On October 15, 2022, the nation observed the 91st birth anniversary of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam (1931-2015). I was invited by BharatTech Foundation, primarily a group of overseas engineers of Indian origin, but also with a good base within the country, to give the keynote address. Sridhar Vembu (b. 1968), the CEO of Zoho Corporation, presided on this online event attended by more than 100 participants.
I spoke on India@100, as if to extrapolate on Dr. Kalam’s vision of “India 2020” as a developed country. To achieve this vision, Dr. Kalam had identified in 1996, five sectors, namely, 1. Agriculture and food processing; 2. Education and healthcare; 3. Information and communication technology; 4. Infrastructure development; and 5. Self-reliance in critical technologies. Later, in 2001, he added PURA – Provision of Urban Amenities to Rural Areas.
Dr. Kalam showed the right path for the nation, and it was spontaneously pursued. I feel we have done well on all fronts, but more is needed on the education and healthcare front. We need modern education for children at the bottom of the societal pyramid and a National Medical System backed by a world-class medical college in every district. We also need urgent judiciary reforms to clear the backlog of petty cases, and to mitigate litigation using modern technologies such as AI, public blockchain-based contracts, and consensus-based justice delivery.
The tribal and poor have endured centuries of injustice. Natural resources – forests, mines, rivers, and so on – belong to them. India can never become a developed country without restoring the ownership of its resources to where it belongs. Emerging technologies have made it possible to enforce tamper-proof land records and financial transactions. These technologies must not be a cause of fear but must be mastered and embraced. If there is one way for India to become a Vishwa Guru, it is this road.
When I contemplated on “India@100,” which is in the next 25 years from now, I visualized technology already having taken a grip of world affairs. Futurist Raymond Kurzweil (b. 1948) predicts Technological Singularity running the world by 2045. The world is entwined with the Internet, money is moving around across national boundaries, and system science takes us to wider bands of focus that define and constrain our place in the world. It would be a pity of the gravest order if the 1.5 billion Indians are treated by this New Force as passive spectators rather than stakeholders. It is rather imperative that India@100:
1. Leads the world in climate change mitigation and allied technologies
2. Achieves energy-independence through thorium-based nuclear power generation
3. Becomes a high-tech manufacturing hub and R&D powerhouse
4. Facilitates the South Asia Union of “One Visa-One Market-One Currency”
5. Emerges out of the ambivalence about its cultural heritage
Dr. Homi J Bhabha (1909-1966) presented a uniquely Indian three-stage nuclear power program based on a closed nuclear fuel cycle. The three stages are: Natural uranium-fueled pressurized heavy-water reactors (PHWRs); fast breeder reactors (FBRs) utilizing plutonium with depleted uranium from the first stage; and advanced nuclear power systems for the utilization of thorium, available in abundance in India. This ought to be done.
India is importing to the order of 50 million tons of petroleum products every year. There is a worrisome four-fifth of import dependence for crude oil and almost half for natural gas. India spent over 12 trillion rupees in the financial year 2022 buying oil and gas. This situation is like a hole in the boat. The remarkable progress made by the Indian economy has been perniciously burdened by this dependency. There is almost a revolution on the roll in new and renewable energy but unless this import is mitigated, nothing will suffice. There is a need to secure ownership of oil fields across the globe. A long-term treaty with Russia on this seems to be a realistic solution.
Investing in clean technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells is not only imperative, but a commitment for India to meet the target of net zero carbon emissions by 2070, and that transition and R&D should be happening now, if not yesterday. We cannot keep importing new technology into our economy incurring enormous costs and time lag; rather, we must leap-frog and lead this technology shift.
A format of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to transform our world is in place from the United Nations. There are two imperatives before the countries in South-East Asia – starting from Afghanistan in the west to Indonesia in the east – to become a union of One Visa-One Market-One Currency and become a trade bloc with the rest of the world. The entire region had enjoyed Indic culture in the ancient times and there is an innate similarity in the way people think and feel in this region. Why must there be boundaries between similar people? The unreasonableness must be negotiated or eliminated.
For the five initiatives to become a force multiplier, the country requires positive energy in the society. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) articulated it as Chitto Jetha Bhayshunyo, where every mind is without fear and every head is held high. Vested interests in the West and their funded agencies inside the country have successfully created a doom and gloom scenario in the Indian society.
We must learn to first take pride in ourselves, celebrate our marvelous architecture, yoga, indigenous medicine, and healing practices. We must revamp our education system to teach children to take pride in the Indic civilization and prepare them to defend ourselves with valid, scientific, and documented evidence against any Western mockery. We must create a society where religion and caste become private details and value addition to society becomes a competitive concept.
But what is even more important and urgent is a change of mindset from within. People must qualify to become the citizens of a developed country. This is not some appellate that would come from outside. Each person must prepare and contribute in this. There are no entitlements, but responsibilities that must be accepted and discharged.
The three divine foundations of Dr. Kalam’s life were imagination, piousness, and faith in God. These three modes of living or qualities drove his conviction of making India a developed country by 2020. It is time to embrace these three qualities and dedicate our lives to making India@100 a developed nation, where every mind is without fear and every head is held high. The time starts now!
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