There are two recent images of global India. The first is India as the world's vaccine exporter, sending supplies of Covid vaccines to diverse countries from South America to South Asia. The other is the government's furious line against pro-farmers-protest tweets of music star Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg, cracking down on those who shared a toolkit, jailing Disha Ravi and continuing police deployment at farm protest sites.
The vaccine export drive aims to showcase atmanirbhar India as a manufacturing hub and vaccine supplier to the world. Towards this end, PM Modi has announced the focus on ease of doing business and declared that the role of the private sector is vital as wealth creators create jobs. FM Sitharaman has urged industry and private enterprise to show animal spirits, British economist John Maynard Keynes's phrase, describing a human emotion that guides energetic financial behaviour in difficult times.
Freedom is indivisible. Freedom cannot be compartmentalised. The authoritarian economic miracle of China may be a role model for some, but in India, given the dizzying diversities of economic life, the evidence shows that economic growth is best achieved in times of civic and social freedom.
The attempt to spur free private enterprise when a vast state apparatus is severely constricting civil and democratic rights, when sedition charges are being slapped, when those holding any ideology opposed to the governing regime are imprisoned or muzzled, is bound to fail, particularly if fear is the dominant emotion. The first step to unleashing the animal spirits is surely to recognise that fear and control over thought and expression, are the biggest deterrent to those spirits.
Who, after all, is the common entrepreneur He or she often a young genius behind a startup or a new business is above all a free thinker who is able to generate a bright new idea that may catch the imagination of people. Entrepreneurship is rooted in the freedom to think, to question prevailing paradigms, entertain inconvenient truths and come up with out-of-the-box ideas. But in a climate of fear, where the freedom to think is severely constricted by the fear of being dubbed anti-national, the robust energies of new entrepreneurs are in danger of being snuffed out.
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