The repercussions of the lockdown are huge. It is difficult to, at this stage, even hazard a guess on whether the lockdown would be lifted after 21 days for which it has been clamped. These 21 days would have some effect on the state of the economy but the impact would not be insurmountable. Some thoughtfully designed and implemented recovery packages and an early confidence build up of the market-drivers can see the growth curve moving upwards – on a slightly lower path but parallel to the one that was planned. If the lockdown were to be extended, as is being talked about on social media, by another 2 to 3 weeks and things did not improve in the West, there could be a huge economic slowdown resulting from domestic demand compression and drop in exports, sub-optimal capacity utilization resulting in unviable operations, loss of jobs, non availability of manpower after the recent reverse migration, worker unrest, loan defaults despite the relief announced, increase in crime, law and order problems, etc.
The way the Western World is affected and is combating the Covid 19 problem and the manner in which China and the other countries on this side of the Globe are coping up with the menace, the entire global economic order might change to become a little more East-centric in future and India might (a guess and/or a wish) emerge stronger on the new global economic canvas. The entire global geo-political and economic scenario is quite unclear and confusing at this point in time and it is for the government of the day to focus, through this haze, on its target and leverage its strengths – capabilities in manufacturing and services, human capital, cultural adaptability, good infrastructure, political stability and democracy, independence of institutions – particularly, judiciary, supportive policy environment, good governance and law and order, large market, etc – for an improved presence in the global market-place. This is possible if the Government and Corporate India work together and look at the bigger picture and are not obsessed with projects and plans that are only inward looking and driven for generating some noisy nationalistic fervor.
Corporate India needs to rediscover itself for being functional and effective in the new order that is likely to emerge and look at scaling operations to global levels. In fact, it is time that Indian companies have a better representation (only Reliance and TCS figure in currently) in the Top 100 Best Performing Companies of the World. Looking at the uncertainties and shortages that have been generated by the threat of this invisible biological menace that we are currently braving, there is reason for the economy to be nurtured in such a manner that the gross domestic needs of most of the goods and services – at the base level – are addressed from domestic sources. This means that the MSMEs in the country be given an extra fillip in terms of access to appropriate and affordable technology and capital at serviceable rates of interest. It might sound a little out of context but all this is possible only when basic education and research & development in the country are given the place that these deserve – otherwise we would continue be a nation that provides manpower for various labour intensive and low-end technical jobs to (or for servicing) various countries – something like what Teamlease is to Corporate India.
The lockdown and the Draconian restrictions that it places on movement is the best time for the captains and mangers of Corporate India to sit back and develop probable business scenarios that could emerge after the lockdown is lifted. This would help them to figure out plans and strategies for re-positioning their enterprises and goods and/or services in the emergent business environment. The leadership of Corporate India should use the lockdown period and the digital communication platforms that are available to engage with their people across levels for seeking inputs for evolving strategic plans for their post lockdown future. These people would realize that out of the box ideas do not necessarily come from the few people who are boxed in corner offices and who interact between themselves in sound-proof conference rooms. A word of caution. Chasing economic growth, and just that, and not working on evolving a healthy and happy society is, certainly, not a desirable approach. We need to have a stronger social sector bias in our development agenda and education and health care need to be managed differently and developed aggressively so that these become enablers for economic growth. Close to 50 percent of the population (>65 crores) of the country is in the age group of less than 24 years and it is an irony that we are spending just about 3.4 percent of our GDP on education – has come down from 4.14 in 2015 – and it is this group of people that the State should be working on to impart the required education and skill-sets that would improve operating efficiency and global competitiveness of the country. NDTV carried out a 24 episode series of prime time on the plight of education in India and from what shown, there is enough reason for all the policy makers and mangers of the education sector in India to be sent on a long unpaid holiday. With 22 percent children who are born being underweight and this number increasing to about 43 percent in the <5 years age group and 70 percent of the children who are <5 years of age being anemic, we have a lot to do to be really able to take advantage of the much talked about demographic dividend that we have and the first thing that we need to do is to make sure that the budgetary allocation for health-care is increased from the disgustingly low figure of around 1 percent of GDP.
If Covid 19 and lockdown generates a sense of insecurity, the only way we can realize our dreams – despite the insecurities that we carry – is by building an educated and healthy India and that can happen when Corporate India starts believing that it is their responsibility as well to contribute in making education and health-care available to the last man in the queue and not only build and operate luxurious schools and hospitals for the elite and the wannabe elite.
In the model of economic administration that we have chosen to have, making money is – obviously – not a crime. But, what do all those people who make a lot of money do with it, reflects the level of social consciousness that these people have developed and that can, and should be, subjected to some public scrutiny. The money spend on setting up a new IIM on a 200 acre campus is just about the kind of money that an industrialist spent in gifting a plane to his wife on her birthday and for this act of his he was admired and eulogized. People who can bring about change need to have a concern for the plight of 363 million people who are living below the poverty line and not be obsessively over-awed by the achievements and lifestyle of the 170 Indian dollar billionaires.