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The Not-So-Missing Case of Indian Innovation and Entrepreneurship

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Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash

Hitendra Singh and Gauri Noolkar-Oak*

Recently, an article published in Modern Diplomacy caught our attention. The author has cited Mr. Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and found his famous statement on Indians lacking enterprise and innovation to be ‘music to his ears’. He has then gone on to paint Indians in broad strokes – ironic, for it is something he has accused Indians of doing – and labelled them as a nation lacking entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. While his reasoning certainly has an element of truth and an instant appeal, our response looks to add nuances to his argument and provide a more realistic and complete picture of enterprise and innovation in India.

To begin with, the terms ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ cannot be used interchangeably; not all entrepreneurs are innovators, and vice versa. There are more than 50 million medium and small businesses operating in India which contribute 37% of India’s GDP and employ around 117 million people. These numbers sufficiently prove that entrepreneurship is alive and kicking in the Indian society; Indians are running businesses not only in India but are leading and successful entrepreneurs in many countries of Asia, Africa and rest of the world. Hence, an argument that Indians lack entrepreneurship does not hold much strength.

In the case of innovation and creativity, a different story is emerging. It is slow but is happening and it is solving some of the largest social and developmental challenges in India – from grassroots, to research labs, to top-tier institutions such as ISRO and various DRDO labs. At a global level, India has not only moved up six places in its GII ranking in 2017, but is also ranked second in innovation quality. India has also won international acclaim for its innovative and cost-effective technology; such as its first mission to Mars in 2014, the Mangalyaan, was successful in the first attempt, made entirely with domestic technology, and cost less than the Hollywood movies ‘Gravity’ and ‘The Martian’. It is surprising that the author spots lack of innovation in a household broom but does not see innovation in a nation that sends a successful Mars mission on a budget that is less than that of a Hollywood movie about Mars.

At the national level, grassroots innovation and entrepreneurship are gaining more and more institutional recognition; the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) and the annual Festival of Innovation at the Rashtrapati Bhavan are perhaps the only high-level government initiatives supporting and celebrating innovation in the world. Additionally, many universities and educational institutes across the country host innovation competitions, festivals and incubators.

Several remarkable individuals are nurturing India’s growing innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.Prof. Anil K. Gupta founded SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions) in 1993 and the Honey Bee Network in 1997 to connect innovators from all sections of the society to entrepreneurs, lawyers and investors. For more than 12 years, he has walked around 6000 kilometres across the country, discovering extraordinary grassroots innovations on the way. Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar, an eminent chemical scientist, has led multiple scientific and technological innovations in the country, earlier as the Director-General of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and now as the President of the National Innovation Foundation.

And then, there are thousands of common men and women, hailing from various walks of life, innovating continuously and creatively to solve pressing everyday problems in the Indian society. There are the famous Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a cost-effective way of manufacturing sanitary napkins, and Mansukhbhai Prajapati, who invented a clay refrigerator which runs without electricity. Then there are Mallesham from Andhra Pradesh, who sped up the process of weaving Kochampalli sarees and reduced the physical pains of the weavers, and Shri Sundaram from Rajasthan, who found a way to grow a whole tree in a dry region with just a litre of water. Raghav Gowda from Karnataka designed a cost-effective and painless machine to milk cows, while Mathew K Mathews from Kerala designed a solar mosquito destroyer. Dr. Pawan Mehrotra of Haryana has developed a cost-effective version of breast prosthesis for breast cancer survivors while Harsh Songra of Madhya Pradesh has developed a mobile app to detect developmental disorders among children.

Three women from Manipur, OinamIbetombi Devi, SarangthenDasumati Devi and Nameirakpam Sanahambi Devi invented an herbal medicine that is proven to promote poultry health. Priyanka Sharma from Punjab developed a low-cost biochip to detect environmental pollutants, while Dr. Seema Prakash from Karnataka revolutionised eco-agriculture by inventing a cost-effective plant cloning technique. AshniBiyani, the daughter of Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani, leads the Khoj Lab, which collaborates with the NIF to help commercialise grassroots innovations and ideas.

These and thousands of such examples present a very encouraging picture of the creativity and innovation of Indians. The innovation that the author admires are rooted in a context. Apple and Google (or Lyft or Uber or Spotify) could be created because there was an end consumer who was looking to pay for their products. There are many India innovator-entrepreneurs, such as those mentioned above, who have created products for a necessarily less glamorous but useful India context. Products like brooms and packaged food add convenience to the time-stretched urban and middle and upper middle classes; with a large unskilled and semiskilled workforce competing vigorously for such jobs, does the Indian society have an incentive to invest in innovating them?

Having said that, it is true that upsurge of innovation in India is relatively recent, i.e. about two to three decades old. It is also true that the Indian society has been experiencing socio-economic affluence on such a broad scale only for the past three decades, since the market reforms of 1991. It has been 70 years since Indians have gained sovereignty and control over their resources. The top five innovative countries according to the GII – Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, USA and UK – have been sovereign states for about at least two and a half centuries. It would perhaps then be more accurate to compare India’s current innovation scenario with, for instance, the USA’s innovation scenario in the mid-19th century.

Further, given the economic and resource drain faced by the Indian society over centuries, Indian innovation was geared more towards surviving rather than thriving. This explains the ‘group mentality’ strongly rooted in mainstream Indian society; staying and cooperating in a group increased one’s capacity to cope with and survive through all kinds of adversity. Individualistic aspirations, beliefs and actions were then a price to be paid for the security blanket it offered. And yet, once relative stability and affluence began to set in, the innovative and creative instincts of Indians lost no time in bursting forth.

Long story short, both innovation and entrepreneurship are thriving in India. They might not be as “macro” or glamourous as Apple or Uber, but they are solving fundamental problems for the Indian masses. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of room for improvement and growth – India has a long way to go to be recognised as a global leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. However, the scenario is not by any means bleak, as these many examples point out. The trajectory of enterprises and innovation in India is only upward. The future is promising.

* Gauri Noolkar-Oak is Policy Research Analyst at Pune International Centre, a liberal think tank based in Pune, India.

Views expressed by the authors are personal and do not reflect those of the organisation.

Hitendra Singh is Head of Social Innovation Unit and Gauri Noolkar-Oak is Policy Research Associate at Pune International Centre, a liberal think tank based in Pune, India

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South Asia

Modi-fying Kashmir and Historical Facts

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The Modi government on 5th august 2019 revoked two key constitutional provisions — Article 370 and Article 35A — which gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir distinctive rights. India moved around 50 thousand military personnel into the valley to avoid any backlash, which shows that the Indian government is afraid of the repercussions of an illegal act. But these curfews and emergencies are not new for Kashmiris. Kashmiri’s will continue fighting for their land and will never compromise. Kashmir is an 86,000-square mile disputed region that is divided between India, Pakistan and China.  Kashmir’s independence struggle has a long history.

Historically Kashmiris have not ruled their own land since their last king Yusaf Shah Chak who was defeated by the Mughals in the 16th century. Chak launched guerrilla attacks against the armies of Mughal king Akbar on November 1586, he was certain that “Independence was just a day away”. Since then it’s been 400 years since Kashmir has passed into the hands of Afghans, Sikhs, the British Great Britain and now Indian rulers after partition. Today, the same kind guerrilla attacks continue against Indian occupational forces, although by a renewed insurgency fueled by modern weapons and communications technology.

Thousands of Kashmiri’s are part of the armed freedom struggle against Indian forces. Now in the shape of the Kashmir freedom movement, it is entirely different from what it was during the early years of partition. Now, the use of social media has changed the dynamics of the freedom movement making it extremely challenging for India to curb the voices of Kashmiris in the present era. Though India always blames Pakistan for supporting freedom fighters and stone pelters it has never really applied an introspective approach to what its armed forces are doing.

As Kashmiris continue to reject India and its democracy the Modi government has locked down almost 90 lakh Kashmiris since 5 august. There is a complete media blackout in Kashmir and still India calls itself a democracy. Such Indian actions to erode the basic fabric of the Kashmir freedom movement will only fuel the struggle for independence even more. There are many people inside India which negate this act of oppression by the Modi Government. Modi’s actions are opposite to democratic values which India claims are reason for its unity. 

Several Indian activists have condemned the abrogation of articles 370 and 35 A. Till now 6 petitions have been filed in the Indian supreme court, all of which reflect the pure negation of Mr. Modi’s agenda. Hence, the way India is treating Kashmiris will surely have dire consequences for the state in the future. The country which calls itself the largest democracy is treating Kashmiris worse than animals, a democracy where even cows purportedly enjoy more rights than Kashmiris and Muslims.

In 1947 Kashmiris resisted against Dogra forces and around 2 lakh were killed but the Kashmiris refused to be subdued. After partition on 2 November  1947, Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had promised a plebiscite in Kashmir saying: “The fate of Jammu and Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. The pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but also to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.”

But India has still not pulled back its troops since then and has continued to forcefully occupy the region. Pakistan and India have fought a number wars and smaller-scale conflicts in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999 due to Kashmir with border skirmishes remaining common even today. India is involved in killing Kashmiris while the world remains in silence. Only a consistent struggle can force India to check its decisions otherwise, India is on its way to change the demography of Kashmir. Modifying the status of Kashmir within the Indian constitution won’t change realities which exist historically. Even today, the whole world acknowledges that Kashmir is an international dispute and not just an internal matter of India. By casting even further light and global attention on this issue through his most recent actions, Mr. Modi has gravely miscalculated the outcome of this move.

Revoking Article 370 A has already stripped Kashmiris of their special rights and now there would be single citizenship for Kashmiris. The Indian flag will be the only flag and article 356 and 360 will be applicable. Minorities will be eligible with a 16 % quota. People from other states will be eligible to buy land in Jammu and Kashmir. Assembly duration of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir will be for 5 years. All the above developments will further estrange Kashmiris in their own land.

From 1586 till now, the Kashmiris defeated many oppressors and none was able to subdue them. Mr. Modi’s modification of its status will definitely fire back in the coming days as India cannot impose a curfew forever. At least 4,000 people have been detained in Kashmir since August 5 and situation on ground as reported by international media is getting worse than ever. More and more Kashmiri youth will join armed groups and the intensity and number of armed attacks is widely expected surge dramatically. Without a doubt such a dangerous and arrogant decision by the Indian leadership has severely compromised the peace and stability of the entire region.

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South Asia

Kashmir: A Victim of the Influence of Major Powers

Mohamad Zreik

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India-Pakistan relations are constantly tense and India-Pakistan history is full of struggles and rivalries. The problems between the two countries have emerged on the international scene recently when the Indian state decided to abolish autonomy in Jammu and Kashmir and apply full control of the Indian state over the region. The area is known to be the center of a dispute between India and Pakistan over land claims and border demarcation.

The Indo-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir is classified as one of the most dangerous in the world. India and Pakistan are nuclear states. The Kashmir conflict began in 1947 and did not end today, after Kashmir was a former independent region in the Himalayas. Kashmir lies in a strategic area on the Himalayas, bordered by India, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan; it is a region of cultural diversity and contains the most important Eastern religions such as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. The region of Kashmir is one of the most beautiful regions of the world and fertile agricultural land with a lot of natural resources, but the political instability and security has ruined the economic situation and the lack of tourists and investors.

Historically, Kashmir has been a Hindu religion, but the connection between Kashmiri people and Afghan families has led to the spread of Islam. Kashmir was ruled by the Mongols from the 16th to the 18th centuries, after which Kashmir returned to be an independent state. However, strong British influence in that period robbed the sovereignty of that country by selling land and people, who are mostly Muslims, to a Hindu warlord, Gulab Singh, for 7.5 million rupees.

This “contract of sale” was quickly legalized in the Amritsar Treaty. Since then Singh has declared himself “Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir”, and imposed on the local population by force Hindu culture and its religious principles. He burned mosques and overthrew anyone who begged himself to oppose his rule and stand up to Hindu principles. After Maharaja “Gulab Singh” took over the rule of Jammu and Kashmir Maharaja “Hari Singh”, who completed the same path of his predecessor in a land where the number of Muslims at the time 94%.

The severe repression of the people of Jammu and Kashmir in cooperation with the British prompted them to raise their voice in the face of the Maharaja and his allies in 1931. On 25 October 1947, after violent confrontations between the Maharaja and the population, the Kashmiri people won and the Maharaja was expelled. Maharaja sought support from India after Britain stopped supporting him.

The British colonial policy divided the area there on a religious basis. Most of the Muslim lands have been annexed to Pakistan, and the Hindu-majority lands have been annexed to India. In 1947, Indian military forces returned to Kashmir by force against weak Kashmiri resistance and little support from Pakistanis.

At that time, Pakistan began to support the rebels and the separatists from India, which led India to complain to the Security Council accusing Pakistan of supporting the rebels in Kashmir. Pakistan has responded that India is trying to promise Kashmir sovereignty, but it is working to annex Kashmir and bring Maharaja Hari Singh back to power. In 1948, the Security Council sought a mutually satisfactory solution, dividing Kashmir territory, one part called Azad Kashmir or Free Kashmir is supervised by Pakistan, and another part is Jammu and Kashmir and is supervised by India

The never-ending wars between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue prompted India in 1974 to conduct six nuclear experiments. This means that India has become a nuclear state and is capable of destroying every enemy, namely Pakistan. This has pushed Pakistan to become a nuclear power by acquiring nuclear weapons. In 1988, India and Pakistan signed a non-aggression pact. Military science suggests that the Asian region is the most dangerous on earth and capable of destroying mankind. India, Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran are nuclear states. Religious conflicts and territorial disputes are accelerating the nuclear war. According to the Pentagon, the next nuclear war between India and Pakistan will claim at least 12 million deaths and more than 7 million wounded from the region.

India, as a big country and a major nuclear power in the Asian region, will not concede to Pakistan in this Kashmir conflict. But India is demanding the entire territory of Kashmir, i.e. Pakistani Kashmir and Chinese Kashmir and this is impossible to achieve, and the conflict is increasing today through the legal measures taken by the Indian state to annex Jammu and Kashmir to the sovereignty of the Indian state and wrest autonomy. Therefore, the solution to this issue remains through diplomacy and negotiations because the weapons, force and many wars in that region did not lead to any positive result.

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South Asia

India’s Constitutional Revocation and Prevalent Security Environment of Kashmir

Haris Bilal Malik

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During Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first ever visit to the US on July 23, 2019, President Trump had offered to mediate the outstanding Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan. This move was greatly appreciated by Pakistan with President Trump publicly stating that Prime Minster Modi had requested him to mediate between the two countries over Kashmir during the sidelines of 2019 G20 Summit held in Osaka in June this year. With President Trump’s offer to mediate at such a crucial time, the issue has once again achieved global significance. Moreover, President Trump’s mediation offers, and India’s recent move constitutionally revoke the special status offered to Kashmir would likely have serious implications within the prevalent security environment throughout the region. 

India has often rejected such offers claiming Kashmir as its internal matter. Taking a step forward, on August 5, 2019 the government of India revoked the special status of the Kashmir region that has been previously granted under Articles 370 and 35(A) of the Indian constitution through a presidential order. Referred to as the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill that was later approved by parliament despite the opposition’s criticism. Under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution the Kashmir region had been awarded special constitutional rights and a ‘so-called’ autonomous status of decision making. Following the abrogation of Article 370, the Kashmir region would be divided into two ‘Union Territories’ i.e. Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh governed by the Indian central government.

The timing of this constitutional abrogation might have been influenced by President Trump’s offer of mediation between India and Pakistan that was reiterated by the US President despite India’s rejection. This abrogation was also part of the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election manifesto as promised by Prime Minister Modi during the 2019 general election. By fulfilling this electoral promise, Mr. Modi is trying to assert that Kashmir is entirely an internal matter for India and that it would not allow any third country to interfere in the Kashmir issue irrespective of its relations with India.

Based on this notion India is inclined to project this political and constitutional change as its internal matter. By revoking the special status of this disputed region, India also intends to change the demography of Kashmir as much of the current population is Muslim. India has been involved in various tactics to change the demographic structure of Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) which includes a steady stream of Hindu migrants relocating and settling in masse from other parts of India in this predominantly Muslim region.

This trend is also evident in the region’s population numbers. In 1947 for instance, the Muslim population of IOK was about 79 per cent. As of 2018 this figure has been reduced to 68 per cent. In this regard the abrogation of Article 35(A) would likely intensify this trend as in the future, non-residents of Kashmir would be able to purchase property in Kashmir and would become permanent residents with a right to vote. 

The security environment of Kashmir has been at stake in recent years due to India’s desire to oppress the freedom movement militarily. During Prime Minister Modi’s first term from 2014-2019 the Kashmiri freedom struggle has seen greater military suppression, especially since 2016 when a prominent freedom fighter Burhan Wani had been brutally assassinated. However, it seems that India has still not succeeded in achieving its desired objectives. After a landslide victory in the 2019 elections and with Mr. Modi once again in office as Prime Minster, the military suppression of the freedom movement in Kashmir has further intensified. Recently, India has deployed an additional 38,000 paramilitary troops in the region to join more than half a million troops and paramilitary forces already present. Along with this increased military presence in Kashmir, India has also been involved in continued aggression across the Line of Control (LoC) as evident by its use of prohibited ‘cluster bombs’ against the civilian population. These could have seriously provoked Pakistan to respond in an offensive way and might have resulted in another February 2019 episode.

At the present, Indian aggression along the LoC poses a major threat to peace in the region. India might believe that it could carry out a limited attack or ‘surgical strike’ against Pakistan which would stay below Pakistan’s nuclear threshold as evident from the February 2019 military engagement and the recent attacks along the LoC. India has repeatedly attempted to dominate the escalation ladder as was shown in the recent escalation instance the recent escalation following the Pulwama attack. Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned about the possibility of a ‘false-flag operation’ in Kashmir carried out by India for which Pakistan might be blamed. Based on such blame India could launch a limited attack or a low intensity conflict across the LoC. Consequently, Pakistan would be left with no choice but to respond in kind to any such aggression by India.

India’s abrogation of Kashmir’s special constitutional status and its military offensive in Kashmir could trigger another politico-military escalation between India and Pakistan within a year. India’s policy to forcefully make Kashmir an integral part of the Indian Union by annexing it through political and military means would serve a very dangerous precedent which would likely pose as a serious detriment towards the peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute. This change in the constitutional status of Kashmir would greatly limit the prospects for third-party mediation in the future especially for the United Nations, whose resolutions on Kashmir clearly provide a right of self-determination to decide Kashmir’s future. Unfortunately, the prevalent security environment in Kashmir is dominated by India’s aggressive behavior which ultimately would have long lasting implications for strategic stability throughout the South Asian region.

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