Digitisation and democracy are ruled by the ineluctable dynamics of networks.
There’s no escaping the blessing or the curse of the Digital Age in India, any more than the benefits and challenges of democracy. The headlong rush into digitised networks provides incredible benefits of reach and efficiency in many different ways, at the individual and many collective levels — of family, friends, community, nation, polity, work, domain, and so on. It also lends itself to the dark side, plumbing the depths of social, religious, or political factions and tribalism, bigotry, autocracy and fascism, anarchy, social dysfunction, and the rest. Yet, there’s no denying that for India, with all its needs, talents, foibles, and contradictions, digitisation is a great enabler.
Likewise democracy. Romanticised notions of it are pure fluff, epitomised by selfies at the Parthenon, conjectures about Vaishali, or the spectacle and pageantry of electioneering. The reality was, and is, much harsher, whether then or now. Then, it was the practice of a privileged elite. Now, the reality of democracy in India with universal franchise and an insufficiently prepared polity is a space captured by politicians, many of them fractious opportunists, not really prepared or equipped for the complex analysis and decision-making that governance requires. Most citizens, however, have an illusory freedom of choice, despite the choice being restricted to accepting or rejecting incumbents, or choosing replacements from among these very politicians. This is where digitisation has a direct role and enormous impact through media in all its forms, including the nexus between money and politics as in the Cambridge Analytica episode.
According to McKinsey’s ‘Digital India’ report of 2019, the benefits of digitising India are impressive, although only 40 per cent of the population has internet access, and there is uneven adoption in businesses, leaving considerable room for improvement. Yet, newly digitising sectors have experienced tremendous gains. For example, in logistics, fleet turnaround time has been reduced by 50 to 70 per cent, and digitised supply chains helped companies reduce inventory by 20 per cent. The question is whether and how this can be managed to yield more benefits than detriments, while preserving privacy, social convergence, and harmony, while avoiding divergence, repression, and instability through disharmony.
India’s manufacturing and export opportunities in its product space in 2017 are in Chart 2.
Shyam dot Ponappa at gmail dot com
1. For connections between diseases and genes, see Alex J. Cornish et al: https://genomemedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13073-015-0212-9
AJG Simoes, CA Hidalgo. The Economic Complexity Observatory
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