'Make in India', what an idea !

Vivek Agnihotri, retired IAS officer is a former secretary-general, Rajya Sabha, Parliament of India, recalls Arun Shourie's initiative in 1999 to generate ideas towards "make in India"

Of late cnsiderable excitement has been generated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call to 'make in India'. As a matter of fact, a union minister says there are four issues going by the acronym MISIDICI, which stands for Make in India, Skilled India, Digital India and Clean India. 

Bharat Ratna Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been credited with initiating quite a few of the initiatives of the present government.  Let us begin at the beginning.

The year was 1999.  The National Democratic Alliance, led by Vajpayee had formed a stable government, which completed its full term in 2004.  I was then additional secretary, department of administrative reforms and public grievances.  The minister in-charge was  Arun Shourie, who took his assignment like a duck to water. 

Shourie was full of ideas and, under his guidance; several administrative reform proposals were conceptualised and executed.

One day, in the course of our conversation Shourie mentioned about the prevalent misconception that nothing works in India, because of various hurdles, including inspector raj, restrictive laws and procedures, corruption and so on.  At the same time there were many success stories of Indian civil servants, scientist, entrepreneurs, NGOs, et al having achieved national as well as international acclaim.

Thus the idea was born to organise a series of lectures show-casing indigenous Indian success stories to motivate civil servants and students and inform the media as well as international community.  It was aptly named 'Ideas that have worked'. 

I was required to work out the modalities of implementing the idea.  Inter alia it required identification of speakers, identification of invitees, a venue which could accommodate 500+ guests / invitees, and arrangements for refreshment and logistics, in general.

I put on my thinking cap to find my partners.  And as an old parable says, one tries to search for a solution under a lamp post, where the light is, and not where it ought to be. 

I found two partners in the joint venture.  One was recently set up Civil Services Officers' Institute at Kasturba Gandhi Marg, of which I happened to be the vice-president and ex-officio chairman of the executive committee. 

The other was the Andhra Pradesh Bhavan, which had a very big auditorium, located in very close vicinity and I belonged to the then united cadre of Andhra Pradesh.  AP Bhawan arranged not only for the auditorium but also their caterer, who served authentic South Indian cuisine.  Depending on the timing of the lecture the catering would be lunch or high tea, most likely lunch.

The speakers were primarily decided, mostly, by Arun Shourie and, occasionally, based on some of my suggestions and recommendations. 

The speakers were the pick of the lot.  The first guest speaker on 11 March 2000 was Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who was then principal scientific adviser to the government,and who four years later became President of India.  The title of his talk was "When Can I Sing a Song of India". 

The other speakers included dignitaries such as Dr Verghese Kurien, Ratan Nawal Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Jayant Narlikar, Ela Bhatt, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, NR Narayana Murthy, RA Mashelkar, Dr S Dabholkar and Vilasrao Salunkhe, among others. 

Twenty lectures were organized over a period of 19 months between March 2000 and September 2001.

The invitees were primarily civil servants, trainees and faculty of civil services training institutes, diplomats, media, students and faculty of universities, among others (not excluding some personal friends and relatives, who made a request depending on the speaker of the day. 

The numbers of invitations went up from about six-seven hundred to over 1,500 at a time.  The attendance used to vary from about two hundred to four hundred.  But then, Chandra Babu Naidu, the present chief minister of the divided Andhra Pradesh, who was then the chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh, came to speak at A P Bhawan.  More than 600 persons turned up to hear him.  But we were prepared.  A big TV screen had been set up in the lobby of the AP Bhawan auditorium, with adequate seating arrangements for guests to watch the proceeding live.

All good things come to an end, as they say.  So the "Ideas" series also concluded and left with us a lot of issues to ponder over. 

In 2004, the Department of Aministrative Reforms & Public Grievances brought out a publication, Ideas that have Worked, published by Penguin, Viking. 

And, that was perhaps, inadvertently, the precursor of "make in India".