Making it in India

MANUFACTURING

The India Way

Sharmila Kantha (Ed)

Confederation of Indian Industry

134 pages; Rs 2,100

The "Make in India" programme has been one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's most prominent messages to the international and Indian business communities. It was one of the issues he singled out for his soaring rhetoric in his first Independence Day speech in 2014. "I want to appeal [to] all the people [the] world over, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, 'Come, make in India'…Sell in any country of the world but manufacture here. We have got skill, talent, discipline, and determination to do something. We want to give the world a favourable opportunity …," he said.

How does the policy encourage entrepreneurs to take advantage of this "favourable opportunity"? If that answer is unclear still, this coffee-table book does a reasonably competent job in providing a SWOT analysis of Indian manufacturing as seen by businessmen with long experience of making in India.

This is probably not the intention of the publisher, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), which counts some of India's largest manufacturing conglomerates among its members. As an industry chamber, this offering is more about an opportunity, taken at the flood. CII rarely criticises governments and suffered some uncomfortable moments when a senior representative ventured to censure Mr Modi during his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat. Understandably, then, this book has tactfully refrained from analysing the policy (or lack thereof) in any depth. It seeks to provide instead what Sumit Mazumder, who was president when the book was published, has described as "a valuable guidepost to those interested in the aspirations of India to emerge as a manufacturing hub of the world".

The valuable guideposts may not be immediately visible because the general tone of the book is politely upbeat, encouraging and, above all, relentlessly aspirational. Anyone looking for the real issues and insights about Indian manufacturing will need to read between the lines of these 16 pieces.

For instance, Naushad Forbes, CII's current president, sets out the seven principles defining the new Indian manufacturing enterprise or, to put it in the kind of language that Narendra Modi has made popular, "the India Way of Manufacturing". These principles contain all the key words and phrases - "customer-driven system", "world-class", "integrating technology", "innovation", "crowdsourcing", "next-generation visionary leadership" and "inclusive practices". All of these will be among attributes for a Make in India award that CII has instituted.

Perhaps the most significant of these attributes is listed on point 7 of Mr Forbes' article: "Taking forward the agility and adaptability gained from operating in sub-optimal environments at home (poor connectivity, unreliable power) as a strength in dealing with an uncertain world". In fact, Mr Forbes has mentioned just two of the "sub-optimal environments". Any manufacturer can add several more to the list - the restrictive labour legislation, corrosive official corruption at every level, the skills shortage, uncertain policy being just a few. The essay by Sunil Kant Munjal, joint managing director, HeroMotoCorp, gallantly titled "Make India Proud of Herself Again" is one of the few to mention some of these issues - including the insidious "Inspector Raj" - but others do not emulate his candour.

It is true, though, that infrastructure remains the biggest constraint, and its development is closely tied in a chicken-and-egg relationship with the expansion of manufacturing. Feedback Ventures' Vinayak Chatterjee, whose brightly optimistic piece belies his deep knowledge of the real state of Indian infrastructure, makes a neat point when he says, "While 'Make in India' is an invitation to the manufacturing sector, we must seize every opportunity we can to 'make India' in the process."

C Narasimhan, former president of Sundaram Clayton, who chairs the CII Cluster Programme, probably came closest to the truth when he bluntly and insightfully lists out why, despite steady progress of over 50 years, India is in not a position to excel in manufacturing. Among his arguments he suggests that our tendency to adapt British, European and Japanese systems may not be entirely suitable for India ("Such adopted systems do offer improvements but not excellence," he writes). He offers in their stead the vision of an Indian Production System, which is interesting but there are no examples to suggest how this theory works in practice.

The inclusion of hard examples of "manufacturing in action" would have added some heft to this book as would comparisons with China or East Asian models. Mr Munjal and T V Narendran, managing director, Tata Steel India and South East Asia, make brief references to those competitive challenges, but they are too inadequate to provide meaningful information for prospective investors.

Finally, a word on the production. In an attempt to provide different voices, the designers have come up with a crowded layout that reduces the book to a brochure. It is good that they have desisted from using the childishly constructed lion that constitutes the official "Make in India" symbol. But the decision to repeat the cogwheel motif and combine it with a text vaguely resembling the Devanagiri script gives the book a clunky feel that unwittingly reflects the real state of Indian manufacturing instead of the sophisticated, futuristic vision to which we aspire.


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