A VIEW FROM THE MOUNTAIN TOP
In October, there were two articles in the Times of India, one on Nepal and the other on Sikkim. Both are mountainous states, one a neighbour of India and the other now a part of India. About Nepal, the author, Ashwini Deshpande had this to say: “The per capita GNP is $210 (1998 figure), the poorest country in the Indian subcontinent. Two fifths of its population lives below the poverty line. Nine out of ten Nepalese are dependent on subsistence agriculture… By IMF standards, it is a stable economy: exports grew at an average annual rate of 22.3 per cent in the last 3 years. Inflation is not an issue at less than 4 per cent. The problem with the economy is not lack of stability but simply not enough growth…Nepal is the only Hindu rashtra in the world. The caste system is alive and all-pervasive. It is clear that a Hindu rashtra is no guarantee for social and economic bliss.”
On Sikkim, the other author, Lalita Panicker, says: “In the all India indices of women’s empowerment, Sikkim is number one. Cash incentives are doled out at every stage of the girl child’s life from birth up to the age of 50… 99 per cent of girls in the state go to school. The government reserves 30 per cent of its jobs for women and they play a prominent role in public life. Phone connectivity is 93 per cent, all of the state has drinking water, and infant mortality is only 21 per 1000. The state has excellent infrastructure. But despite all this, Sikkim has been unable to transform itself into a model state.”
Why should this be so? What can be the missing element which provides growth? I couldn’t help comparing these two cases with Switzerland, another mountainous state, all of seven million people, which happened to be the subject of a special advertising supplement in TIME magazine also during the same month. Switzerland is, of course, known for its tourist industry, banking industry and for its premium watch industry. But it is also a world leader in the pharmaceutical industry, in synthetic dyes and other chemicals, in the heavy engineering industry, in tunnelling, surveying and railway equipment, in the printing machine and textile machinery industries, not to mention chocolate, cheese and the industrial manufacture of food products. Instant coffee, dehydrated soup, decaffeinated coffee and alcohol-free beer are all Swiss inventions. It has the highest per capita GDP (US$ 36071) in the world. And, according to Michael Porter (“The Competitive Advantage of Nations”), Switzerland was a poor country in the 19th century!
Not religion (Hinduism or Buddhism) but modern science and technology put Switzerland on top. This does not mean you have to renounce your religion, merely that you should confine it to your home. Only “the scientific temper” (it was Nehru’s phrase) and consequential steps
go on to transform every man, woman and child in a nation and these then propel a nation towards prosperity. In the view from my mountain eyrie, this should be the lesson for Nepal, Sikkim and most of all, for India.