Speech at CII AGM


It is an honour for me to be here today. I would like to begin by telling you why it is an honour for me.  See, there is a tendency to look at India as a country. In our everyday life we see India as a national structure. If we go back slightly more than that, go back 100 years, 200 years, you will find that India actually is energy. It is a force. If you go back 1000 or 2000 years, you will find that force came from our rivers – Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati – and we worship these rivers. We worship these rivers because that was where our energy came from. Everything we had was built from these rivers. Now we have gone way beyond that. We have built structures that are allowing these energies to raise, to explore. And it is an honour for me to be here because as this energy moves from India and goes abroad, you are the cutting edge; you are the people on the first line, you are our ambassadors, you are the people who tell the world what energy is about.  Over the last couple of years, you have done a tremendous job.  The image of India is changed. I went to university in 1991 and I remember – nobody thought of India.  I remember conversations where people will laugh and say you have elephants on the roads. No one is saying that today and a huge part of that is because of the people. So I would like to thank you and would like to tell you that this is a big honour for me to be here addressing you.

It was a dark night, years ago, when my team and I got into Gorakhpur Lok Manya Tilak Express and travelled across India’s heart- lands.  We wanted to understand how young Indians were building their future. I spent large part of our 36 hours journey moving across the train and talking to travellers, youngsters and families and migrants moving from the dust of Gorakhpur to glitters of Mumbai.  I remember a young boy from Purvanchal – Girish- who painted the outside of sky-rappers, there were two carpenters one of whom was travelling to Mumbai for the very first time. Imagine the feeling of a young fellow getting on to the train, coming out of the village, going to Mumbai. I also talked to a young Muslim boy who is setting out to start his life; he had no idea about what work he is going to do. I asked him what happens if he reaches Mumbai and there is nothing for him to do.  “If I find there is nothing to do for me in Mumbai, I will catch a train and go to Bangalore” he replied.  That’s the spirit of this country – forward moving, brave.

What struck me about that train was the optimism.  These were poor people, weak people. But not any one of them was pessimistic. They were all struggling but all were optimist. And this optimism for me is just like India. It is bursting with dreams and fearless ideas, brave ideas.  And as I neared towards Mumbai, was wondering how many of these dreams would actually be fulfilled. By the time we reached Mumbai, we had made friends with Girish and he told us come and see where he lived. We thought it is an interesting thing to do. At 4’ O clock in the morning, we just walked-off into the galis of Mumbai; It was Monsoon season. When we reached there he opened the door. It was a small room and six people were staying there. All of them were migrants and had travelled from far with full of dreams. We had a little chat.. He was a very smart fellow, good entrepreneur like all of you, but with empty pockets.  He said ‘come to the chhaiwalah’. We went to the ‘chhaiwalah’ and he ordered tea for all of us, despite our saying no, he paid for it. That is the spirit.

Millions and millions and millions of youngsters are struggling every day, with optimism. The story of Girish exemplifies the idea of empowerment. It exemplifies the Indian worker and Indian entrepreneur.  And as we talk here, a billion people are breaking their shatters, they are coming out and they claim their place in the soil. India is the home of the largest pool of human capital the world has ever known. And probably it will ever know. And it is this tremendous movement of people and ideas that is going to define this country in the 21st century. It is this energy that is producing your best managers; which is driving the stock markets; and it is the energy that is providing labourers for your factories. It drives the consumption upon which your business is built. Democracy and technology trigger a non-reversible chain reaction in India. This reaction is now unstoppable. We have to channel these reactions.

We are now sitting on an unstoppable tide of human aspirations; a tide which is so great and will move forward, regardless what we do.  But for this massive movement of people and ideas to be truly transformational, we need to nurture it. We need to make it harmonious. We need to make it happen smoothly.  We need to use the energy generated by this movement of people and ideas, we need to empower everybody – not one person; not almost everybody; but everybody.

The first thing we need to do is to accelerate this movement. It is our duty to provide India with the physical infrastructure to enable this unprecedented movement of people and ideas. This infrastructure needs to connect India. It needs to connect Indian villages, it needs to connect Indian cities and it needs to connect India to the rest of the world. We have to provide the roads on which our dreams are paved. And these roads can’t have potholes. They can’t break down in six months. They have to be big roads because they are going to carry big people; they are going to carry strong forces. We have to provide the electricity to our children that will light up their future.

Government cannot build these infrastructures alone. We need your help. It has to be built jointly, and together we will find a model that our capital is used efficiently and without delay. It is critical that the business environment is the creation of this dynamic infrastructure is stable and predictable.

In this 21st century we need to make sure that the ideas move fast. We need to aggressively build a knowledge infrastructure, to support this massive flow of ideas. Together we must ensure that our knowledge and educational skills define the global stance. It is not enough for us to say ‘we want to be like them’.  They should say that they want to be like Indians.

Certainly we have the scenes for a world-class educational system. Yes, it is there; but it is small, needs to be expanded. But that is not going to be enough. Today we are mortgaging our future because large part if our educational systems are based on defunct ideas – ideas that are no longer relevant. The reality is that a lot of youngsters like the travellers of Lok Manya Tilak Express – are not trained and it so difficult for you to employ them.  You understand better than anyone as you spend enormous amount of time and money to train them.

Our problem is not joblessness. It is the lack of training and skills. Why should a mother sleep at night worrying about whether her brilliant child will find a school to go? Why is that a degree from Harward costs the same as the capitation fees of a Medical college in Lucknow? Why are our students forced to study obsolete things?

I am a pilot; I learnt to fly at the United States and came back and wanted to convert my license. I went to the DGCA and asked about the formalities. They gave me the book containing guidelines; I opened the book. Large section of the book is about how to drop mail from a plane.  How many of you are getting your mails dropped from the aeroplanes in the sky? What is the relevance? But we are teaching this to our kids. This is not the case only with the pilot training. It is everywhere. Look at the text books. Most of the stuff is not relevant to what they are going to do. Who knows what they are going to do? You know what you are going to do; because you are going to give them the jobs. You are the people who are going to employ them.  Do you have a role in our education curriculum? Does anyone ask you? Do you have structures in universities – not individual relationships- that allows you to seek your inputs on on what IIT is teaching? You don’t.  Those are the type of structures we have to build. Our university structures are closed. University today is a network and it has to be connected to the industries. It has to take input from the Industries. That is not happening.

I will tell you a story. A friend of mine came from the United States and he wanted to do some Engineering work. He asked me where the good places to go and I said IITs. So he went to the IITs, talked to professors and a professor could solve his problem. When he came out he told me “that guy solved my problem for a couple of thousand rupees that actually worth about 30,000 dollars”. That professor had no idea about the value of his work, because he is not connected with the market. He doesn’t understand what the market is ready to pay him.

So we have to change some of the stuff. For the young, the difference between aspiration and empowerment is basically a job. I go to the rural areas and the bottom line - is the job. Everything else is roaming around this – getting a job. You are the people, who are going to take the lead for the creation of the jobs. What government has to do is to improve the playing field and create a professional, impartial governance system.

I want to tell what I consider as the threats for this movement of the people. Lack of infrastructure is really one. Lack of knowledge-infrastructure another one. But for me the biggest danger is excluding people; excluding the poor, middle class, tribals, dalits.. Whenever he have not embraced the excluded – the women, tribals, poor, we always have fallen backwards.

President Kennedy famously said “A Rising tide rises the boats”. There are women Self Help Groups in my constituency and I used to interact with the women activists whenever I go there.  When I once told them about this phrase, one of the women told me that they do not have the boats. A tide can raise a boat only if we have one. A tide is not enough, boats are also required to get raised with the tide. We have to give them the basic infrastructure.

What is the basic infrastructure? The basic infrastructure, as designed by the UPA, is the right-based paradigm. Give everybody the basic minimum on a number of key ideas; give them basic minimum on the job front, on the education front, give them basic minimum on information. That is what we are basically doing. The right-based approach is important because it allows people to move. It builds this movement.

One of the biggest problems the poor people have is identification. Go to a village. In a village people know each other. When a villager leaves his village, he loses all these information and nobody else has it. So a lot of ideas that we have today are designed to support this movement and make it more smoother and comfortable for the people who are going to move. And as I said earlier, this movement is what is driving everything.

We cannot ignore the works million women undertake every day. The work they do right now, while we sit at the AC rooms here, they are not only building our boats; they are the waves. They are not only building boats, they are the waves. We cannot speak about growth without speaking about them.

Our economic vision must be about more than money. It must be about compassion. We must talk about a vision of growth that leaves no man or woman is left outside in the shadow. Embracing the excluded is the essence of the wealth of the nation. If we do not embrace them, we will all suffer. In a democracy, the poor have a view and we have to carry the poor and weak with us.  India will only move forward with inclusive growth that embraces everyone and is open is attainable to those who are inside this room or those very very far outside.

There is a strong connection between harmony and growth. When we talk about this movement of ideas, there are two ways that this movement can go. It can go harmoniously or it can go disrupted. The idea of the Congress party that it should go harmoniously; everyone should move together happily. India has grown faster under the UPA because we have greatly lowered tensions between communities and made growth inclusive and fostered an environment of tolerance and harmony.  Anger, hatred and prejudice do not contribute to growth. Do not underestimate the benefits of harmony.

When you play the politics of alienating communities, you stop the movement of people and ideas. When that happens we all suffer. Businesses suffer and the seeds of disharmony are sown and the dreams of our people are severely disrupted.  Once it is done this damage will take a very long time to reverse.  It is very dangerous to leave people behind. Inclusive growth is a win-win for everybody.  

We in the Congress party have systematically been working for creating a modern political infrastructure that provides people with voice. By lifting people out of poverty, using our rights-approach, we are smoothening out a lot of these flaws.

As we move forward to meet these challenges, we must remember that we have a tendency in India that we can solve all our problems incrementally. This is the mistake. There are some problems that require exponential solutions. Whenever India has done well, it has done so not by incremental steps but by radically transforming the structure. Look at our successes, from the Green revolution to the white revolution and to the IT and Telecom revolutions, all those successes were the results of exponential thinking.

We are a brave young country. With break-out the mode of incremental improvements and get into the mode of generational shift, let us stop wondering how many colleges we can build, discuss the ideas what we can do so that the very idea of college, the very idea of university are transformed.  This might find idealistic to you; but I am speaking very seriously from India’s experience. If you went about the telecom revolution in the eighties, by distributing telephones one by one, and going slowly house by house, Sam Pitroda wouldn’t be sitting with us and he would be somewhere in Kalahandi distributing telephones. He wouldn’t have that wonderful white hair.

So let us get into the business of smart intervention.  Your voice and skills has to go into policy in a systematic way. Sam Pitroda, Krishna Moorthy, Sreedharan, Nandan Nilekani.. they all combined their skills with government to empower our people and transform India.

What India is thirsting for now is a visionary partnership – a partnership that incentivise the view to provide economic gains for the poor and millions of aspiring middle class.  It is only once this partnership is forged, that will generate the momentum to transform this country.

Congress party is the only political institution capable of forging this partnership. It is the only party which is inclusive by design and its core-value is promoting harmony. We are committed to creating an open political architecture that is accessible to every Indian.

Today we need to forge a new business compact - a new frame work that responds to the 21st century. On our side we will ensure a fair, rules-based stable environment for entrepreneurs - large or small. We shall create an environment that needs not compete in the corridors of Raisina Hills and compete instead at the streets and galis of our town and villages; an environment where business will thrive innovating better products and services.  The compact should bring the excluded into the economic mainstream.

In such an environment, I invite business to help us unleash entrepreneurship, jobs  and skills. In this compact, businesses are committed to play by the rules, protect the environment and respect the rights of the people.  We are readying ourselves in creating a new political architecture which will incorporate ion a systemic way all voices including the voices of the business.

I have come here because I have belief in you. I believe that this country cannot move forward without you.  I have come here because I want to forge a partnership with you – a long term partnership to take this country forward.  Let us work together to build a brave empowered new India.

Adi Ji told in his speech that I am spending a lot of time with poor people. I want to make one thing very clear. India cannot move forward without partnership; without working together. The poor are one component of our country. Business is another component. The middle class is the third component. We have to work with all these components. It is not good enough to say that poor are important or business or middle class are important; or the powerful are important. This country is only going to move forward if we stitch together whole issues where we all are working together; you are critical to that; it cannot be done without you.  That is the message I would like to give.

Thank you.

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