Traditionally, Bharat has had a long history of innovation in mathematics, metallurgy, engineering, medicine, science, astrology, and various other fields. To maintain secular feelings amongst its citizens modern education in India has completely minimized or ignored the glorious Indic achievements. Growing up, majority of the Indians are not made aware of the great contributions of Aryabhata in mathematics, Sushruta in medicine and surgery, Patanjali in Yoga, mining zinc, constructing rust proof iron, and many more. Spread across various states, India is also home to some of the greatest architectural and scientific monuments in the world, mostly in the form of temples, forts, Sun dial, and palaces. Today, modern technology with all the latest tools, we humans cannot even begin to comprehend building such amazingly beautiful, architecturally rich monuments using just basic tools and materials, such as limestones, granites, marbles, and other naturally available resources. By nature, we humans always strive to improve our lifestyle by making steady progress from the past to present in all aspects of life, such as agriculture, food, medicine, and technology, either through trial and error, or research and development, or both. Today, compared to the West, for the last several centuries, India has made very little progress in most areas of life. We can always appreciate our glorious past, but that has not provided modern Indians any impetus or motivation to make any significant contribution to the basic necessities of life within India.
I first arrived in USA as a student almost 30 years ago, before the advent of the internet age, and most of us subscribed to the listserv groups that catered to Indians mainly focusing on the food, politics, social, and spiritual aspect of the culture. Among many such messages, a couple of them focused on the major contributions by Indian diaspora in various fields. The messages would mention various statistics such as, 40% Indians work for NASA, 50% are in Intel, 60% are in IBM, 40% in Microsoft, 40% as doctors, and so on. In academia too, there are large percentage of students and professors of Indian origin. Quoted percentages are from my memory, and they may be different today. After reading such messages most Indians felt very proud that they represent a large percentage of workforce in these major industries. This implied that Indians are the most intelligent and smartest immigrants. This was supported by various articles that appeared once in a while in some of the mainstream news media about Indians being the 2nd or the 3rd richest group of immigrants.
Some Indians would proudly state that, besides India, no other country has achieved so much progress since independence. This was another ego booster statement. We know from experience and through media, that this was a false statement. South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, and many other Asian countries got independence during the same time period as India did, and they have made far better progress in several areas of life.
Because Indians occupy the highest positions and the cover the largest employee payroll in several of these leading multinational industries, this false sense of pride has given some of us an air of superiority. Still there are was something bothersome. If we are that smart and intelligent people, why has our native country not made any progress. Why is India lagging behind many other South East Asian countries in every area of life, such as highways, cleanliness, technology, infrastructure, manufacturing goods, and many more? With this paradox, I started doing this self-enquiry.
One explanation I got from our so-called Indian intelligentsia was that India has a large population, politicians are corrupt, there is no unity, no unified language, lack of capital, and on and on and on. Just excuses. During the software boom, there was a headline article in the Time or Newsweek magazine that stated how the software outsourcing will flourish India with lots of capital, and make it a super power within a decade. If one of the prestigious magazines makes that kind of bold statement, maybe it must be true. Still, you wonder, can any country be called a super power with just the capital generated by exporting human resources? Doesn’t super power consider progress in other areas, such as in agriculture, manufacturing, infrastructure, communications, defense, health, living conditions, and overall quality of life? But reading that article gave sense of pride. Why not? The word super power sounds cool. I don’t know what that word means, but the label, super power, makes you proud.
Most Indians cruised along in life with this false notion of belonging to a culture of smart and intelligent class of people, making great contributions. Some of us were already thinking highly of themselves. I was wondering whether it is the proudness or the inferiority complex within Hindus that is making us spread these self-aggrandizing statements about our contributions to the West, especially in USA, to compensate for our low self-esteem? In subsequent sections, I shall explore this further, and see whether we are truly smart and intelligent beings as claimed by these statements.
Then in year 2000, I came across very interesting articles that were posted online by Shree Rajiv Malhotra on Indic studies, such as RISA Lila and many others. These articles focused on a totally different set of issues that faced Hindu diaspora, such as academic hinduphobia, decolonizing Hindu minds, distortion of Indian history, Hindu identity, and more. These articles were an eye opener for ignorant Hindus living in USA as it provided great insights on the way we Hindus are represented by the western academic scholars, western media. The articles spoke about things we always wanted to say but never did, for either having a lack of courage or being wrong, or both. These articles brought some new insights from the author and surfaced those underlying issues that were the always agitating the minds of educated Hindus.
Ever since that year, I have been reading all the articles and books written by Shree Rajiv Malhotra. As a follower of Sanatana Dharma, these articles provided great impetus and courage to introspect our Hindu psyche like it had never done before. Shree Rajiv Malhotra’s commentaries provoked many Hindus, including myself in doing some deep introspection of our own culture, our mindset, examining our current behaviors, our deep-rooted inferiority complex, and challenging our very existence as who we are.
Based on these articles, and also based on the false perception of India’s projection as being a future super power, I started making observations about India’s technological achievements versus those in USA, and in the rest of the world. I was especially intrigued by the progress made in various industries in the West, and advanced eastern countries such as Japan, South Korea, and China. Most of the products we use today are either made in the west, or imported from one of these Asian countries. On the other hand, there is virtually not a single internationally branded world-renowned product, either software or hardware, from any Indian manufacturer or vendor. Whatever small percentage of products from India we may see in international markets are actually built using imported technology.
Although, the manufacturing of the end product may have been outsourced to countries with cheap labor, the manufacturing base of the USA and the West are very resilient. If we examine deeply, USA and many western countries are built on a very solid infrastructure base. Today, because of cheap labor in the outsourced the countries, USA may not be the leading manufacturer in several sectors, and it may be the largest importer of consumer goods from China and the rest of the world. But even with such trade imbalances, USA is on a very solid ground in the core manufacturing processes. If China or any of the outsourcing companies were to stop exporting consumer goods today, USA can pick up the manufacturing process quickly, and ramp up the production needs to meet the local consumer demands. Although this may come with a higher labor cost that can lead to higher price tag on the goods, but USA can build their technology very easily.
In India on the other hand, the manufacturing base is completely obsolete. Almost every product that is produced in India is manufactured with an imported machinery. To state it differently, for every product that is manufactured in India, behind the scenes, the machinery that produces that final product are using older generation imported technologies. Whether it is the garment industry, consumer goods such as televisions, electronics, bulbs, the food industry such as potato chips, colas, the manufacturing plants, and so on. Virtually every machinery that produces the finished product is imported. In most of these cases, majority of the product that are manufactured in India are done in collaboration with a foreign company. Major Indian companies that collaborate with foreign companies, import their machinery that are several generations older to produce those finished products. Let us take a look at some of the industries in India.
In the garment industry, which is considered to be the largest segment of India’s economy, almost all the machineries that produce garments by major textile manufacturers in India are imported. The major manufacturers in textile machinery have been Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Italy, China, followed by some other countries such as Taiwan, Spain, Belgium, Turkey, and France. Switzerland enjoys the largest share followed by Japan, which is home to more than 45 textile machineries.
The question arises, if India is one of the largest producers of textiles in the world, why is India not on the top of the list among textile machinery manufacturers. If Indians have such smart intelligent brains, why can’t we manufacture a textile machinery that produces garments that occupies the lion’s share of the global market. Another factor to note is the contribution of India in the export of garments. According to a leading magazine, in 2019, India was ranked 2nd in the list of global shares of the textile output with a meager 6.9% of the global market, whereas China occupies the highest share of 52.2%, and United States is listed 3rd with 5.3%. Although India is in a second position, it is just a meager 7% as compared to China’s 52% global market share. That is pathetic.
The question is why does India not manufacture the textile machinery and, why is India’s textile output so low in the global market? Can we not manufacture textile machinery in India that caters to the Indian market? If Indian businessmen are interested, they can purchase the latest foreign textile machinery, analyze the assembly, disassemble, examine the components, study the technology, and then rebuild with an improved version of that machinery, license it, and then sell locally or export that to developing countries. Even though this sounds simple, this what major competitors do, “studying the other”. In Indian ethos it is called “Poorvapaksha”. No need to reinvent the wheel. Don’t we have any visionaries in the textile industries? Does India not have any textile industrialists who can take risks in building textile machinery? Where is the Poorvapaksh of the competitor? Have we lost the Kshatriyata? Maybe this is a complicated technology that no textile business leaders do not want to take the risk.
Now let us examine our next industry segment, most revered and the most famous industry, the information technology.
Software industry has enjoyed a tremendous growth in India, both in terms of technology and celebrity status over the last several decades. It has provided employment to millions of Indians, improving their lifestyle, higher income, and international recognition. Several software tech owners have become millionaires and billionaires in the process of shipping cheap labor abroad. Many software industries mushroomed providing various services to international clients.
Being educated only in English and learning software skills with minimal investment has leveraged Indian talents into international arena drawing attentions from several industries looking to upgrade their technology with cheap labor. If we examine this industry carefully, all India does is provides cheap resources in developing advanced software solutions or upgrading their legacy systems. Then the same software is ultimately sold back to Indian companies at a higher cost. In effect, the intellectual property on the software that was mostly developed by Indians, but owned by non-Indians, are then purchased back in India at a higher price. Indians end up paying royalty on products they helped create and develop. How foolish this must be?
In the last 40 years, India has not developed a single home-grown software that has international presence. Few Indians living abroad have developed software solutions independently, but they are either low key, bought out, or merged with other companies. Hotmail and some other low-end software were developed, but Indians are no longer the owner. Today, majority of the world-famous software and apps running on mobile devices are owned by non-Indians. Even though Indians are a major workforce in the software industry, no Indian companies own a single internationally popular software or an app.
We are not expecting Indian software companies to develop operating systems, or Google search engines, or Facebook, or any other major software. We are referring to supporting software. Why couldn’t any Indian companies create an app similar to YouTube which allows users to share and upload videos, or upload music, web conference app such as Zoom, or a tik-tok, or WhatsApp, or an Instagram? The list is endless. Are we not smart enough to develop any such apps? Why didn’t the software giants from India that export cheap labor invest money in R&D and develop in-house industry standard software for social media, or consumer application, or client management such as Salesforce, cloud management systems, or data mining, or deep learning, or AI?
The software developed in India could be distributed globally through these software services company with international presence, and in the process earn royalty. If we are smart enough to provide service to multinationals, we can definitely develop software to meet the growing demands of the software service industry. We are not expecting Indian companies to develop a new electronic software chip technology or intensive hardware. In software industry, Indian companies use foreign owned hardware and software tools in developing software solutions. With so many smart intelligent Indian software resources and with many of them coming from ranked universities, one would expect, India to develop a smart software that is internationally well known. We have none today. In some instances, the resources from the Indian software industry are referred to as, “IT Coolies”, which is not a positive compliment. The question is, where are our smart software intelligentsia? What is stopping the Indian software team in developing software solutions that cater the needs of everyday living? Have Indians lost their innovation mindset? Have Indians conditioned their mind to only develop software solutions by taking orders from their masters or sponsors, as they did during the colonial times? Have any Indian software businessmen even considered developing independent software solutions that has global application? Once again, dues to lack of kshatriyata among software businessmen, there are no risk takers in the Indian software industry.
Now let us look at the manufacturing industry.
When it comes to manufacturing, India is far behind the rest of the world. Among all the industry groups, we can look at the excavating machines as an example. Because of growing population, there is a rise in manufacturing and building infrastructure, which requires excavating machines to dig a tunnel, lay foundation, build roads, setup underground communication cables, build waterways, sewage systems, and more. One of the major engineering companies in India collaborated with a famous Japanese company to manufacture excavating machines. The question arises, why does India need to collaborate with a foreign company to build an excavating machine? Is excavating a complicated process? Can Indian companies not design a machinery that can dig a hole in the ground and remove dirt? With a large number of ranked engineering colleges, why couldn’t India design, develop, and build an excavating machine, without collaborating with a foreign company?
Excavating machinery is basically a pneumatic system run with either a diesel or some other fuel. It is definitely not a complicated tool. It does not require any complicated proprietary integrated chips. If Indians are truly brilliant, why can’t they design and manufacture a machine to dig a hole and excavate dirt. This does not require any complicated IC chip or an expensive machinery? This leads to our next industry, consumer goods
All the machinery that produces potato chips, soda, any canned items, and packaged goods in general are imported. I remember reading a statement by the manufacturers of a leading Indian potato chips on its package, “This potato chip was made with a fully automated imported machine, and no human fingers has touched the potato from beginning till packaging.” Indians are proud to make a statement that their finished products are made by an “imported” machines. How sad? We cannot even make an imported machine to fry a potato.
When I was in high school, I took a tour of a major soda bottling plant. The manager who gave the tour very proudly told the group that this soda bottling plan was imported and has such and such capacity and capability. The work does not touch the contents and everything is automated. Indians are very proud to demonstrate an imported machinery. With such as large population that consumes soda and other aerated drinks, no industrialists, business men, or venture capitalists from India have taken the risk in manufacturing an automated soda manufacturing plant.
Majority of other consumer goods such as soap, detergents, toothpastes, and others are usually manufactured using imported technology.
In past decade, there has been a tremendous pace of development in health, technology, science, and manufacturing in various sectors by various multinational companies around the world, India has not kept up with its contribution to modern technological and industrial revolution. Although Indians produce their best output by working efficiently for a foreign company, under the direction of a foreign manager, and in a foreign country, they fail to produce or manufacture any worthwhile output within their own country. Indians have displayed exceptional talents by developing great products by working slavishly for foreign companies. But the same talents fail to produce anything worthwhile while working for a local company. Everything that is currently used for consumption by modern public is produced by an imported technology or imported machinery. We have smart and intelligent industrialists, but they eagerly wait for a handout from foreigners to provide the next version of the product. Unless they collaborate with a foreign company, it seems like Indians will continue using the same old product or technology till it rusts. So, it is clear that Indians do not like to take risk by investing in developing newer technology in-house, and neither are they interested in the improvising the existing technology. Although Indians excel academically and prove their mettle in a foreign country, in the private world they are not smart, nor intelligent, and definitely not risk takers. They are just not interested in improving the lives of their own community. Effectively Indians have lost the intellectual kshatriyata in taking risks and challenges, and have merely become technology operators or at best, collaborators. However, bleak the options were presented above, there is always hope, and it is coming from an unlikely quarter, which has been explained in the next section.
Hope and Exceptions
For everything that is happening in life, there is always an exception. Although we cannot expect any private industrialist or a software billionaire at present to ever invest their capital in manufacturing machinery that produces finished goods or develop an innovative software app. There is some hope. There is definitely one Indian conglomerate that has taken risks, made huge bets, invested in several mega projects, and have succeeded in delivering several of those undertaking with flying colors, where no Indian billionaires ever dared to venture. Can you guess this organization? That conglomerate is the Government of India. Under the direction of able leaders such as Dr. Homi Baba, GOI has invested in BARC – premier nuclear facility, under Dr. Vikram Sarabhai GOI built ISRO – leading space program in the world, through collaboration and with able leaders built many hydroelectric projects, produced defense materials, constructed major dams, bridges, built rail lines through challenging terrains, and many more, and succeeded. They were all conceived, built, and run by talented, smart, intelligent Indians. Yes, these mega projects were mostly done with foreign collaboration, or with imported machineries, or products. Best part is GOI is made of Indians. This proves that Indians do have the capability and the capacity, and the guts to take risks. We do have kshatriyata. If GOI chooses to invest money in manufacturing these excavating machines, textile machineries, in-house software, industrial machinery, or automated machines for producing consumer goods, I am sure they will be successful.
The question is, if GOI invests money to manufacture such machinery in these areas, will the private industries support by purchasing these to offset their imported technology? When will our private industrialists ever take risks in investing, building, innovating products local and create less dependence on foreign technology? Will they ever build up the Kshatriyata and rise above their petty wealth accumulation syndrome, and start contributing to the society, and India at large? I hope one day we shall see at least one or two companies from India build a unique, well-respected, second-to-none quality product that is widely used by the consumers, and have world-wide acceptance. We only need some Jamabavan to awaken the powers of Hanuman among our smart, talented, young industrialists to unleash their innovative mindset in design, build, and manufacture smart products of the future.