Whether it be the high per capita incomes of the Indian-American community or their low crime rates, almost every member of this “model minority” has acted as an ambassador of goodwill for India. The manner in which Indian-Americans led superbly productive lives indicates the distance that policymakers in India need to traverse before they create an environment that will reward rather than punish excellence. Control of the citizen by the state is the foundational tenet of colonialism, and just as British-era laws, practices and regulations have been faithfully adhered to, even while several politicians (including those who send their children to study and stay in the US, Australia or the UK) in India continue to ensure that the teaching of English is confined to the upper reaches of society by restricting the teaching of that language in government schools in a manner that perpetuates the Digital Divide between income classes in India. Given the overhang of colonial mindsets in India, the coming to power of a man descended from humble roots as the Prime Minister of India has resulted in a change in the situation. Even during the campaign for winning a majority in the Lok Sabha in 2014, Narendra Damodardas Modi spoke of “Minimum Government”. He did away with such archaic practices as having a gazetted officer mandatorily attest each certificate, as though the word of a citizen were not enough to establish its genuineness. More and more processes are coming within the purview of the digital drive. However, care must be taken to see that a few do not succeed in extinguishing the livelihoods of the many as a consequence of their actions. The way in which the US Trade Representative has been seeking to force the Government of India to roll back even the limited number of restraints that have been imposed on mega enterprises betray a callous—indeed cruel—disregard for tens of millions of individuals who rank among the most needy in the world. Already the livelihoods of millions of small artisans and craftsmen have been destroyed by the flood of cheap Chinese replacements for goods made by them. Stopping the flood through taxation or checks at the border would be less effective than schemes that would ensure funding and logistics for small craftspersons and artisans in India. The country needs not just a single Khadi & Village Industries Commission but several such organisations, including in the private sector. In much the same manner, millions of jobs in small and tiny retail are in danger of being lost forever, were the giant companies headquartered in the west coast of the US to retain a monopoly in the way that is happening now. First it was small shopkeepers who were driven out of business as a consequence of shopping malls proliferating across the country. Next it was the impact of internet retailing by Amazon and others that, if unchecked, will lead to immense human misery.
Efforts by giant US and European pharmaceutical companies to remove competition from India and its generic drugs industry need to be countered. From funding the writing of books against Indian pharma to bankrolling multiple fake news items about the quality of the medicines produced in India, the relentless effort of the USTR has been to use methods such as absurdly expanded versions of IPR protection laws and regulations to choke into irrelevance the generic drugs industry in India. Use has also been made of legal processes to entrap Indian companies in litigation for years, often in the US, but very often in India as well. Protection of the poor is the responsibility of any government that regards the ordinary citizen as needing help, rather than the millionaire or the billionaire class getting treated as the only segment of society that merits their indulgence. Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal needs to stand firm on such issues, so that the livelihoods of the poor do not get impacted. At the same time, there needs to be a system in place that can incentivise investments, especially in manufacturing. The relationship between the US and India is comprehensive and complex, but needed for global stability and overall economic progress. Such policies should improve the lives of the poor, and not add yet more zeroes to the wealth of a few Big Tech or Big Pharma barons. India can and hopefully will go the extra mile in working with the US to ensure stability and security in sensitive zones, including in South Asia and in the Middle East. However, this does not mean that policies designed to protect the livelihoods of tens and indeed hundreds of millions should be abandoned, as demanded by USTR.