influence; popular attitudes to sceientific advancement, and so on. It’s a long haul for India, isn’t it? On the whole, I think PM gave a rosy picture. PM’s speech is here.
– January 4, 2012