It was on 15 August, 2015 that Prime Minister Modi, from the ramparts of Red Fort, first used the rallying cry of "Start Up India, Stand Up India". Several months down the line, the actual policy was unveiled amidst much fanfare and a lot of buzz. Expectations, needless to say, were sky high.
In this piece I will not go into a detailed analysis of the merits and demerits of the initiative because enough has been written on the subject, but suffice it to say that it is failing to meet expectations. My endeavour here is to find answers as to why this programme and many others of the Modi government fall short on delivering on their promise, despite what photoshopped images on social media might lead you to believe.
Development as mantra
'Development' was the main theme the last general elections, with a strong emphasis on job creation and high economic growth. Given the importance of a solid start-up ecosystem in India's economic growth, it was surprising that it took nearly two years for the government to come up with a policy.
Certain measures in the policy are either of the 'work in progress' variety or languishing as mere proposals.
Such a delay would have been understandable had the policy involved legislative amendments or intricate state-level consultations, but that was not the case. It's even more baffling that after taking so much time, certain measures in the policy are either of the 'work in progress' variety or languishing as mere proposals. It's confounding that the basic definition of 'start-up' was not even ready when the policy was announced in 2015; only later was a definition finally presented.
One of Modi's election slogans was "Minimum Government and Maximum Governance', but if one looks closely at the policy, in some instances the role of the government machinery will increase.
From the Vibrant Gujarat Summit to the 2014 campaign for elections, Modi has proved himself to be an excellent marketer. However, as any marketing expert will tell you, the big sell will only go so far; you have to have a product that justifies the spiel or you'll go bust. The same truth holds when the government sells a policy as the next big thing. A broad marketing canvas sans robust policy frameworks or reforms can be seen in all of Modi's initiatives, ranging from foreign policy to Smart Cities, Swachh Bharat or Make in India. The moment one goes deeper into policy initiatives in terms of their feasibility and effectiveness, the picture no longer looks quite so rosy.
Modi is an excellent marketer. However, as any marketing expert will tell you, you have to have a product that justifies the spiel or you'll go bust.
Start-Up India: Over-emphasis on marketing
Practically speaking, the Start-Up India policy should have been under the purview of the Ministry of Finance and regulated by the Ministry of Entrepreneurship. Instead, it was 'anchored' by the Ministry of Commerce's Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP) and headed by its secretary Amitabh Kant (he has just been transferred from DIPP). This agency of the government is already overloaded with its mandated work, including like FDI policies, intellectual property rights, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project, besides being part of several initiatives like Make in India campaign.
So why then was this department handled the task of overseeing Start-Up India as well? For the answer let us go back to former DIPP secretary Amitabh Kant. An IAS officer of the Kerala cadre, he first came into prominence for his famous 'God's Own Country' campaign for Kerala. Later, as joint secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, he architected the much acclaimed 'Incredible India' campaign. The author of Branding India: An Incredible Story, he is known for his marketing skills, and this is what has led him to be seen as Modi's blue-eyed boy. Thus, one can surmise that Modi's penchant for marketing may have led to the Start-Up India policy to be handed to DIPP.
But how wise is it to have such a marketing-driven approach?
This over-emphasis on marketing is not only counterproductive but also takes up substantial administrative bandwidth that can be deployed in working on much-needed reforms.
In this regard, Modi should learn from Arindam Chaudhuri of IIPM fame, who used every possible trick of the marketing trade to enroll students, and initially got good traction, went to multiple cities but never bothered to work on the product i.e. imparting quality management education. Eventually, we know what happened to him and IIPM. Modi should not follow Arindam's path. Instead, he should work on the product -- administrative, economic and judicial reforms -- and let this work do the talking. Marketing should be embedded into the product itself. This over-emphasis on marketing without working on the product is not only counterproductive but also takes up substantial administrative bandwidth that can be deployed in working on much-needed reforms.
As Arun Shourie remarked recently, the Modi government is busy with "managing headlines" rather than policies. If they don't undertake a course correction, these headlines will soon be saying things they'd rather not see.
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