President Obama’s visit has led to considerable expectations about what US can give to India during the forthcoming summit meeting between the Prime Minister Modi and the President Obama. The usual discussion about technology, more access for our programmers and software engineers, nuclear agreement and such other areas have already been commented upon by the experts in the field. I don’t think that in a bilateral cooperation between India an USA, we should only talk about what can India get. This is a very limited and myopic understanding of emerging potential of India.
Let me focus on the areas where India has comparative advantage and US can benefit by leveraging Indian strength in a significant way not just for mutual advantage but for global development and peace.
Indian participation in peace keeping forces has been exemplary and needs to expand. This is completely compatible with Indian aspiration to be a permanent member of the security council. Without the membership, India will obviously not be able to provide the enhanced support for the purpose. Indian forces are known for maintaining restraint, respect for human rights and contribute to local development [exceptions apart].
India has one of the largest FDA approved manufacturing facilities for drugs and other products. This capacity can easily be increased four to five times to provide extremely economical manufacturing support for meeting global demand at affordable cost and high quality. The quality control systems will certainly need to be strengthened and here considerable scope for joint research and training exists.
Frugal innovations have through various roots such as reverse innovation and also grassroots innovations meet international developmental goals of India and US. USAID has faced difficulties in meeting developmental needs in African, Latin America and other continents. Recent experiments in partnership with USAID and Indian organisations have uncovered a new potential for partnership which was not tapped hitherto.
India aspires to become the largest provider of open source technologies in agriculture, water management, food processing, drugs, machinery, health, etc. This is an area where US can benefit and improve the health coverage in US at a cost that the local supply chains are unable to meet. During the market meltdown of 2008, I had written an open letter to President Obama published in World Watch Institute’s site. I had pleaded that if ten per cent of the stimulus money had been invested in frugal innovations from India and elsewhere, it would have stimulated local consumption by people with reduced income and promoted distributed production around the world. This opportunity is still available for US. India can help US in stimulating grassroots innovations by and for the excluded communities so that social welfare increases and entrepreneurial processes help both the countries. Grassroots to global [g2G] is a model for reverse globalization. Obama and Modi can realign the trajectory of future developmental discourse in the world by giving new definition to leveraging the merit of the minds on the margin which of course are not marginal minds.
Similarly, given the increasing interest in US in alternative medicine, AYUSH can be linked up with the best labs of US to produce evidence based holistic medicines which will work towards systems biology approach to health, away from the current highly costly, segmented and reductionist approach.
There are many other areas of cooperation that can be harnessed in the forthcoming summit between President Obama and Prime Minister Modi. India has about a million technology students passing out every year. Unlike the IT revolution when India got low end of the IT services outsourced, in future India can become a hub of distributed design of high tech extremely affordable products by fusing global and local technologies and innovations. Indian contribution can also be through cultural and yogic teachers who can reinforce preventive health and thus improve the well being of the people in developed economies. Having declared a Yoga Day in United Nations, let India offer 10000 meticulously trained Yoga teachers to US for building a future generation which will be healthy, compassionate and also appreciative of bilateral cooperation. It is for US to decide whether to see India as a ‘sink’ of its solutions or a ‘source’ of frugal innovations, institutional knowledge and alternative health based systems