Sunday, August 19, 2012

Entrepreneurship and Freedom in India – 1947, 1991, 20..

India got political freedom from the British in 1947 – the British government was replaced by an Indian government, elected democratically. Every Indian citizen got an equal right and freedom to vote. While Indian citizens have been free to vote in India since then, have they been equally free to do business, to become entrepreneurs?
There are a lot of challenges which entrepreneurs face.  Some of these are genuine challenges inherent in the process of setting up and running a successful business - entrepreneurs all over the world face these challenges. However, some challenges are artificial – imposed by the government and/or the society.
Socialist mindset after independence meant that the government took the task of building the country upon itself including in terms of science and technology, setting up large industries etc. Citizens looked up to the government to own, set up and run industries and looked upon themselves as workers – the ‘service class’. The service class paid a lot of attention to educating their children, so they could get good jobs eventually. Small business was an option available to those who could not do very well in studies. Service class families looked at business class families as less refined – money minded, typically less educated. Government policy and licence raj required entrepreneurs to bend rules to make progress in their business. Doing business became synonymous with breaking rules, evading taxes and colluding with corrupt bureaucrats and politicians (ref: Reliance story as depicted in the movie Guru). Thus social and government mindset became anti business and anti-entrepreneurs. As a nation, we respected great scientists, great teachers but not great businessmen (unless they were also great philanthropists).       
This started changing in late 80s with some progressive thinking in the government, and the realisation that socialist mixed model economy was not working. 1991 liberalisation allowed businesses to participate in sectors like telecom, GDP started growing fast, poverty started reducing faster and IT revolution made heroes out of entrepreneurs like Narayan Murthy unleashing a wave of new age entrepreneurship. India became a centre of innovation and a global power to reckon with. But a lot still remains to be done.
As we celebrate the Independence Day this year, let us be conscious that while Indians have won political freedom our economic freedom remains restricted. Economic liberalisation has stagnated after the era of 1991 reforms, and crucial sectors like education, farming remain severely controlled and distorted vis-a-vis what an ideal nationwide free market should look like. Globally, India ranks quite low in terms of ‘ease of setting up and doing business’ and indicators like ‘number of days it takes to start a business’.
While the license-quota raj weakened after 1991, it still remains strong in large pockets of the economy which therefore continue to stagger at low rates of growth. Let us liberalise these sectors and the economy further overall, so young entrepreneurs could come forward and drive the country ahead with their enterprise and initiative.
Ref: Edited Hindi Article in Hindistan (Aug 17). युवा उद्यमियों के लिए चुनौतियां कम नहीं

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