Opinion A Proposal for the MIG-47 Project


By Dr. Ajit Ranade

The reader might think that this column is a proposal for a new fighter aircraft development project in partnership with Russia. Especially on the occasion of Prime Minister Modi’s visit to that country. After all, the acquisition and operation of MiG aircrafts have been a cornerstone of Indo-Russian defense relations. The MiG-21 became a backbone of the Indian Air Force since the early 1960s and it was the most prominent aircraft supplied by the Soviet Union. If MiG-21 played a stellar role in the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, then MiG-21 and MiG-27 were very effective in Kargil in 1999. The experience of operating and maintaining the MiGs contributed significantly to India’s indigenous aircraft program, and HAL’s Tejas is a testament to that development. There is a MiG-29 upgrade programme with enhanced avionics, radar and weapon systems.

There is no MiG-47 aircraft in sight (and some people confuse the Sukhoi-47 with MiG-47). Besides, India seems to be veering away from MiG series toward Tejas and Dassault’s Rafale. This column hence is about a new and more ambitious project ‘MIG’-47 which is Make India Great by 2047. This may sound like ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) campaign of President Trump! Or it is in the same spirit of ‘Vikasit Bharat 2047’ announced by our PM, which aims to see India a developed country by 2047 when we celebrate hundred years as an independent nation.

‘MIG’-47 is about working for the glory of our nation. Before we proceed, we need to ask a basic question. Is nationalism going out of fashion, or is there a resurgence? Is it waning or waxing? The concept of nations bounded by geography is perhaps only three centuries old, hence the nation state is a relatively new concept. And the factors leading to its waning influence are globalization, technology and existence of supra-national entities like the European Union, customs unions, military alliances, trade blocs and so on. Nationalist sentiments can be diluted by exposure to international and multi-cultural influences. Member states in entities such as the European Union happily surrender their sovereignty at least partially. For instance, the member nations do not control monetary policy, and have to abide by free trade rules applicable across two dozen nations. The recent electoral outcome in the UK might be a vote to roll back BREXIT.

Movement of refugees and presence of large diaspora also somewhat dilute nationalist sentiments. Conversely, there is evidence of resurgence of aggressive nationalism too, especially manifesting in anti-refugee and anti-immigrant movements. We see some of this in Hungary, Poland or in subnational independence movements in Catalonia and Scotland. There is anxiety about unemployment, blamed on outsiders i.e. people from other nations (e.g. Bangladeshi intruders). Remember Obama campaigned about how jobs were being stolen from Buffalo to Bangalore? Or by China? Nationalist feelings are also stirred by geopolitics, border conflicts, threat to national security and sabre-rattling rhetoric. And to add to all this is muscular and sometimes ugly manifestation on social media. The jury is out whether nationalism is going out of fashion, or will become even more entrenched.

Hence let’s talk about ‘MIG’-47. This has economic dimensions, of raising India’s per-capita income in the high middle-income bracket (say 20,000 dollars per person, in present terms). For that to happen the national income must go up ten-fold in the next twenty-five years. This means a growth rate of 9.6 percent per year in dollar terms. Since the rupee as a currency may remain stable, or if inflation is in control, then can even become stronger, this growth rate is quite feasible, not impossible. It has to be sustained for more than two decades. ‘MIG’-47 also has ease of living dimension. That refers to safe and abundant drinking water availability, housing made from environmentally sustainable resources, extensive public transportation availability in cities, and air quality which is much less toxic. Since income growth will be energy intensive, it is imperative that renewable energy growth is faster by a factor of two or three. India is the global leader of solar alliance. The night storage of solar energy should be planned in distributed and diffused manner, sitting in millions of small automotive rechargeable batteries. That is, we invert the role of car and scooter batteries. They drain at night, running household electricity, and get recharged by solar in the day. Each one of us, like the proverbial squirrels who along with monkeys helped build the stone bridge to Lanka for Lord Ram, act as solar energy storage devices.

Air quality will improve greatly with a focus on sustainable strategies in the automotive and housing sectors. The latter consumes cement, which is made from calcium carbonate, a major source of carbon dioxide. Hence construction sector has to be radically reoriented to reduce its carbon footprint. The third dimension of ‘MIG’-47 is building of human capital, through education, skilling, training and enhancing productivity and innovation capabilities. This is the toughest ask. It calls for herculean effort and reforms on multiple fronts. Education (along with agriculture) continues to be unreformed and shackled, although the National Education Policy 2020 is a step in the right direction. Here is a small tweak. How about if we mandate that senior civil servants must educate their child till class 5 in the panchayat or municipal schools where they have their posting? That will align incentives magically. How about that parent teacher associations will assess the performance of teachers in every government school, annually? That is to say that parents will have a say in the school governance.

The fourth dimension of ‘MIG’-47 is aggressive, relentless and continuous decentralization of power, to the lowest i.e. the third tier of government. This is the closest to the people but is least empowered in terms of decision autonomy, funding and functioning. The more power gets centralized, the more we get deeper into the rut or quicksand of politics of power. The only long-term way is massive effort of decentralization of governance and power. The fifth dimension of ‘MIG’-47 is cultural, social, religious and spiritual. Our country has been blessed with unimaginable diversity in every conceivable facet, and yet we also are the world’s showcase for harmony and unity in diversity. The key message of India to the world is “samanvay”, not tolerance but acceptance, not just co-existence but co-flourishing and blooming.

(Dr. Ajit Ranade is a noted Pune-based economist) (Syndicate: The Billion Press)

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