Roads are the backbone of a country’s infrastructural development and good roads are considered as a sign of a booming economy. But roads are not limited to the function of transportation in India. They are not only an infrastructural platform for transportation but are also a source of livelihood for many Indians. Road-side views in India are disturbing and inspiring at the same time. They expose the deep fault lines in our economy and stare at tall statues with unconvinced eyes asking one simple question, “Why my Mannequin is not better than that statue mounted on the beautiful round-about?
Recently, I witnessed an inspiring road-side scene where I saw an unusual vendor lined up along with regular vegetable or food vendors inhabiting on the main road connecting my home and office. The vendor had a cloth business and had installed quite an impressive Mannequin to display his clothes. Such a scene is usually witnessed in apparel shops or malls but with footfalls going down in such places due to covid-19, perhaps, the person had decided to dig it out on the road to sell his products. I salute the spirit of that vendor that rather than begging in front of government, he has shown determination to make his living on his own even if this means digging his heels right on the road. But that scene left me with many uneasy questions.
What will be a desperation of a person who has brought sufficiently costly Mannequin on the road to sell his products? Is road the platform which we as a society feel proud by offering it to our spirited entrepreneurs? Does he lack capital? What is so wrong that big multi-nationals are able to increase market share in pandemic but no share for this fellow? One thing is very sure that the notion that Indians are job seekers is a myth and totally misplaced. If this was reality then a huge protest would have already taken place and people would not have put up such a spirited show. Indians have largely grown without state support and continue to put the same spirited show during the pandemic but the state should deeply introspect that why an enabling platform for its own people is missing while the markets are being captured by multinationals.
India is an IT superpower and its big companies are getting foreign capital like water out of tap but unfortunately this phenomenon is not trickling down. While India is becoming biggest e-commerce market, it is failing to onboard many of its own entrepreneurs onto such platforms because the platforms are also the player in the same market. It is like an Umpire belonging to same team in a cricket match. The result is a given in such a scenario. Back-channel routes have been adopted by e-tailors so that platforms are participating in the market in which they only frame the rules of competition. Cloudtail India is a fine example of how amazon plays in its own market. Analytically speaking, India is moving from the stage of digitalization of platforms to monopolization of digital platforms.
Most of the e-commerce firms whether it is amazon, Flipkart, Reliance or Grofers are all the players on their own platforms discreetly controlling other sellers on the market. India cannot leave e-commerce market in Laissez fare mode. Government should either impose certain corporate social obligations on such giants to onboard India’s small and medium entrepreneurs at lower cost and give them favorable treatment or it should itself built a powerful platform which can compete with likes of Jio and amazon. A free, fair and equitable digital platform is a necessary requirement for India’s micro innovator who cannot compete with deep pockets of these multinationals.
Covid-19 is also a high-time that India must move past the political legacy of building statues and other expenditures of symbolic nature. Statues are non-useful expenditure in country like India where masses are still searching for a dignified life. Indians are the brand ambassadors of India and it is important that every bit of money the government has should go in creating a better environment for its entrepreneurs. The government should promote and support social entrepreneurship to ease the life of small entrepreneurs. It is not only important that we roll out red carpet for foreign investors but it is also important to roll out the same for our own people. Single window clearance and technological help should be extended to micro, small and medium enterprises in a similar fashion as given to foreign investors
India has got stuck between Mannequins of the economy and the statues of the politics. It is very important that Mannequins of the economy end the political legacy of statues and get access to the platform which till now has been captured by statues. The real spirit of India resides in Mannequins and not in statues and they are to be lifted in true sense. The only problem is that Mannequins can’t speak whereas Statues make the noise but it is time to cut the noise and focus on the problem of providing digital platforms to the small entrepreneurs who are keeping their spirits alive even in these testing times.