Address by Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, Honourable Vice President at The Huddle 2019 event, organized by The Hindu, in Bengaluru on February 10, 2019.

Bengaluru | February 10, 2019

"I am extremely pleased to participate in “The Huddle’ event being organized by The Hindu, one of India’s reputed newspapers and share my thoughts on “India: Our Opportunities and Challenges”.

This is a historic year for us as it marks the 150th birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. It is also the time for us to reiterate our unwavering commitment to the constitutional principles and introspect if we are practicing the ideals and values of the Mahatma and other great national icons like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and Subhash Chandra Bose, who had made huge sacrifices to free India from an oppressive colonial regime.

As we fast forward to the present times, we need to seriously ponder whether the progress made by the country over the past seven decades was to its potential or could we have done better.

Recent statements from international organizations like World Bank, IMF make it abundantly clear that today India is the fastest growing large economy and poised to become the third leading major economy in the world in the next 10-15 years. Opportunities are beckoning us and we need to seize the moment. There are challenges that are impeding our progress. I feel all the political parties, irrespective of who is in power, should agree on a common agenda when it comes to vital issues relating to the nation’s progress and security. For that to happen, every politician should rise above narrow, short term rhetoric.

While economic reforms have been backed by majority of the parties, I would like to appeal to all political parties to adopt politics of consensus on promoting inclusive growth; ending agrarian distress and making agriculture profitable; eradicating poverty and illiteracy; empowering the deprived and weaker sections; ending gender and caste discrimination, fighting the menace of corruption, bridging urban-rural divide and protecting the unity and integrity of India. Unless these challenges are tackled on a war footing in a mission mode, the fruits of development will not reach every deserving section. Wiping every tear from every eye, as the Mahatma had said, should be our sole mission.

I would also like to reiterate that diversity of opinions is necessary for a vibrant and healthy democracy. At the same time, nobody has the right to create anarchy or chaotic conditions in complete disregard to the law of the land. Dissent is acceptable but not disintegration.

Regarding economy, I am happy that our macro-economic fundamentals continue to remain strong with India emerging as an attractive investment destination. Recent forecasts by IMF and other global agencies have indicated a growth rate of 7.3 this fiscal and around 7.5 per cent in the following years. Even as the global economy is slowing down, India has emerged as the bright spot and this is the time for us to further consolidate our position on the global stage and ensure that the living standards of our people, particularly of the poor and downtrodden, improve further.

For a developing nation like India, the need of the hour is to sustain the momentum of economic growth and dovetail its efforts for increasing prosperity and wellbeing of the people. Making agriculture viable, improving farm income, bridging the urban-rural divide, eradicating poverty, tackling climate change, harnessing technology, empowering women and creating jobs are essential to sustain the growth momentum. Economic development has to be translated into human and social development.

No doubt, we are living in an interdependent world. But we need to insulate our economy from the vagaries of global ups and downs. With the government declaring its intention to increase manufacturing share to 25 per cent of the GDP by 2025, the prime focus should be to exponentially increase our domestic manufacturing.

We have a demographic advantage as 65 per cent of the country’s population is below 35 years. However, the need of the hour is to effectively implement as well as supplement the government’s Skill India program by imparting skills on a massive scale. The private sector must play a big role in this exercise by funding skilling initiatives as part of their CSR activities. India has no other alternative but to develop a highly skilled and semi-skilled human resource to be globally competitive.

Infrastructure development, cutting down red tape and improving the ease of doing business have been among the focus areas of the government to attract foreign investments and develop India into a manufacturing hub. India is blessed not only with a young and educated human capital but also a largely peaceful industrial climate and pro-industry state governments.

I am glad to note that there is healthy competition among the States to attract investments and accelerate the process of industrialization.

Dear sisters and brothers, India is on the right trajectory but it is imperative now to maintain the momentum. Only a consistently high growth rate will ensure prosperity of the people.

India has immense potential to be in the forefront in the 4th Industrial Revolution and transform the country into an innovation hub. We have to completely reorient our school and higher education systems in tune with the fast changing global scenario and equip our youngsters with the needed wherewithal to come out with futuristic inventions and innovations. While enabling holistic development of students with emphasis on excellence and creativity, our educational system must also enhance awareness on the importance of preserving our culture, traditions and heritage.

Internet of Things, Data Analytics, 3-D Printing, robotics, artificial intelligence and cloud computing have become the buzzwords. Thanks to digital technology, the world we are living in is changing at an unprecedented pace and scale. Today, we have smart phones, smart cars and smart cities. What does all this mean? It is obvious that we cannot adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach if we want to be the pace setters in the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Even if automation and machines take over some of the tasks, the requirement of people with skills will continue to remain high. A global consulting firm has estimated that India will have a talent surplus of 245.3 million workers by 2030, while there will be a global shortage of 85.2 million skilled workers. Therefore, the need of the hour is to impart digital, technological and leadership skills to today’s youth and equip them to take on future challenges.

The India Skills report of 2018 states that “with the changing nature of work and workplaces, the desired skill-sets of most occupations are likely to comprise ones that are not yet considered crucial to the job today”.

Various initiatives launched by the government like Skill India, Start up India, Digital India and Make in India are all aimed at creating an ecosystem for India to not only meet the domestic requirement but also the global demand. I feel that higher educational institutions and industries must take the lead in reorienting the skills-sets of the country’s youth.

Growing disposable incomes, burgeoning middle class and rapid urbanization are offering opportunities and throwing up new challenges as well.

71 long years after Independence, the country is saddled with several challenges. About 18-20 per cent of the population is still living below the poverty line and the topmost endeavor of every government has to be to improve their living standards. Similarly, other challenges include making agriculture profitable, sustainable and doubling farmers’ income, achieving 100 per cent literacy levels, ending gender discrimination by changing conservative mindsets, bridging urban-rural divide by developing rural areas on par with urban regions and eliminating caste barriers to promote social harmony. We need to overcome all these challenges by adopting bold approaches.

I would also like to point out that one of the biggest areas of concern or rather a challenge is the all-round deterioration of values and morals among all sections. Unless we arrest this growing decline in ethics and standards in all walks of life, the country will face problems in future.

We also need to constantly remind ourselves that the framers of our Constitution had clearly demarcated the powers and functions of the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. The delicate balance between all the three wings should be maintained at all times and nobody should encroach into the domain of others. The wheels of democracy will run smoothly as long as each wing functions within its demarcated domain and not overstep into other’s jurisdiction.

Setting the house in order, perhaps, should start with Parliament and Legislatures. I am truly concerned about the decay in the functioning of Parliament and Legislatures. The time has come for all political parties to evolve a code of conduct for their MPs and MLAs and ensure that the Parliament and Legislatures function effectively to fulfill the aspirations of the people in the largest democracy in the world. It is truly unfortunate that disorder and disruptions have become the order of the day.

I also feel that all political parties should not resort to populist, impractical and short-term promises to win elections as the country’s economy would suffer in the long-term due to unproductive schemes. We need to empower people to stand on their feet rather than making them increasingly dependent on governments.

The parties which make tall and impractical promises will have to justify and explain to the people on how they would find finances to fund such schemes. This is an important issue and the country should have a wider debate on the points I have raised.

The other major challenge that the country needs to address on a war footing is the deficiencies in infrastructure development. The government is already addressing this issue by building road and highway networks, developing ports and promoting regional air connectivity. However, I feel that the Public-Private Partnership projects have to be scaled up for accelerating the pace of infrastructure development. We need to promote massive infrastructure projects for the country to compete with other countries.

Dear sisters and brothers,

While the economy is poised for unprecedented growth, there are two important dimensions that we should not lose sight of-one is ‘equity’ and the second is ‘ethics’. In the wake of the economic offences by some individuals, I would urge upon the business bodies to evolve a code of conduct for their members as business and ethics must go hand-in-hand for sustainable and steady growth. I also implore industry bodies to weed out black sheep who bring a bad name to the business community.

I also feel that the time has come for various nations to arrive at a consensus in not providing shelter to economic fugitives. It should be remembered that economic offences pose a direct challenge to a nation’s health and wealth.

Finally, I will be failing in my duty if I do not express my views on the media scenario in the country. In the past, journalism was a mission. Over the years, the media landscape has changed and so have the values. Today, we find that some of the news stories are slanted to suit the views of the management. Media outlets are being started for commercial and political considerations and not for providing pure and unadulterated news to the people. Mindless sensationalism and paid news are some of the concerns that media professionals themselves need to address. I feel that media associations should also come out with a code of conduct for journalists to ensure professional integrity.

Before concluding, I call upon every section of the society to strengthen the foundations of democracy with a positive mindset rather than promoting negativism.

I am sure that this two-day conclave of ‘conversations for change’ will come up with thought-provoking ideas for building a new, inclusive and forward-looking India.