Here’s what we know about corona now. First, the bad news – Covid is fairly resilient. No other flu virus has ever spread like this in India’s summer heat, for instance. The virus won’t just ‘go away on its own’ as many felt it eventually would. Especially in large, relatively free democracies, containing the virus is a daunting task. In fact, the top three countries with coronavirus cases (the US, Brazil, India) are the world’s top three democracies.
However, there is also some good news. The death rate versus corona positives is lower than originally thought (less than 1%). Since the virus began early this year, global deaths are a little under 7 lakh, at the time of writing this article. While this is a big absolute number, an estimated 3.3 crore people have died this year worldwide, from all possible causes (source: worldometer).
One more positive news about coronavirus is that face masks and social distancing, relatively simpler to implement than full lockdowns, seem to work just as well in containing the spread. Finally, the most positive news is that multiple vaccines are in final, Phase-III trials.
While success in these trials is not guaranteed, with so many different vaccines being tested, there is an excellent chance that we would have a vaccine within the next six months. As an optimist and based on the sheer number of trials and the historical success rates of past Phase-III vaccine trials, I would put the chance of a Covid-19 vaccine being available by February 2021 at over 80%!
For optimists we must be. If we give up hope and fall into despair, we will never be able to make the Indian economy recover. We have to start the work for a post-corona world right now if we want to make the most of it.
To pessimists, a crisis feels like the end. To me that is a loser’s mindset, something we need to shed right now. For optimists this crisis is not the end, but the beginning. This is a wonderful, once-in-a-century opportunity for India. The entire world was smug and comfortable with their factories churning out output in China. If they had to grow, they simply added capacity in China. Not anymore.
Now, even if they don’t move their existing factories out of China, they will think twice about adding more capacity at the same location or opening new ones. This is where India has to come in, wave its hand, and say to the world – ‘Guys, we are ready. We’ll manufacture stuff for you. Give us a chance.’
Will merely waving our hand and extending invitations be enough? Absolutely not. We have to be ready. We have to not just invite; we have to be an attractive, alternative destination to China. For this we need to change a few things. This isn’t just about fiscal spending and gobbledygook of suggestions with unending economic data. Here’s what we can and need to do in practical terms.
1) Have better internet connectivity – It’s 2020, there’s no excuse for having sluggish data or bad Wi-Fi connections. Post-Covid, reliance on data has risen manifold. India is still terrible in data and Wi-Fi speeds compared to China and other Asian countries. Do what it takes. Fix it. You cannot be taken seriously as a nation if you have bad Wi-Fi.
2) Improve the speeds of our ports, trains and even roads. Ports in Hong Kong and China move goods five times faster than us. Again, no excuse for all this in 2020. Endless paperwork, permissions, officials behaving as if every business is crooked unless proven otherwise is no way to be competitive. Stop it. Similarly, with lesser demand for aviation, trains and roads have to become faster. Our trains still move at 1980s speeds. Not every train needs to be a bullet train. But they don’t need to be bullock carts either. Similarly, roads need to be faster if we hope to compete with China.
3) Create an Arhchan mukt Bharat. While the government is implementing rather well its own political Congress mukt agenda, it’s time we really make business arhchan free. Arhchan means obstacle in English, but the Hindi word is loaded with far more meaning. Arhchans are a way of life in India. Arhchans are those irritating obstacles that will come up from babus, regulators, local politicians, anyone with power of any kind who will harass any investor.
If someone wants to move a $200 million plant out of China to India, how can you guarantee me that there will be no arhchan? Answering this fundamental question will determine India’s post-Covid economic status, the future of our new generation and frankly, India’s place in the world. Can we make Indian business arhchan free?
India can easily convert the corona crisis to an opportunity. Maybe that is why we threaten China a bit (which might even explain their ratcheting up of border tensions). However, mere chest thumping, slogans or patriotic zeal won’t make us the next manufacturing hub. We have to focus, prepare and offer something compelling to the world.
Once Covid is over, let’s not go back to unproductive issues. In fact, let’s start getting ready for a corona vaccinated world right now. Let’s vaccinate our economy so that it can remain healthy and thrive in the coming decades.