India 2004

My stay here in Pune is now coming to a close. It’s a Sunday, an idyllic one. A large number of Indian families are probably in front of their televisions watching India try to bowl Australia out. Today, when Sachin closed the Indian innings at 715, I am sure everyone felt a surge of the new nationalism that I felt. This was a strong resurgent India from the East, playing true to Goldman Sachs prediction that India will assert itself as a top 5 global power. My blog is only a spin-off of the electricity in the air. My perspective maybe that of a Software Engineer, but on the whole I cannot deny, I am proud to be an Indian (in India, if I may add).

I have been watching the newspapers very closely, some of the respected minds in India have been speaking with optimism. Here is a compilation of a few of the words and facts I have read.

Arun Shourie, Indian Express January 3rd.
600,000 employees in the IT sector generate $16 billion in value. IT Exports contribute $13 billion. That is approximately a 1/5th of the total exports. These figures are phenomenal as per Shouries perspectives.

A 1/3rd of the start-ups in the Silicon Valley were by Indians.

Over a 100 of the Fortune 500 companies have setup R&D centers in India. India is quickly beginning to become the hub for generating patents.

Some of the products that have been substantially created in India include,
01. iFlex banking product
02. Pramati studio/server
03. Philips DVD video Codec
04. Apple iPod video codec
05. Texas Instruments OMAP
06. Microsoft’s JSharp
07. The Adobe Reader for the Palm/iPaq
08. Intel’s “start up” utility
09. Cisco’s IOS core components
10. Hewlett Packards ux
11. OpenView kernel components of Oracle’s Pro-c

I would approach the list above with extreme skepticism. From past experience in the Industry, I know that there is not true ownership of intellectual production in India. The ends of the process are initiated and terminated where technology has its genesis, overseas.

Shourie also expounds on the fact that Indian Infrastructure is growing to match world standards. The year ahead has many promises in store,
1. 500,000 km of fibre optic networks across India
2. Param Padma, the fourth generation of Indian supercomputers
3. Bangalore and Pune are now part of a massive grid computing project

Shouries article also focuses on trying to identify a trend for the next few years. He fears competition not only from other South East asian countries, but also from some of the nascent European economies like Hungary and Bulgaria. His argument is, the mathematical foundation there is a lot stronger than it is in India. The biggest challenge they face is only the English language.

Shourie points out that the prevalent trend in 2003, coupled with the intense recessionary trend has only built up a tremendous backlash against India in the USA. Protectionist legislation, increasingly Vocal protests, reduction of the H1-B cap are all symptoms of the existing fear that what China and Japan did to manufacturing in the USA, India is causing in IT and other services.

A number of my friends from countries in Europe cannot understand this fear. Traditionally, they had to put up with the same outflow several years ago in the manufacturing sector. People lost their jobs then too. Instead of fear, they feel the US should have an understanding of the trend, they should have seen it coming and prepared to tackle it. The slump in IT in the US was just a trigger that sped up the process. Bringing the industry back on track is not going to reverse it.

What was the result of the outflow of jobs back then, organized labour unions, legislation and overall, a general feeling of distrust. That is true of the white collar workers only today with outsourcing in the backdrop cutting into available jobs.

There is no easy solution. However, I trust the wests ability to innovate and abstract, to spawn new industries and to retain the flow of energy in the economy.

Shourie concludes with an enumeration of the long-term benefits for India. Mastery in IT, is a tremendous foundation for mastery in BioTech, NanoTech, Telemedecine, Telesurgery, distance learning, embedded devices. His article fittingly summarizes his thoughts, “We have a headstart, let’s not put up our feet”.

R.A. Mashelkar, Indian Express January 3rd.
Dr. Mashelkar is an eminent Scientist who had chosen to remain in India while the top brains drained out. To summarise his article, while India lost 1% of its top talent, it also lost about 90% of its intellectual energy. This is a pattern that has emerged again and again. His article is backed up by a piece written by Gangan Prathap in Current Science. To quote “He argues the ecology of the intellectual process throws up outstanding scientists and inventors in a pyramidal and power-law fashions. In effect, the number of people producing n papers is inversely proportional to n^2”. He goes on to provide an example “For every 100 people who produce 1 paper, 25 will produce 2, only one will produce 10.” He points out that this is true for patents also.

His objective is to point out that India has a lot to offer now, we should begin pulling in those brains back. Eventually, the tendency for innovation too will migrate here. One may ask to retort this theory is, What of the average Indian BTech/MTech in America with a green card, family and a secure top-notch job? You might not feel that he might move back. In my opinion, its only a fanciful wish that the brains will drain back. Those who really matter in terms of intellectual energy, entrepreneurial spirit are now playing in the Global field. Benefits of this force will still only trickle into India.

This brings me to a recent significant development. Four National Institutes of Science are in the process of being setup, one of which is in Pune. Several new IIT’s have also been proposed. Thats great that we are going to develop more minds, many focused on pure and applied sciences and not simply the technology sector. Whats to prevent them from going out of the country?

Recently, a young IIT civil engineer, Satyendra Dubey was murdered trying to expose corrupt elements. Some observers wrote in, it is this tendency of the womb to kill its own son that has setup its own destruction. India isn’t going to change overnight, foreign reserves, dominance in IT and success in Cricket may provide a vision, but how and when are we going to get there? Will the top brains want to stay on in India?

So many thousands complete their Master’s abroad even today, after graduating from India. All of them dream to improve their profiles. Some of them do return, a substantial number of them having lost all their options and that dream. What of those who stay behind? Everyone fails to list Indias tendency to self-destruct.

Let me not end on a pessimistic note, Intellectual property is beginning to originate in India, even if it is a trickle now. The Intel team in Bangalore is developing microprocessor chips for high-speed broad band wireless. GE’s John Welch Technology Centre, Bangalore are working on new ideas for aircraft engines, transport systems and plastics. Cisco, Intel, IBM, GE and Texas Instruments India have filed 1000 patent applications (Times of India, January 4th).

Tomorrow, this trickle will hopefully grow to a flood.