India and the world changed dramatically at the beginning of the 1990s. Communist Soviet Union collapsed. The Cold War ended. And India embarked on a bold new path of economic reforms. Thirty years later, the global order is changing fundamentally yet again. The speed, scale and substance of this change are unprecedented, even unpredictable. Yet, one thing is absolutely predictable: India’s time has come.
Destiny and Drive are making the 21st century’s favourite nation ready for a great leap forward. India stands at the doorstep of prosperity that is both significant and inclusive, and of delivering all-round human development through the democratic route. With faith in our potential, confidence in our collective capabilities, and unity in action, we can exceed the world’s expectations.
My source of optimism is our recent past. In 1991, India showed foresight and courage in changing both the direction and determinants of its economy. The government placed the private sector also at the commanding heights of the national economy, which the public sector had occupied for the previous four decades. It ended the license-quota raj, liberalised trade and industrial policies, and freed up capital markets and the financial sector. These reforms liberated India’s entrepreneurial energy and inaugurated an era of fast-paced growth.
The results are for all to see. India’s GDP of $266 billion in 1991 has grown by over 10 times. Our economy has become the fifth largest in the world. Poverty rates have halved despite population rising from 880 million to 1.38 billion. Key infrastructure has improved beyond recognition. Our expressways, airports and ports are now world-class, and so are many of our industries and services. No young Indian today would believe that people had to wait for years to get a telephone or a gas connection, or that businesses had to seek government’s permission to buy a computer.
India transformed from an economy of scarcity in 1991 into an economy of sufficiency in 2021. Now, India has to transform into an economy of sustainable abundance and equitable prosperity by 2051. In India, equity will be at the heart of our collective prosperity.
With our accomplishments over the past three decades, we have earned the right to dream big. What can be a greater dream than to be able to celebrate the centenary of our Independence in 2047 by making India one of the world’s three wealthiest nations, on par with America and China? Is it too tall an ambition to pursue? No. My visionary father Dhirubhai Ambani, who was one of the earliest advocates of economic liberalisation in the 1980s, used to tell me — “To think small is unbecoming of an Indian.”
How can we realise this ambition? By following our own unique Indian and atmanirbhar model of wealth creation, while cooperating with, and learning all the right lessons from, the rest of the world. Let me present five broad ideas.
First. So far economic reforms have benefited Indians unevenly. The disparity is neither acceptable nor sustainable. Therefore, the Indian model of development should focus on creating wealth for the people at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Nations become prosperous when they expand their markets and ascend steadily on the value chain, inclusively. Our greatest advantage lies in India’s continent-sized domestic market, which is still largely untapped. Our economy will begin to witness miraculous growth when we create a middle class of one billion people with rising incomes. In demographic terms, this will amount to adding all of US and Europe combined to the current size of the Indian market. When so many people are enabled to fulfil their aspirations for a better life, they will set in motion a virtuous cycle of consumption and production. This will cause an exponential rise in young entrepreneurs, including women entrepreneurs. Investors and businesses from around the world will want to participate in this humongous India Opportunity.
To achieve this might have seemed impossible in the past. Not so now.
Hence, my second idea. This is the age of technological disruption and acceleration. The world will witness more changes over the next 30 years than seen in the previous 300 years. After losing out in the first two Industrial Revolutions, and catching up on the third, India now has an opportunity to lead the Fourth Industrial Revolution. By speedily deploying its technologies, our entrepreneurs can achieve quantum increases in productivity and efficiency. This will transform not only our large industries and services, but also agriculture, MSMEs, construction, renewable energy, arts and crafts, etc. These are precisely the areas with the highest potential to create large-scale employment, which is India’s most pressing need. These technologies can help us achieve quality, affordability and equity in education, healthcare and housing at scale — a dire necessity since our population is expected to rise to 1.64 billion by 2050. They also have the power to reverse degradation of the environment and make it safe for all. In short, technology-led development is the surest way to create a better India and a more equal India for every Indian.
Third. To turn these exciting possibilities into realities, India should become a nation of innovators. Traditionally, India has been highly innovative in low-tech activities. Now we have to replicate this prowess using hi-tech tools so that they become facilitators of faster growth. Innovation will help our entrepreneurs provide high-quality, yet extremely affordable, services and solutions to meet India’s needs. The same can also be offered to export markets, where they will fetch higher value. Wealth will thus migrate from developed countries to India. Of course, a critical requirement to achieve this goal is rapid re-skilling of our workforce and reforms in our education system to make our children and youth future-ready. Specifically, we must expeditiously build world-class universities and research centres and also upgrade existing institutions to serve India’s 21st century needs.
Fourth. We need to change our understanding of wealth and the ways to pursue it and bring them in alignment with India’s ancient wisdom rooted in the primacy of empathy. For too long, we have been measuring wealth only in personal and financial terms. We have neglected the truth that India’s true wealth lies in achieving ‘Education for All’, ‘Health for All’, ‘Employment for All’, ‘Good Housing for All’, ‘Environmental Safety for All’, ‘Sports, Culture and Arts for All’ and ‘Opportunities for Self-Development for All’ — in short, ‘Happiness for All’. To attain these redefined parameters of prosperity, we have to bring care and empathy to the core of everything we do in business and society.
Furthermore, our concept of prosperity of the people has to be extended to prosperity of our planet. After all, India is called upon to play a leading role in realising the daunting 2050 Climate Action goals. Therefore, at Reliance our newest and most ambitious business initiative is aimed at offering ‘Affordable Green Energy’ solutions to India and the global market.
Fifth, the Indian model of wealth creation requires reconceptualisation of entrepreneurship itself. Tomorrow’s successful businesses will be partnerships and platforms, which promote both healthy competition and fruitful collaboration. Moreover, running enterprises of the future cannot be a solo play. At Reliance, we see it as orchestration of professionals and employees with an ‘ownership mindset’, joined by partners, and investors, all working for the common goal of what Mahatma Gandhi called ‘Antyodaya’ (welfare and wellbeing of the last man).
Having begun my own business career when India was still in the pre-reforms era, I am supremely hopeful and confident about the Rise of New India. I can see that the spirit of India is more resurgent than ever before.
Let us accelerate our nation’s forward march with positivity, purpose and passion. True, the road ahead is not easy. But let us not be deterred by unexpected and temporary problems, such as the pandemic, or distracted by unimportant issues that dissipate our energies. We have the opportunity, also a responsibility towards our children and youth, to make the next 30 years the best ever in independent India’s history.
(First published in The Times Of India dated 24th July 2021)