By Amar Yumnam
I have just recently delivered a lecture at the Mahidol University in Bangkok. I spoke on Policy Making in Border Regions characterised by heterogeneity at two levels – national and intra-regional. This heterogeneity is to be found in both demography and geography. While diversification is to be appreciated, deepening and unaddressed heterogeneity could have many negative implications. The worst is when all the policy interventions are not alive to this reality in this country. There are many orientation changes to be put in place in order to address the worsening scenario. The listeners to my lecture were involved youths from all over the world – North America, Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia. The programme was organised jointly by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Chair at the University of Connecticut, USA and the Mahidol University.
Certain things I absorbed from the experience and observations from this visit to the Mahidol University and the inputs from the participants in the programme. Before writing on these reflections, I would like to recall the refrain of the Indian intellectuals during the 1990s when it was firmly established that the Asian Tigers (South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan) have recorded a high and sustained rate of transformation of the economy hitherto inexperienced anywhere else in the world. The Indian intellectuals rationalised this experience, in the light of the poor performance of the Indian economy, by emphasising that these countries were small in both population and territory and so relatively easier to effect high growth rates of the economies. Now when the bigger country both in demography and territory, read China, beats India firmly and sustainably in economic performance, I have not come across any new refrain to supplement the one of the 1990s. The Indian intellectuals are now only mildly apologetic at most as both small and large neighbouring countries have beaten India firmly in the development race and there is no option left for another round of excuse.
Now my reflection on why countries like China and Thailand would consistently and sustainably beat India in the development race. I have visited these countries more than once during the last five years for academic purposes. Further my visits to these countries come in the background of my fairly extensive exposure to the academic world in Europe and United States of America. For Thailand this was my third time though first to the Mahidol University. My recent visit is preceded by the absolute absence of Indian institutes of higher learning (Universities, IITs, research centres and IIMs) in the latest global ranking of universities wherein none appears from India while Chulalongkorn and Mahidol universities of Thailand do figure. So the recent visit to the Mahidol University was with a critical and observation frame of mind. This university has undergraduate programme as well and admits more than forty thousand students to all the programmes. The sustenance and growth of the surrounding areas has footprints of this university. Now this institute has facilities and atmosphere as good as the best anywhere in the world, the United States of America included. With an expenditure of less than four lakhs in the Indian currency, a student can have exposure and experience in an international campus in every sense in this university with English as the medium of instruction. There is no university, no Indian Institute of Technology and no Indian Institute of Management in India which can match the Mahidol University of Bangkok in terms of arrangement, facilities, organisation and overall atmosphere, and no doubt Mahidol appears in the global ranking while Indian institutes are conspicuous by their absence. Even the five star hotels in India cannot match Mahidol University in providing facilities and the atmosphere for an international meet. At most the hotels would be successful in matching the food quality and variety, but never in providing the academic atmosphere and orientation for an international meet. Besides, the limited competition provided by the hotels would be at prohibitive costs. Now the beauty of Mahidol lies in the fact of providing the atmosphere and facilities within the curriculum framework of the university. Compare to this global race in the competition for quality in the education portfolio, the picture in India has been very pretentious and has established inherent characters of ensuring decline rather than growth. The Mumbai University is the first university of the country and I am absolutely proud of being a product of this institute. But unfortunately this and other earliest universities and more recent ones in India have never shown the characteristics of joining the global race of supremacy in academic performance and quality. Instead India has invariably experienced declines in the competitiveness of her academic institutes, old and new, and has never taken the time needed for introspection on whys of this.
Now simultaneously with this we have the news emerging out of the continuing Congress for evolving new leadership in the Chinese polity. The events emanating from this event establishes beyond doubt how a system and structure has been established in this country to address weaknesses and leakages of the polity so that the national strength is forever fostered. It has been announced to the public that the second largest economy of the world would experience a growth rate as anticipated despite the all-round economic problems in the West. Now look at India. The various scams and exposures and the absolute lack of accountability in all these establish beyond doubt that India does not have a constitutional and political framework for enhancing the core strengths of polity and economy. Even worse, there is no emergence in India of a determination to address the issues of polity and economy at the core. The country works only on pretentions and never on fundamental commitments. Global history says that this is no way to sustain a progression of a society, polity and economy. I have used the term country conscientiously rather than nation here.