If we want the Chinese to listen, we must stop buying Chinese products, whether from a Chinese firm or a proxy front.

 

The last few days have been very disturbing both in terms of the newsflow, and our responses as a nation in very different ways.

The clash with the Chinese PLA at Point 14, Galwan valley, Ladakh, resulted in the loss of 20 of our armymen, and produced an outraged “stop buying Chinese products” sentiment. Yet, the ashes had barely cooled down when Amazon held a flash sale of the Chinese company “Xiomi” mobile handsets on the same night, and guess what: it was completely sold out in minutes.

These buyers were driven by greed and contempt for any national values, and were hoping that the anonymity of the internet would hide their being named and shamed, or worse, could not care less.

Yet, the same social environment has bred and produced two outstanding examples of national duty above personal risk. The soldiers of the Bihar and Punjab regiments who selflessly took on the enemy and made the supreme sacrifice, and the frontline health workers and doctors handling the Covid-19pandemic, who overcome their own fears and the insecurity of their familiesto selflessly treat the infected with or without protective clothing.

The dichotomy is that there are so many instances of these selfless workers being attacked by patients, being misbehaved with, or being shunned by their neighbours who fear getting infected, yet they go to work daily, saving lives and putting the negatives out of mind. It is also ironic that isolated retired army officers ostensibly now mercenaries on hire on behalf of vested interests, keep spouting anti-Army and anti-government sentiment. For men who probably wore their uniforms with honour, their best defence is immaturity, professional frustration and poor timing.

We are accustomed to seeing our politicians baying for blood whenever a national tragedy happens, but it was heartening to see every political party, excluding the Congress, speaking in one voice against China. Similarly, most TV anchors and editors very responsibly portrayed the national perspective when the Chinese were at the proverbial gate, some chose to opt for the enemies’ narrative by masquerading as “upholders of the truth”. They are anchors and editors because they are “mature and experienced”,but do they pass the test of national interest?

The government has taken the decision to minimise economic relations with China after this conflict, and this has panicked Indian industry, perhaps showing how unprepared many are for long term supply chain disruption. Every listed company generates a risk matrix, and has backup options for every category of risk which the Board of Directors sign-off on. Slashing imports from China is not an act of god or force majeure risk, it is a commercial risk. Diversification of supply sources demands normal risk mitigation. Is it that manufacturing in many sectors in India has become largely an assembly shop and tangible domestic value addition is a pipe-dream? Super-profit by sourcing from a rogue nation which uses predatory pricing to acquire market share cannot be the justification to switch from being a manufacturer to a trader. Industry needs to engage government more publically to get them to agree to implement cost and productivity improvement measures and laws, instead of fearing short term harassment. Some of them do that successfully, it’s time for all to show the same spine.

We all understand and respect the fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution, but they come with due restraint. No one denies the dissenters of their right to speak and protest, but to endlessly stretch a Shaheen Bagh protest and subsequent orchestrated rioting, when President Trump was visiting New Delhi only dented the country’s image and honour. Did the protesters score a self-goal and now face even hardened positions with eroded public support?

The Covid-19 lockdowns generated a mass displacement of people, especially migrant labour, not seen since partition. It did not bother our collective conscience that the hungry need to be fed. The complete absence of empathy in us as people was appalling. We pointed fingers at Central and state governments, saying planning was poor, communication weak, but did we look inwards, and act where we could and should, till they did. Select sections of civil society and religious institutions picked up the mantle, but in a nation as large as ours, however valiant and significant their contribution, in absolute it pales into insignificance. It begets the question that in urban centres where the migrant labour crisis occurred, if one in five households contributed Rs100 per day for thirty days, the hunger crisis would not have lasted more than one to two days of logistics organising time. There was no shortage of volunteers willing to cook and facilities to do it in, and the police in every state did yeoman service in the distribution. Do we as citizens have a vested stake in those who are part of the ecosystem around us, and critically “do we care”?

Every time a braveheart in uniform dies, whether armed forces, police or para-military, do we pause and think that it’s us they were protecting. Our transient memories forget that for nearly a decade, bomb blasts in civilian areas in major urban cities were rampant. That we are able to erase that from our memory is a tribute to those who guard us. Most of them are young, leave behind a spouse, children, often dependent parents. Do we as civil society owe a debt of honour to the departed to create a corpus for their families. Unfortunately, the culture of “receive only and not give” is pervasive. Is it business as usual for us to say welfare bodies from these uniformed organisations will do the needful. Do we ponder to think, why any youngster from our families would join the armed forces when we demonstrate such callous indifference? Can we as citizens galvanise at least one crore tax payers who collectively ask our elected representatives to bring an all-party bill to Parliament saying that we the taxpayers are happy to contribute Rs100 each per month for an independent fund that will in turn payout a sum of Rs1 crore to the family of each fallen brave? Surely, sacrificing a slice of pizza is a good balm for our conscience. All our religions teach us gratitude, but let us start by showing it to our fellow beings, and all Gods will bless us. Talking of the might of the Indian consumer is hollow, when actions do not follow words. Character shows when we learn to walk the talk. If we want the Chinese to listen carefully, we must stop buying made in China products, whether from a Chinese company or one of their proxy fronts.

Why should government guidelines not make it mandatory for e-commerce sellers to state the country of origin of goods upfront, and let it be the buyer’s choice whether they will accept a particular nation’s manufactured product? India’s consumer imports may not be significant to dent China’s aggregate exports, but it will make them panic when the rest of the world (150 countries Covid affected) will find a thought leader who acts. In the world of instant connectivity, demonstrated opinion making counts.

No nation is respected if its citizens do not have pride in their national symbols, do not have work ethic, are easily corrupted financially or morally. These are oft-repeated lessons of history. Let’s wake up and smell the coffee. Can we forget the inane debate regarding whether to stand or not when the national anthem is played in cinema halls? Can we ever be confident that work once assigned will be of acceptable quality and delivered on time if not supervised? It is rare to find people taking pride in their work, not making habitual excuses for dis-respecting timelines, and an all-encompassing “chaltahai” attitude prevails. However, the mass spread of the disease called corruption continues to impact the daily lives of ordinary citizens. Corruption has a corollary in rejection of merit, no quality orientation, a weaning away from doing an honest day’s work, and perpetuating the habit of cheating. Systemic changes by the use of technology and software are improving things, but the task is monumental.

I often wonder why is it that we do not applaud successes, and adopt high achievers as role models. Why do we choose to look at the non-achieving facets of their lives and pull them down to level the playing field. Perhaps that explains why we do not have excellence in proportion to our population. We need to realise that no one is going to do this for us. We have to improve by ourselves and for ourselves. The world will evaluate as a make or buy decision point destination.

Let us minimise the number of reasons for which they can ignore us, and maximize those that we can feel good about ourselves too. As a nation, the world is looking at us to step up and fill the leadership opportunities available. We have the opportunity to either maximize our demographic dividend, or face an unmitigated disaster. The days of only debating and scoring points are over, it’s time for demonstrated actions. We need a very high action orientation, and the path of such a culture creation must be expedited.

Sanjit Paul Singh is Managing Partner, S&S Associates.