IT Beyond General Elections
Asoke K. Laha,
President & MD, Interra IT
In less than two months’ time, a lot will happen in Indian political landscape. Foremost is the new government, which will assume office, no matter which party or coalition forms the government. If the government led by the present alliance comes to power, one can expect continuation of the same policies. Perhaps, there may be change in the focus or priorities based on vast experiences that they had accumulated over the last five years or so. If on the other hand, a different party or coalition comes to power, will there be any change in the approach regarding policies towards information technology?
My guess is that there will not be. The reason is not far to seek. Our commitment and focus towards IT are irreversible. No one can put the pendulum back. Every political party can take credit for pushing information technology to the center stage. Not only that, everyone is taking advantage of IT to promote their cause, interests, candidates and to galvanize their manifesto so much so that the election watchdog in India has come with a set of do’s and don’ts for political parties. It has instructed the internet companies like Facebook, Goggle, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram to be circumspect about the trolls and other messages that are frequently forwarded. Some of them have installed filters to weed out such messages. Some political parties are using Predictive Analytics to predict and target potential voters. As the election process is gaining ground and still there is more than one month for the process to reach its logical end, one can expect not only war in the cyber media but also massive cleaning up operations by the internet providers.
Let me go back to the main theme: what will be the prospects of IT under various dispensations. My analysis is just only illustrative and I do not venture to go for an apocalyptical prediction. For analytical sake, I am, presuming three scenarios. One, the existing government comes back into power with various configurations of alliances and support base. In that case, one can hear more about Digital India, Smart India, internet India and things like that. One can vouch that in the last five years or so, a lot has been done about connecting people digitally. Admittedly, a lot of financial transactions are taking place through the cashless medium. Not only that, cashless transactions are happening in tier 2 and 3 cities, which were earlier confined to metros only a few years back. Net penetration is increasing thanks to more awareness of the people coupled with the efforts of the government to create a strong digital infrastructure. It is a fact that mobile phones, which were imported in large numbers some two years back, are now being made in India thanks to the Make in India program initiated by the government. For the first time in India, the electronic goods imports have recorded less than the domestic production. It is a major achievement. More so, it can bode well for India since it is committed to take electronics sector in the same league as the software sector. There are a few other areas also that need mention, which the present government can list as their achievement.
Now, let me turn to the second possibility: a government formed by the main opposition party -Congress on their own or with post election allies. Some people believe that it was during the successive Congress–led governments, IT had received the type of priority it deserved. In 1980s, Rajiv Gandhi had confronted stiff opposition, when he introduced computers in India. Yet, he managed to do so through sheer determination and I would say pragmatism. Why I mentioned this is that earlier to that, during the Janata Party government, we know how the IBM was shunted out from India mainly driven by the misplaced apprehension that it would lead to loss of employment. Now, IT is looked upon as a force multiplier of employment and an effective tool for inclusive growth.
The Congress government is also credited with giving importance to technocrats to rule the roost. We know the far-reaching changes made by technocrat Sam Pitorda and Nandan Nilekini in revolutionizing telecom sector and digitization in India. Now, according to some estimates, arithmetically every Indian has more than one telephone connection. We know how mobile phones have transformed the lives of common man; the way he does business, transacts, buy provisions and what have you. Later, some years after, Congress government has introduced the unique identification number for every citizen, which works in the digital platform so also many other devices that ensures transfer of subsidies, auction platforms, GST network etc., which later has been horned up by the succeeding BJP government.
What I am trying to drive home is that there is meeting of minds as far as the BJP and Congress are concerned on the digital domain. Rather, I would say their polices in many counts are similar, though apparently, they try to make people realize they are different.
If a BJP led government is voted into power, can they shy away from the universal income program promised by the Congress on the ground that it would lead to fiscal profligacy? They cannot do so. They have to match the promises made by the Congress, if not improve upon that. Otherwise, they will be distancing from the masses since this single scheme of minimum income has ignited the expectations of the people and no government however popular it may be, cannot distance itself from this program.
In another likely event of a non-BJP and non-Congress government coming into power what would be fate of IT? Here I must say that IT is secular in the sense that it is neither a pro-reform nor an anti-thesis to reform.
I feel that India will continue to enjoy a conducive environment for the growth of the IT industry and no government in power will tweak the policies to give less importance to IT. Secondly, IT landscape has changed much in the recent years with the induction of artificial intelligence and robotics. Yet, we are late in realizing this global change. That has affected our off-shore contracts and business outsourcing markets. Many jobs, which were earlier carried out by man is replaced by machine, through Internet of Things (IOTs). Our capabilities in these disciplines are mostly to be seen in papers than on the ground. Now experts are debating who would unleash first 5G-whether China or US. Available statistics indicate that Huwaei of China may pipe Qualcomm in the bargain. However, one has to keep the fingers crossed. The sad commentary is that nowhere in the game, India’s name is mentioned though we claim to be the third largest IT power in the world. Yes, we are the third, but a distant third.
I have always maintained that I am an incorrigible optimist. Setbacks and hiccups, I treat as part of the game. India has the strength to build on the IT power. Despite our shortcomings in a few areas, we have the potential to overcome the hurdles to touch newer heights in IT. We should accept and absorb the best technologies, even if they come at a higher cost. We should set our goal in innovation, creating a national pride in research and development.